The Fairview Area Historical Society
Posted September 22, 2014
Dr. Helen Weeks, Out of the Box
This year several member organizations of Erie Yesterday, a county-wide group of museums and historical societies, put together program for teachers on a subject of importance to each local historical community. The overall program is called "Out of the Box." FAHS' specific program was about Dr. Helen Daggett Pollay Weeks who was an extraordinary woman, far, far ahead of her time.
Helen was born in Girard Township on March 10, 1840 to Austin and Elvina Daggett. Their farm was located in the northeast corner of the township and the rural school there was built on Daggett property. Helen was one of 10 children.
Facts about her early life are slim. We know she was intelligent. She may have taught school at the same one-room school she had just attended. This often happened with the brighter students when a new teacher was needed. We also know that she did not remain long on her family farm. She was married in 1858, before her eighteenth birthday, to Samuel Bates Pollay of Dryden, New York. Samuel was 22 years old. Supposition is that they met through their respective churches, which is often how young people met. After their marriage they lived with his older brother William and his wife Esther in Rochester, New York, where Samuel worked as a cigar maker.
If circumstances had not interceeded this might just be the end of our interest in Helen. But, life happened. A deep division developed between the North and the South. The South seceeded and a terrible Civil War ensued. Soon President Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 volunteers to serve in the Northern Cause and Samuel responded. On July 28, 1862, he joined Company K of the 108th New York Infantry Regiment. The couple had been married five years and as yet had no children.
But alas! They never would, for in Samuel's first experience with war, the Battle of Antietam, now known as the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, Samuel was killed. He is buried in the Antietam National Cemetery and Helen soon returned home to her family's farm.
Helen had a sentimental heart and wrote a poem to her husband's memory titled "The Death of Samuel B. Pollay." Later in life she would reveal her feelings again in a novel she titled The Sequel of a Wasted Life.
One of Helen's brothers, Julius, married Fedelia Melinda Weeks, originally from Vermont and now living in the Girard area. Fedelia also came from a large family and one sibling was Joshua Welcome Weeks who was a Civil War veteran. Five years after Samuel's death Helen and Joshua were married.
Again, Helen may have disappeared from today's interest if she and Welcome had not taken this next step: several years after their marriage they decided to study medicine together and went to Cleveland to attend the Homeopathic Medical College. They both earned their certification and Helen also earned a diploma from the Hahnemann Society. Helen's niece, Marion Taylor, suggested that this idea may have been Helen's. She was a "strong-minded woman who set about to get things done, usually her way," said Marion of her aunt.
Her pursuit of a medical degree is primarily what qualifies Helen as an extraordinary woman. When she began her practice in the Fairplain area of Girard Township she was one of seven women in the county who were doctors. Some were later listed who had no training other than hands-on experience.
After a few years Helen and Welcome opened an office in Fairview Borough. They bought two buildings, both on the west side of North Avonia Road. One now houses the Tom Testi Law Office (and a music store on the second floor) and the other now houses the Wagner Giblin Insurance building. They operated the smaller building as their drug store, making and selling their own homeopathic medicines. The larger brick building had once been the home of the Pettit family and that became their home. They traveled about in a Phaeton carriage with Welcome at the reins. The step-stone in front of the house was for Helen to use to step into the carriage.
Helen was tall, large-boned and grew stout with age. Welcome was short with bandy-legs. Side-by-side they presented an interesting image, but together they handled many of the medical needs of the community. His patients were men and older boys, hers were women and younger children. Patients referred to the couple as "Dr. Weeks and the Mrs. Dr. Weeks." They made house calls and also saw patients on the first floor of their home.
Both developed an interest in the temperance movement. She joined the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and he demonstrated his strong feelings in 1889 by signing a call for a county-wide temperance amendment along with 154 other prominent men in the county. Several of the others were from Fairview. The amendment was soundly defeated!
As a doctor for women and young children Helen saw abuse in some families, much of it caused by drinking and this may have led to her committment to temperance. She felt so strongly that she wrote a "tragic" novel about the sins and results of drinking: The Sequel of a Wasted Life. The WCTU had as its goal to help establish protection of women and children at home and work. As it grew in importance it also sought women's right to vote, shelters for abused women and children, and established the eight-hour work day. Other goals of similar interests have been absorbed into the mission. Helen was a member of the local chapter of WCTU and offered the second floor of the drug store for a meeting room. She became so deeply involved that she attended the annual conventions up to and including the year she died in 1916 at 76. Welcome, who was not in good health himself, moved in with a sister-in-law and family where he remained until his death two years later. They are buried in a plot in the Girard Cemetery. The Weeks had no children
We like to call Helen extraordinary. She was a woman with a career "outside the home." She was a doctor, which was frowned upon in proper society. Women had not been accepted into medical schools until just a few years before she attended. Helen supported temperance when it was unpopular among the masses. She supported the Prohibition Party and when the women's right to vote movement began, she was part of that movement as well. She had strong views and acted upon them. Yes, she was far, far ahead of her time.
And now her story is "Out of the Box."
Note: The lessons for students is found in discussion of various customs of the day: childrens' duties on a farm; and widowhood. Other lessons discuss homeopathic medicine, what that entails, and how it is used and viewed today. Other lessons allow for discussion of her reformist views and how the life of a typical female of that day differs from today. Helen's story is contained in a doctor's bag which includes photos, copies of various legal papers such as her application for the widow's pension, examples of homeopathic herbs, and various medical devises that were used in that time period such as a knee hammer, stethoscope, and more. The program is available to schools without charge.
Tradition: the handing down of information, beliefs, or customs from one generation to another.
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The Fairview Area Historical Society is one of 26 members of Erie Yesterday, a county-wide consortium of historically-oriented organizations and individuals. Together these organizations are saving history for the future. For more information, see erieyesterday.org
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