GENEVIEVE SHEA BROWN, 1st Baylor Dallas Female

Genevieve Shea was the only woman in her class for the first two years she was in medical school at Baylor University in Dallas; in her junior year another woman transferred to Baylor from the University of Texas so that two women were in the graduating class. When she began her internship in July of 1924, Genevieve was the first woman Baylor had ever accepted.

Genevieve Shea

Genevieve Shea

Born  on October 5, 1898, Clara Genevieve Shea was the only child of James Martin and Mary Ann Grady Shea. Her father, an official in the Bricklayer’s Union, often spoke of a woman physician whom he greatly admired and Genevieve, whose favorite school subjects were the sciences, knew from the time she was a small child that she would study medicine. She was graduated from St. Edward’s School in 1917 and attended Bryan High School for another year to study Latin and additional science courses. She then entered Southern Methodist University’s pre-med program. Two years later she enrolled in medical school.

She was scared to death when she entered a medical laboratory for the first time,’ not afraid of the subject matter or the long hours of study or the gruelling routine that lay ahead of her, but afraid that, no matter what she did, she would be rejected by her professors and classmates. By the time she entered medical school she had already weathered anti-female discrimination at SMU where some of her professors strongly discouraged her from aiming toward a medical career. One professor locked the door at 8 a.m. and would not let any latecomers, male or female, into the classroom. Since Genevieve had to depend for transportation on a cross-city street car that connected with an unreliable “dinkey” on Knox Street to get her to the campus, she often had to leave home by 5 a.m. not to miss his class.

In medical school, her professor announced that he would call the name of each student who should respond with the name of the person he would most like to have as a lab partner. The first name called was that of a recent honors graduate from SMU, Grady Redick, who immediately responded that he chose Genevieve Shea.

“All “of her life, Mother remembered what a thrill it was to be chosen—especially after she had been so discouraged by some of the professors to study medicine,”8 said Patricia Currin, her daughter.

During their senior year, medical students were on call to deliver babies throughout the city. As often as not, this meant driving into remote areas of town in the middle of the night. One night Genevieve delivered a baby for a poor family that had no clothing or supplies for the new addition to their family. She went home and told her mother, and the two women sat up the rest of the night making a layette which Genevieve delivered in person the next day when she went to check up on her patient. For some time afterward there were numerous telephone requests for the hospital to send the doctor who brings along the baby clothes.

Although she was elected president of her class, the senior annual showed a somber Genevieve Shea with a spit curl peeping from under her mortar board in the very middle of her forehead.

She graduated second highest in her class and applied to Baylor for an internship. She knew she would be chosen because the school always took students with the highest grades and the only classmate who ranked ahead of her accepted an internship out of state. The Baylor Hospital superintendent hedged. There were no facilities for women interns; the hours would be long and the hospital could not be responsible for her safety. Genevieve got the idea: Baylor did not want women interns. She did not argue and did not cry. She enlisted the aid of two doctors on the hospital board. After the board approved her, she learned that these two men had not agreed on anything for 20 years—except that Genevieve Shea should be admitted as an intern.

When she was accepted, Genevieve shared a room with a dietitian who was also studying at Baylor. Following her internship, Dr. Shea set up practice in obstetrics and pediatrics in the Medical Arts Building in Dallas and moved back into her family home on Tremont Street. A year later, while vacationing, she met C. Frank Brown, also a physician. She was 28 when they married. He may well have been the first male to follow a career woman to Dallas; he set up practice in internal medicine and later became top examiner for Southwestern Life Insurance Company.

Throughout her four pregnancies Genevieve Shea continued to practice medicine. Her oldest child, Mary Ann, died with scarlet fever when she was five years old. Three others—Patricia (Currin), Charles and Kathleen (Gardner) grew to adulthood in a home where both their parents were physicians. At age 50, Dr. Shea closed her office to devote more time to her family, to speaking and to public health issues. She lectured to girls in Dallas high schools encouraging them never to limit themselves professionally and teaching, by example, that it was not only possible but highly fulfilling to combine marriage and children with a satisfying career.

Early in the 1960s, Dr. Shea began to work part-time with the City of Dallas in its Department of Health and Human Services. She served clinics all over the city. Her marriage of 40 years ended with the death of her husband in 1967. A year later she married Claud Hem. She retired on December 20, 1982, at the age of 84 against the wishes of Public Health officials. Even while she was planning her retirement, she was asked to stay on full-time, which would have doubled the work load of the two Well Baby Clinics she had been managing. Though she did not accept the honor, she was greatly pleased, Pat Currin said. “Imagine!” Pat quotes her mother, “Being offered a full-time position at my age!” Dr. Shea would be pleased to know that her granddaughter, Mary Beth Currin . . ., is following the advice given by Dr. Shea as she works in a medical career.

Note: Dr. Genevieve Shea Brown was born in Nebraska in 1898.  She died in 1986 and was buried at Calvary Hill Cemetery, Dallas TX.

CourtesY Daughters of Dallas by Vivian Anderson Castleberry.  Additional Baylor, Dallas information here.