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Dr. Lauretta E. Kress

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Kress, Lauretta Eby (1863–1955)

By Joan A. Francis

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Joan Annette Francis, Doctor of Arts in History, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA. She served as a professor of history at Northern Caribbean University; Atlantic Union College, and Washington Adventist University (WAU). She also served as director of the Center for Law and Public Policy at WAU (2008-2020). She has written articles for professional and Adventist journals, contributed to the Women in History Encyclopedia, and written the children’s activity book Sabbath Keepers: The African Connection.

First Published: November 28, 2021

Lauretta Eby Kress, the first female physician to practice in Montgomery County, Maryland, was widely respected for her skill as an obstetrician and her expertise in women’s health and prenatal care. She and her husband, Daniel H. Kress, founded Adventist sanitariums and promoted public health in England, Australia, and the United States.1

Early Life and Marriage

Lauretta Eby was born in Flint, Michigan to Aaron Eby and Hannah Amelia Burkhart Eby on February 10, 1863. Her father, a Canadian-born blacksmith, and her mother, a school teacher, met in Howell, Michigan, married in June 1857, and moved to Flint. Lauretta graduated from high school in Flint at the age of 16, and subsequently taught at a school in Michigan. Though a young woman with a small frame, she could command the attention of her most unruly students.2

Lauretta was quite outgoing, and on a visit to Canada she met and began a long-distance courtship with Daniel H. Cress. They were married in Genesee, Michigan, on July 9, 1884.3 Lauretta had a powerful influence on Daniel though he assumed the traditional male leadership role. It was at Lauretta’s request that Daniel Cress began spelling his last name as Kress with a “K” instead of a “C”.4 Later, she influenced her husband to quit drinking and smoking. Lauretta gave birth to their first daughter, Eva, on May 13, 1885 and to a second daughter, Ora, on November 7, 1888.5

The Kresses became active in the First Baptist Church in Flint. Daniel was issued a license to preach and became pastor of the Baptist church in Davisonville, Michigan, in the summer of 1887. Meanwhile, Lauretta, after engaging in a series of Bible studies with a young Seventh-day Adventist woman, Emma Ferry, determined to observe the Sabbath on the seventh day. Although she did not resist her husband’s restrictions against going to any meetings held by the “seventh day” people, reading their literature, or even mentioning “Sabbath,” to him, Lauretta did not give up her conviction. Not long afterwards, though, Daniel, with further prompting from a fellow Baptist preacher, studied the matter for himself, accepted the seventh-day Sabbath, and resigned from his Baptist pulpit in Davisonville after less than two months there.6

Adventism and Medical Training

Presentations by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg on diet and its effects on health a few weeks later at the Michigan Conference camp meeting made a strong impression on the couple. In 1888 they were called to Battle Creek to run a new school opened by the denomination for German and French speaking students. The next year, with the language school having been moved out of Battle Creek, Lauretta took a course in “scientific cookery” taught by Ella Eaton Kellogg (wife of J. H. Kellogg) while Daniel attended a ministerial institute conducted from December 1889 to May 1890. After becoming one of the first graduates of Mrs. Kellogg’s cooking course, Lauretta was asked to teach the subject herself as part of a health and temperance course at Battle Creek Sanitarium.7

In 1890, Dr. Kellogg recruited both she and her husband to study medicine. Along with a group of fellow Adventists, they took their first year of studies (1890-1891) at Battle Creek Sanitarium and the following three at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, where the sanitarium purchased a home for the Adventist students. Lauretta was appointed matron, and thus was in charge of the room arrangements, the meals, and everyone’s work assignments around the house. Initially a cook was hired but the arrangement did not work out so that responsibility for preparation of the meals fell to Lauretta. Managing all of this in addition to her studies and looking after her two small daughters required creativity and a high level of organization. During the evening study period, one student read the lessons out aloud while “pies, cakes, entrees, etc.” were prepared for the next day. The students made synopses of the lessons and “quizzed each other as we walked back and forth to the campus and hospital, or when working about the house.”8

After her third year, in the summer of 1893, Lauretta was one of the students who attended the Chicago World’s Fair to manage the exhibit for the Battle Creek Sanitarium. She and Daniel both graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1894, she specializing in obstetrics and gynecology and he in gastrointestinal disorders. Lauretta was vice president of the graduating class and one of ten women in the class.9  

Medical Missionary: England and Australia

The doctors Kress returned to Battle Creek in 1894 and worked as physicians at the sanitarium for the next five years. Lauretta’s responsibilities included the 152 children in the Haskell Home for Orphans. The Kresses also took disadvantaged children into their home, eventually reaching a total of 11, raising them with the help of a governess.10

In 1899 the Kresses accepted a call to open the church’s medical missionary work in England. Along with their two daughters the family now included a son, Paul, whom they adopted in Battle Creek. Lauretta and Daniel gave health lectures throughout the nation, helping to build interest in a new sanitarium opened near London on September 2, 1899, at a property called “Dunedin” in Meadvale, Surrey Hills. In a lecture on “Clothing the Body” that she gave at several locales, Lauretta used a dress she designed to demonstrate a more healthful way to dress for women in an era when very tight corsets remained the norm.11

Just a few weeks after the sanitarium opened, the Kress’s 14-year-old daughter Eva suffered a relapse of the endocarditis first diagnosed before the family left Battle Creek and died on October 16, 1899. The combined stress of hectic travel, overwork, and grief at the loss of his daughter soon overwhelmed Daniel, and Lauretta convinced him to take some time recuperating in France. This left her alone to manage the sanitarium, a responsibility she held for nearly a year, though at times she thought the burden would be too great. Daniel returned to London in the spring of 1900 but, at the advice of Dr. Kellogg, returned to the United States in June. Lauretta remained in charge of the sanitarium another three months, returning to Battle Creek in September.12

Less than a month later, the Kress family departed for Australia, once again assigned to develop medical missionary work that was in its infancy. While a new sanitarium was under construction in Sydney, they made their headquarters at the Avondale Health Retreat, a small, 15-bed treatment center in Cooranbong. With Daniel away giving lectures much of the time, Lauretta made quite a mark serving the small community and surrounding rural areas where physicians, much less a woman physician, were rarely seen. She was called upon to meet a wide variety of emergencies in the “bush country” such as extracting teeth, treating burns, black spider bites, contagious diseases and ailing horses, along with delivering babies.13

Amidst all of this, Daniel became seriously ill with pernicious anemia—a life-threatening condition that was untreatable prior to discovery of Vitamin B-12. It appeared that he would die but, likely aided by counsel from Ellen White to add eggs to his overly abstemious diet, he recovered and served as medical director of the new Sydney Sanitarium that opened its doors on January 1, 1903.14 After the joy of the establishment of the sanitarium, Lauretta experienced personal joy in the birth of a son, John, in May 1902. Unfortunately, a fall from his high chair left John permanently impaired and he lived with his parents until his death in 1954.15

Washington Sanitarium, Takoma Park, and 3,000 Babies

After spending nearly eight years in Australia, the Kresses were called back to the United States in 1907 to give leadership to the start up of another sanitarium. The Washington Sanitarium opened June 12, 1907, in Takoma Park, Maryland, the Washington, D.C. suburb in which the General Conference had located its headquarters after departing from Battle Creek in 1903. Daniel was appointed medical director. Lauretta, as part of the sanitarium medical staff, became the first woman physician to practice in the history of Montgomery County, Maryland.16 Daniel traveled frequently giving lectures, leaving to Lauretta administrative duties at the sanitarium such as managing the staff and organizing training for nurses, above and beyond her own practice focused on expectant mothers and newborns.17

In 1911 the doctors Kress, called to join the faculty of the College of Medical Evangelists at Loma Linda, moved to southern California with their daughter, Ora, recently graduated from the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia. Lauretta taught pediatrics and gynecology and, with her husband, conducted “schools of health” or lecture series in the nearby cities of San Bernardino, Redlands and Riverside. New opportunities soon had them on the move again—first to the Chicago area and Hinsdale Sanitarium in 1912, and then to Massachusetts in 1913 where Daniel served as medical secretary for the Atlantic Union Conference and both Lauretta and Ora worked at New England Sanitarium.18

Four years after their departure, the Kresses moved back to Takoma Park in the summer of 1915. This time they stayed for 24 years. Both doctors connected again with Washington Sanitarium. Daniel also served as the Columbia Union Conference medical secretary, 1915-1918, and devoted much of his time over the next two decades to speaking and writing about the ill-effects of smoking. In 1916 Lauretta opened the Kress Maternity and Children’s Hospital—connected with the San but also a distinct unit with its own doctors and nurses, treating exclusively expectant mothers and children.19

In 1918 the Kresses acquired a large home at 705 Carroll Avenue (now 7265 Carroll Avenue) directly across from the San that they would name “Krestview.” Lauretta had the basement remodeled in 1925 in order to use it as her medical office. At Krestview, she delivered more than 3000 babies. On their 50th wedding anniversary in 1934 the Kresses hosted a party and invited “everyone that we have brought into the world since we began the practice of medicine.” More than 600 people arrived and were captured in a massive group photo on the creek bank next to the house.20

Dr. Kress was often featured in Washington, D.C. newspapers for her accomplishments and findings as a physician. In 1934, for example, a Washington Post article entitled, “Mothers Too Fond of Cocktails and Sports for Babies’ Health, Thinks Doctor,” highlighted her commentary on prenatal and infant care. At a time when women were largely unaware of the negative effects of alcohol and smoking during pregnancy, Dr. Kress stated that pregnant mothers who drink and party “hurt themselves as well as their children.”21 Smoking, drinking, and partying had come to symbolize the liberation of women during the second wave of feminism in the 1920s and 1930s. In speaking against this trend, Lauretta sparked a conversation that became an absolute rule of prenatal care decades later.

Dr. Kress celebrated her 75th birthday in 1938 by helping to deliver her 4,150th baby. She also, according to a newspaper report, denied any thought of retirement.22

Later Life and Legacy

Finally in 1939, Lauretta and her husband with their son John retired to Orlando, Florida, and joined the Winter Park church. They were active in the church and with traveling, writing and speaking. But due to the shortage of physicians during World War II, they returned to full-time service for two years as physicians at Florida Sanitarium and Hospital.23 Lauretta again came out of retirement briefly in 1948 to deliver her 4,388th baby.24

Lauretta and Daniel celebrated their 70th anniversary in July 1954 while she was in hospital recovering from a stroke. She recovered enough to return home and died there, aged 92, on June 28, 1955.25

“Dr. Lauretta has made Dr. Kress what he is,” the Kresses’ son-in-law, Dr. Will Mason, stated after overhearing a conversation filled with high praises for Daniel.26 That accomplishment stands alongside the distinct achievements of Dr. Lauretta Kress as a pioneering medical missionary, organizer, educator, obstetrician and expert on women’s health.

The Winter Park Seventh-day Adventist church named its new edifice, completed in 1954, the Kress Memorial Church in honor of the doctors’ historic contributions to Adventist medical missionary work.27 The guests at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration in 1934 summed up their legacy by awarding each an honorary L.L.D. degree for “life lovingly dedicated.”28

Sources

“600 ‘Babies’ Attend Kress Anniversary.” Washington Post, July 10, 1934.

Bayar, Emily. “They Lived Happily Ever After.” Orlando Sentinel, July 18, 1954.

Bischoff, Fred. “Pioneer Medical Missionaries: Doctors Daniel and Lauretta Kress.” Medical Evangelist, Spring/Summer 2013.

“D.C. Woman Doctor, at 75 Helps Deliver 4150th Baby.” Washington Post, February 11, 1938.

“Dr. Kress Rites Set Tomorrow.” Orlando Sentinel, June 29, 1955.

Francis, Joan A. “Kress, Daniel Hartman (1862–1956).” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Accessed February 25, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=D9MU.

Kohn, Diana. “Tale of Takoma: Adventist Doctors Daniel and Lauretta Kress.” Accessed March 31, 2021, https://www.historictakoma.org/AdventistDoctors.htm.

“Kress Church dedication is tomorrow.” Orlando Evening Star, Apri1 23, 1954.

Kress, Daniel and Lauretta. Under the Guiding Hand: Life Experiences of the Doctors Kress. Jaspar, OR: Adventist Pioneer Library, 2018. Republication of the combined content of the first (1932) and second (1941) editions published by College Press, Washington, D.C.

“Lauretta Kress (1863-1955).” Montgomery County Commission for Women. Accessed February 23, 2022, https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/cfw/resources/files/biokress.pdf.

“Lauretta Eby Kress obituary.” Southern Tidings, July 27, 1955.

Peden, Pearle. Hand in Hand: A Biography of Drs. Daniel and Lauretta Kress. Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1968.

“Physician Couple Will Celebrate 67th Wedding Anniversary Today.” Tampa Tribune, July 9, 1951.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. General Conference Online Archives, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Yearbooks/Forms/AllItems.aspx.

Notes

  1. Joan A. Francis, “Kress, Daniel Hartman (1862–1956),” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, accessed February 25, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=D9MU.

  2. Daniel and Lauretta Kress, Under the Guiding Hand: Life Experiences of the Doctors Kress (Jaspar, OR: Adventist Pioneer Library, 2018, republication of the combined content of the first [1932] and second [1941] editions published by College Press, Washington, D.C.), 21-22, 27-29; Pearle Peden, Hand in Hand: A Biography of Drs. Daniel and Lauretta Kress (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1968),13-18.

  3. Kress, Under the Guiding Hand, 25-47.

  4. Ibid., 52; Peden, Hand in Hand, 64.

  5. Kress, Under the Guiding Hand, 50, 60; Peden, Hand in Hand, 63, 84-85.

  6. Francis, “Kress, Daniel Hartman (1862–1956).”

  7. Kress, Under the Guiding Hand, 66.

  8. Kress, Under the Guiding Hand, 62-70; Peden, Hand in Hand, 95-107.

  9. Kress, Under the Guiding Hand, 73-74; Fred Bischoff, “Pioneer Medical Missionaries: Doctors Daniel and Lauretta Kress” Medical Evangelist, Spring/Summer 2013, 15.

  10. Kress, Under the Guiding Hand, 77-78.

  11. Ibid., 127-133.

  12. Ibid., 134-135.

  13. Ibid., 149; Peden, Hand in Hand, 158-159.

  14. Francis, “Kress, Daniel Hartman (1862–1956).”

  15. Kress, Under the Guiding Hand, 165; “Lauretta Eby Kress obituary,” Southern Tidings, July 27, 1955, 10.

  16. “Lauretta Kress (1863-1955),” Montgomery County Commission for Women, accessed February 23, 2022, https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/cfw/resources/files/biokress.pdf.

  17. Diana Kohn, “Adventist Doctors Daniel and Lauretta Kress,” 2-3, accessed March 31, 2021, https://www.historictakoma.org/AdventistDoctors.htm.

  18. Kress, Under the Guiding Hand, 194-201.

  19. “Lauretta Kress (1863-1955).”

  20. Kress, Under the Guiding Hand, 217-218; “600 ‘Babies’ Attend Kress Anniversary,” Washington Post, July 10, 1934, 1; Kohn, “Adventist Doctors Daniel and Lauretta Kress,” 4.

  21. “Mother's Too Fond of Cocktails and Sports for Babies’ Health Thinks Doctor,” Washington Post, June 27, 1934, 15.

  22. “D.C. Woman Doctor.”

  23. Emily Bavar, “They Lived happily Ever After,” The Orlando Sentinel, July 18, 1954, 30; Fred Bischoff, “Pioneer Medical Missionaries: Doctors Daniel and Lauretta Kress,” the Medical Evangelist, Spring/Summer 2013, 17.

  24. “Physician Couple Will Celebrate 67th Wedding Anniversary Today,” Tampa Tribune, July 9, 1951, 11.

  25. “Dr. Kress Rites Set Tomorrow,” Orlando Sentinel, June 29, 1955, 4.

  26. Kress, Under the Guiding Hand, 271.

  27. “Kress Church dedication is tomorrow,” Orlando Evening Star, Apri1 23, 1954, 8.

  28. “Lauretta Kress (1863-1955).”

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Francis, Joan A. "Kress, Lauretta Eby (1863–1955)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. November 28, 2021. Accessed November 24, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BJFV.

Francis, Joan A. "Kress, Lauretta Eby (1863–1955)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. November 28, 2021. Date of access November 24, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BJFV.

Francis, Joan A. (2021, November 28). Kress, Lauretta Eby (1863–1955). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved November 24, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BJFV.