Luskin: Grace Burnett

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(HOST) In recognition of Women’s History Month, commentator Deborah Luskin has the story of a woman who became a much-loved country doctor in Brattleboro – at a time when most physicians were men.

(LUSKIN) Grace Winifred Burnett was born in Dummerston, in 1886. After completing grades one through nine at the local, one-room Bridge School, she continued her education in Brattleboro, graduating from the high school in 1905.

She returned to the Bridge School to teach before taking a factory job in Brattleboro, where she could earn enough money to attend medical school.
In "A Short History," Elsie Clark Tier, Burnett’s self-described "Office Girl" for many years, wrote that "All during her girlhood at home (Grace Burnett) knew that she wanted to be a doctor." Burnett attended medical schools in Michigan and Philadelphia, then interned in Virginia and New Jersey, before opening a practice in Brattleboro in 1914.
Even though she had an office in town, much of Dr. Burnett’s care was delivered in her patients’ homes. She made her morning rounds in the countryside in a carriage pulled by a pair of Morgan horses, and her afternoon calls in town in a buggy pulled by Brownie, a registered Morgan mare with whom she won a blue ribbon in 1919.
By 1931, Dr. Burnett had delivered more than 3,000 babies, most born at home; some born at the Mutual Aid Maternity Home. Memorial Hospital, as it was then called, didn’t yet have a maternity ward.

Dr. Burnett also treated patients in her office, located on Elliot Street until 1941, and then on Western Avenue, where there was better parking.  Ironically, her property was in the path of I-91. After it was taken to make way for the highway, Burnett returned to her family home in Dummerston, where she continued to practice medicine until her death, in 1963.

Burnett’s one marriage lasted seven years and ended in divorce.  She had no children, and she outlived her parents and brother. After her death, the Burnett family possessions were auctioned off.
But Sylvio Forrett rescued albums, papers, and Dr. Burnett’s medical library.  Members of the Dummerston Historical Society have managed to piece together a partial biography of this woman who served her community so well.  This collection of books and papers has not yet been thoroughly examined, however, and awaits an historian with the interest and time.
Some of the babies Dr. Burnett delivered continue to thrive, and some of her former patients are still living, several locally. And there must still be a paper trail of this remarkable woman whose professional life spanned fifty years.  Burnett served as President of the Brattleboro Section of the Green Mountain Horse Association; she founded the Brattleboro Riding Club; she was an active member of several organizations, and served as President of the Windham County Medical Society. She attended church and joined the Grange.  And in 1961, the Brattleboro Chamber of Commerce named Grace Burnett "Man of the Year."
Hopefully, someone will step forward soon to give Dr. Burnett’s biography the same kind of careful attention that was a routine part of her care.

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