Sioux City's first woman doctor, Dr. Agnes Eichelberger (1864-1923) devoted her life to the care of women, children and infants. Known for her generous heart and great kindness, the pioneering Dr. Eichelberger brought quality maternity care to all women of Sioux City, regardless of financial status.
Born in Lewiston, Illinois in 1864, Eichelberger's first job was as a clerk in her father's department store. She dreamed, however, of becoming a medical missionary, a career that her father opposed. With her mother's encouragement, she attended Hartman and Oberlin Colleges. Next, she enrolled in Northwestern University in Chicago and obtained experience in the Women's Division of Cook County Hospital. She graduated with honors in 1888 and received an internship at Cook County, where she acted as house surgeon in 1889.
While in Chicago, Dr. Eichelberger met Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Manley of Sioux City. They influenced her to locate in Sioux City and she opened her office here in 1890. For the first year, her residence was in the Manley home.
Dr. Eichelberger practiced general medicine with an emphasis in children's diseases. Her strong humanitarian spirit and love of children led her to found the Women's and Babies Home in 1898 which was located in a large home at 29th and Jones. In 1903, the Women's and Babies Home was merged into the Florence Crittenton chain of homes.
Dr. Eichelberger became the physician in charge of the Florence Crittenton home. Friends recalled, "Dr. Eichelberger gave scientific care to each unfortunate girl with no thought of recompense." Dr. Eichelberger also cared for and found good homes for orphaned children and worked to help abused and neglected children.
Dr. Eichelberger was instrumental in the decision to erect a new building for the Florence Crittenton Home. That structure was erected in 1906 at 28th and Court.
Her strong belief that woman and babies should be separated from other hospital patients led to the building of a maternity hospital next to the Florence Crittenton Home. She worked within the medical community to make sure the hospital was sustained by all of the physicians of the city, so the work would be continued beyond the life of any one of them. Dr. James F. Taylor, one her colleagues, recalled, "She was a wonderful organizer and the Maternity Hospital--founded and fostered by her--will stand as a glorious memorial." The maternity hospital, however, only operated until 1928, when other Sioux City hospitals began to provide separate wings for maternity patients. The building was sold to the Methodist Hospital for use as a nurses' residence.
Dr. Eichelberger continually worked to further her education. She spent the summers of 1899 and 1902 in studying in Europe, attending clinics in London, Paris and Berlin. She worked to bring the best medical advances to her patients in Sioux City.
After her death, a friend recalled, "She came to Sioux City at a time when but a few women had entered the medical profession, but she soon became fused with the life of the people here. Her heart was so generous and her sympathies so broad and her mind so tolerant that she belonged to no one group, but to us all."