Emma Wheeler was an early caregiver
Emma R. Wheeler
*Emma Rochelle Wheeler was born on this date in 1882. She was an African American doctor.
Wheeler grew up in Florida, near Gainesville where her fascination with medicine was stimulated at the age of six. An eye problem prompted her father to take her to a white female diagnostician. Young Emma and the physician became friends, and when she went to school in Gainesville the doctor's long-lasting interest in her continued. At age seventeen, Wheeler finished Cookman College and in 1900 she married Joseph R. Howard, a teacher.
Howard died a year later of typhoid fever, never seeing the son named for him. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Nashville, Tennessee. She attended Walden University, and in 1905 she graduated from Walden University's Meharry Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical College. She also was married to Dr. John N. Wheeler during the week of Meharry's commencement. Following graduation, they moved to Chattanooga and set up their medical practice. For ten years, John and Emma practiced together. In 1915 Dr. Wheeler purchased two lots and on July 30 that year, the thirty-bed, nine private rooms, and twelve-bed ward of the medical dispensary were dedicated as the Walden Hospital.
Complete with surgical, maternity, and nursery departments, Walden Hospital was staffed by two house doctors and three nurses. While maintaining long office hours as superintendent, Dr. Emma Wheeler personally performed a number of the surgical procedures. For more than twenty years, Wheeler also maintained a school for nurses. She, with her husband, taught and trained many students who were interested in becoming attendant caregivers. In 1925, Dr. Wheeler initiated the Nurse Service Club of Chattanooga. The only one of its type in Chattanooga, it was entirely separate from the hospital's operation.
In 1949, the Chattanooga branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) voted Dr. Wheeler the "Negro Mother of the Year." Wheeler was a member of the Mountain City Medical Society, the State Volunteer Medical Association, treasurer and member of the board of trustees of Highland Cemetery, and a member of Wiley Memorial Methodist Church. Wheeler's health began to decline in 1951 and two years later, in June of 1953, she retired from operating and managing Walden Hospital.
With her retirement, Chattanooga's first and only African-American owned and operated hospital-ceased operation on June 30, 1953, after thirty-eight years of service. For a while, Dr. Wheeler practiced general medicine, receiving her patients on the first floor of the former hospital building. At age 75, on September 12, 1957, Dr. Emma Rochelle Wheeler died in Nashville's Hubbard Hospital. On February 16, 1990, the Tennessee Historical Commission approved the placement of a state historical marker at the site of Walden Hospital, established, owned, and operated by Dr. Emma Rochelle Wheeler.
The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York