“Dr. Clara Normington has concluded to enter upon the practice of medicine in this city.”

Janesville Gazette, March 25, 1878

Janesville, Wisconsin in the late 1870s not only had three women lawyers (Lavinia Goodell, Kate Kane,  and Angie King), it also had a woman physician. According to the 1880 census, Dr. Clara Normington was born in England in 1845. (After her 1882 marriage she may have later shaved a few years off her actual age since the 1900 census says she was born in 1854, and her gravestone has that same notation.)  She graduated from the Woman’s Hospital Medical College in Chicago in 1878 and set up practice in Tallman’s block in Janesville, where Lavinia had her law office. The Janesville Gazette took note of her arrival and predicted,  “being thoroughly educated, she will doubtless find here a successful field of labor.”

1878 advertisement for Dr. Clara Normington's practice

As two female professionals with offices in the same building, Lavinia and Dr. Normington would doubtless have had frequent contact, although they do not appear to have been close friends, nor is there any indication that Lavinia was Dr. Normington’s patient. Dr. Normington’s personality seemed to be more akin to that of the flamboyant Kate Kane than the ever focused and steady Lavinia. Dr. Normington sometimes accompanied Lavinia to the Rock County jail to visit with the inmates.  On one occasion, Lavinia was disgusted to observe that rather than providing the prisoners with lessons and a good example, Dr. Normington and Kate Kane treated the visit like a social event. Lavinia wrote to her cousin Sarah, “ I was over to the jail Sunday afternoon and went up to see the women, & Kate and Dr. Normington were there cracking jokes and making companions of those women and treating them like old friends & social equals. … What good could I do them under such circumstances! I left thoroughly disgusted and heartsick and thought to myself is it for such as these that I went through the agony of breaking my way into a new profession of women?” However, Lavinia’s professional contact with Dr. Normington continued, and in July 1879 the doctor served as one of the three witnesses to Lavinia’s will.

Dr. Normington continued her practice for many years after Lavinia’s death. In  1882 she married Charles E. Jenkins, an agent for steamship lines. In 1885 the doctor was at the center of a local scandal when she was arrested on a charge of causing a woman’s death due to a botched abortion. Dr. Normington pled not guilty, and the case came to trial in May of 1887. The prosecutor sought to admit the deceased’s dying declaration that, “She [Dr. Normington] said she had done it with great success here; said she had performed it on lots of women. I paid her $20. She said that she had a regular class of customers that came there – some of the best ladies in the city. She said I would be all right in twenty-four hours after the operation.” The court ultimately refused to admit the statement because the woman was not beyond the hope of recovery at the time it was made. As a result, Dr. Normington was acquitted.

In 1894, Dr. Normington again found herself a criminal defendant when she pulled a revolver from her purse and shot a dog that had attacked her canine. The October 23, 1894 Gazette reported rather sensationally:

Dr. Clara Normington showed that her nerves never fail her last night. She is the owner of a fine setter dog worth $250 and while she was walking down River Street, Herman Kath’s shepherd dog attacked the more blue blooded animal and bit him severely. Dr. Normington drew a revolver from the handbag that she carried, followed the dog into the saloon and shot him. A man who was drinking a glass of beer heard the shot square behind him and nearly jumped through the ceiling while the two dozen other men in the place were all thoroughly scattered. The dog … was wounded very slightly. Kath swore out a warrant for Dr. Normington’s arrest, charging her with shooting inside the city limits.

After initially pleading not guilty, Dr. Normington subsequently changed her plea and was fined $5.00 and costs, for a total of $8.15.

Dr. Normington outlived Lavinia Goodell by over 50 years, dying in 1932. She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville.

Sources consulted: Janesville Gazette (March 25, 1878; February 28, 1885;  May 24, 1887;  October 24, 1894; November 7, 1894);  Chicago Tribune (March 1, 1878); Lavinia Goodell letter to Sarah Thomas (Jan. 17, 1879); 1880 federal census; 1900 federal census; https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/147684707/clara-louise-jenkins

Leave a Reply