(1915 - 2002)
An upper room at the Madison Historical Society’s Allis-Bushnell House is dedicated to Dr. Mila E. Rindge, a remarkable woman whose medical instruments, paraphernalia, and documents fill the small space. Who was Mila, and what made her so important to Madison history?
Mila Elisabeth Rindge (1915-2002) earned her bachelor's degree from Connecticut College for Women, and her medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine. Her extensive list of honors, degrees, and certifications could fill this page. Suffice it to say that she was listed in a volume of Who’s Who in America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women, first published in 1899.
A Madison native, she was the child of Dr. Milo Pember Rindge and Mrs. Emily Ida (Wilbur) Rindge. Her father was a highly regarded Madison doctor and was thought to have attended some 2,000 births during his career. He was so popular that a parade and dinner were held in his honor when he retired. The Rindge home was on the Boston Post Road where the Scranton Memorial Library Annex now stands, and it served as both doctors’ offices during the years Mila worked with her father.
When she was a senior at Duke, Mila started a diary covering her experiences from 1940 to 1948. It documents not only her daily clinical work and personal observations but also reveals her clinical sense of humor. Once, after describing her first botched circumcision, she wrote, “Hope there are more male infants born so I can practice!”
She also often commented on the sad state of public health around Charlotte, North Carolina, during that era. Without remarking on their apparent poverty, she wrote, for instance, “Went on a postpartum call with Woody [a colleague] in a rocky, dirty, dead-end street where all the kids in the neighborhood crowded around. Filthy 3-room house, bed in the living room, 3 beds in the bedroom and a kitchen. The kids peered in windows at our examination.”
In the early 1940s, only about five percent of physicians were women. Mila's diary notes that hospital quarters were “male-only,” so she had to rent a room nearby. She had occasional struggles being taken seriously, and she noted that she was sometimes relegated to the “woman’s ward” at the hospital instead of to other medical areas she may have found more interesting. And, of course, she noted that being called “nurse” by presumptuous staff and patients was common.
Nevertheless, she excelled and flourished. She graduated from Duke on December 20, 1940, and started an internship at Grasslands Hospital in Valhalla, New York, just eleven days later. Her first tour of duty there was in the “Psychiatry Ward.” By January 7, 1941, she wrote, “I’ve been 'on' all weekend and last night too. I feel like an old and intimate friend of all the inmates.”
After long experience in all the other hospital wards, Mila left Grasslands in July 1943 to take up private practice with her father in Madison. “I feel very queer when people come in to see Dad in the evening and find me instead,” she wrote. She and her father also had an office in Clinton. She often visited Grasslands and expressed a longing for those days in her diary.
In June 1947 Mila left private practice to begin work at the Bureau of Maternal and Child Hygiene in the Connecticut State Department of Health. “Public Health is not as interesting as general practice, but regular hours and no night work sounds good to me”, she wrote. Her starting pay was $6,300 per year. She stayed in public service for 25 years.
First as State Epidemiologist and then as Medical Director of a Regional Office of the department, Mila authored numerous articles in the "Monthly Bulletin'' of the Connecticut State Department of Health and also penned occasional articles for the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine. She also served for a while as president of the Madison Historical Society.
Like the other artifacts stored at the Allis-Bushnell House, the medical tools and books in the collection each have their own story to tell, and the Madison Historical Society carefully preserves them all.
See more images of the MHS medical collection in the MHS Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/madisonhistory/albums/72157717670340398.
MHS trustee Bob Gundersen wrote this brief biography, which also appeared in a slightly different form in the Shoreline Times on October 3, 2017.