Healthcare Harbingers

HerStory: Women's History Month 2023
Dr. Mary Ann Headley Edgerton

Photo of Dr. Edgerton at Woman’s Medical College (c. 1910). Image courtesy of Legacy Center: Archives & Special Collections, College of Medicine, Drexel University.

Dr. Mary Ann Edgerton

Dr. Mary Ann (Headley) Edgerton (1882–1952) was the first Rio Grande City native and perhaps the first Mexican-American woman in Texas to become a physician. She attended the University of Texas as an undergraduate and earned her MD from Woman’s Medical College (PA) in 1910. Upon returning home to practice medicine in the Valley, Dr. Edgerton earned the respect of her community as the Starr County Health Officer for her quick and effective response to a smallpox epidemic in Rio Grande City, by implementing vaccine and quarantine methods.

During her early years, Dr. Edgerton traveled by horse and buggy to treat patients in their homes. In her 30+ years of medicine, she delivered thousands of babies in Hidalgo and Starr Counties, including Dr. Mario E. Ramirez.

Dr. Edgerton advocated for women's suffrage as a member of the National Woman's Party. She fundraised for the organization and circulated a NWP pamphlet, "How Texas Laws Discriminate Against Women."

Her father, Alexander Manford Headley, was also a physician and surgeon. He was a veteran of the U.S. Civil War, having served as a Confederate. He married her mother, Maria del Pilar Treviño, in 1884 in Camargo, Mexico.

Dr. Clotilde García in her office.

Dr. García in her office. Image courtesy of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Dr. Clotilde P. García

Dr. Clotide P. García (1917–2003) became one of seven women and the only Mexican-American woman to earn a medical degree from University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 1957.

Fleeing the Mexican Revolution, her family resettled in Mercedes. Dr. García graduated from Mercedes H.S. in 1936 and earned her associate's degree from Edinburg Junior College. She was the sister of Dr. Hector P. García.

Dr. García practiced medicine for 40+ years delivering 10,000 babies and also attending the funerals of her former patients. She practiced medicine in South Texas until 1995.

Dr. García also devoted her time to activism and education, including with the American GI Forum, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and Del Mar College Board of Regents.

She became an avid genealogist, author and historian. Dr. García founded the Spanish American Genealogical Association (SAGA) in an effort to promote Spanish genealogical research.

Newspaper clipping of Wilma "Dolly" Vinsant (1942).

Newspaper clipping from Valley Morning Star, September 13, 1942.

Dolly Vinsant Shea

Wilma "Dolly" Vinsant Shea (1917–1945) was born in San Benito. She graduated from San Benito High School and Brownsville Junior College before earning her nursing certificate in Galveston.

In 1942, she answered "The Call", enlisting in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and graduating in the first flight-nurse class of the U.S. Army Air Forces. She flew 30 missions over Europe as a flight nurse with the 806 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron evacuating countless wounded soldiers. Dolly was killed during her 31st mission in a plane crash over Germany on April 14, 1945—just a few months before the end of the war.  

According to the Handbook of Texas only, "...[S]he was one of only three women in the Army Nurse Corps known to have been killed by direct enemy action and the only one from Texas. She was buried in the United States Military Cemetery at Margraten, Netherlands. Her awards include the Air Medal, Red Cross Medal, a Special Citation from President Harry Truman, and a posthumous Purple Heart."

A hospital in San Benito was dedicated in her honor in 1949, which closed in 2007.

2nd Lieutenant Wilma "Dolly" Vinsant and other members of the U.S. Army Flight Nurse Corps, 1943.

Image courtesy of the National Archives. FALLS CHURCH, Va. - Members of the U.S. Army Flight Nurse Corps in 1943, displaying the various types of Army Nurse Corps uniforms. From left to right, 2nd Lt. Wilma Vinsant, in regulation blue winter uniform, Army Nurse Corps; 2nd Lt. Edith M. Roe; 2nd Lt. Ethel Guffey; 2nd Lt. Jane Orme, winter flying suit and 2nd Lt. Adela Besse, the gray flying suit with slacks.