Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dr. Mille E. Wilson and the Wilson Medical Dynasty

At the turn of the twentieth century, women physicians were fairly uncommon outside of  the country's largest cities, but the small villages of Stoney Creek and Rochester, Michigan could lay claim to two of them. The story of a daughter of Stoney Creek, Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, is well remembered here, but Rochester's woman physician, Dr. Mille E. Wilson, is little known these days.

Amelia Elvira Wilson, known as Mille, was born in Avon Township in 1876, the daughter of Dr. Jesse E. Wilson and his wife, Susan Richardson Mack. Her father, Jesse, along with his twin brother, Jeremiah "Jerry" Wilson, had practiced medicine together in Rochester since before the Civil War. The twin brothers had grown up in Ontario, the sons of American parents, and had studied medicine at the University of Michigan and Bellevue Hospital Medical College before earning medical degrees from Castleton Medical College in Vermont. Together, they came to Rochester and established a joint medical practice which lasted for half a century, until the death of Jeremiah Wilson in 1906.

Mille Wilson first attended college in St. Thomas, Ontario, were her father and uncle had once lived, and then went on to study at Lombard University in Galesburg, Illinois before earning her medical degree from the Michigan College of Medicine and Surgery in Detroit in 1903. She first served as a house physician at the Detroit Emergency Hospital, but when her uncle Jerry Wilson died in 1906 she resigned her post and returned home to Rochester to assist her father in his practice.

A year later, she was appointed assistant physician at the Michigan Home for the Feeble-Minded and Epilepetic at Lapeer (later known as the Lapeer State Home and Training School). She would hold that position for the next 41 years, until her retirement in 1948.

Dr. Mille Wilson was known as something of a pioneer. Not only was she a women in a male-dominated profession, but she was believed to be the first woman automobile driver in Lapeer County. Furthermore, at the age of 70 she took pilot lessons at a Flint airport.

Following her retirement in 1948, Mille Wilson moved to Plainwell, Michigan, to live with a friend. Although she died in Lapeer in 1957, she was buried in Plainwell near her friend rather than in Lapeer or Rochester.

An obituary of Mille's father, Dr. Jesse Wilson, which was published in The Canada Lancet at the time of his death in 1913, claimed that Jesse Wilson was descended from family that boasted several eminent physicians, although their names were not specifically noted. In addition to those in her father's lineage, however, Mille also had at least one physician ancestor in the lineage of her mother, Susan Richardson Mack. According to Mille's membership record in the Daughters of the American Revolution, she was the great-great-granddaughter of American patriot Stephen Powers, who served as a soldier and surgeon attending the wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Thanks to Rod Wilson for the newspaper feature about Mille Wilson which included the photograph show here.


  1. Do you know who was her friend?

    1. According to the newspaper article announcing Mille Wilson's retirement in 1948, she was going to relocate to Plainwell to live with her friend, Gladys Wagner.

  2. rod Wilson, if you are still out there please contact me at mille's grandfather, jeremiah Wilson is my great great uncle and I am trying to fill in our family tree. I am from st.thomas,ontario and not far from where her grandfather is buried. jeremiah and jesse's brother john was also a doctor and a senator in Canada. I have a lot of info on the family but I am confused with a couple of things. I hope you can contact me. lynn bailey.