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Ionia R. Whipper
*Ionia Rollin Whipper was born on this date in 1872. She was a Black obstetrician and public health outreach worker.
From Beaufort, South Carolina, both of Whipper's parents were from black families who had been free before the American Civil War. Her father, the lawyer William James Whipper, moved from Philadelphia to South Carolina after the war, becoming one of the first Black judges in the Reconstruction Era. He married Frances Anne Rollin; the couple had five children; Ionia was their third child.
As a result of marital discord, during the 1880s, Frances moved with her children to Washington, D.C., where Ionia grew up. Ionia Rollin Whipper graduated from Howard University School of Medicine in 1903 as one of four women in her class. In 1911, she started her private practice at 511 Florida Avenue NW, accepting only female patients. Between 1921 and 1929, Dr. Whipper worked for the United States Children's Bureau, which employed her to travel through the rural South educating midwives. When she returned to Washington, she joined the maternity department staff at Freedmen's Hospital.
After treating numerous unwed mothers, Dr. Whipper offered some of these young women rooms in her own home. In 1931, together with seven other women from St. Luke's AME Church, she organized a charitable group, the Lend-A-Hand Club, which raised funds to support unwed Black mothers. That same year, with the club's support, she purchased 3.5 acres of land and opened the Ionia R. Whipper Home for Unwed Mothers, which served young women regardless of race. Dr. Whipper continued to run the home until the early 1950s. Until the 1960s, when similar facilities for whites were desegregated, the city's only maternity home admitted young Black women.
It relocated in 1955 to a different location and is still operating today. In her later life, Dr. Whipper moved to New York, where she lived with relatives in Saratoga Springs and New York City. She died at Harlem Hospital on April 13, 1953, and is interred in the columbarium at Fresh Pond Crematory.