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Harriet B. Jones made major steps for women in medicine and politics, both in W. Va. and the nation

KINGWOOD — Born in 1856 in Pennsylvania but raised in Terra Alta, Dr. Harriet B. Jones was the first female licensed physician in West Virginia.

She was also one of the first women to serve in the state Legislature, and in 1924 she was elected to the first of two terms in the House of Delegates, serving Marshall County, according to Betty Whittaker White’s “A History of Terra Alta, West Virginia and It’s Vicinity.”

Jones attended Wheeling Female College and graduated with honors from Woman’s Medical College of Baltimore, Md., in 1884. She decided to pursue post-graduate training in gynecology and abdominal surgery in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, before returning to Wheeling to open a private practice in 1886.

A founder of numerous hospitals and welfare institutions in the state, she is best known as a pioneer in the fight against tuberculosis and a champion for women’s rights.

“In about 1904 Jones and Miss Frances McMahon engaged in a five-month tour of West Virginia — A Model-T Ford crusade against tuberculosis that covered 21 counties. They had the satisfaction of knowing that their grueling tour caused the legislature to appropriate $9,900 for an educational campaign against tuberculosis,” White wrote.

Encouraged, Jones threw herself into the tuberculosis battle. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad loaned the state a railroad car equipped with TB exhibits furnished by the Phipps Institute of Philadelphia.

Dr. Thomas Gillespie was employed to travel with the train, explaining exhibits and lecturing at train stops. In this manner, every major railroad line in the state was covered.

It was estimated that 100,000 visitors passed through the TB car, which itself passed through 33 counties and 133 towns. Jones visited 164 towns, spoke 624 times at schools and gave 102 lectures before adults.

Jones wanted to see a sanitarium built in Terra Alta.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), in 1911, the state Legislature passed an act to establish a tuberculosis sanatorium due to the repeated efforts of Anti-Tuberculosis League of West Virginia (Jones was appointed executive secretary in 1908). The farm was owned by W.T. White of Terra Alta and on Nov. 11, 1911, he conveyed it to the state of West Virginia.

“Hopemont, West Virginia’s first tuberculosis sanitarium, met a pressing public health need because in the early 20th century, 1,000 West Virginians died annually from the disease. Getting tuberculosis was practically a death sentence. Nurses and physicians were brave to treat TB patients, often contracting the dread disease themselves,” Maureen F. Crockett wrote in an article for eWV.

“In those times, physicians believed such hospitals should be in high, cold places, and the site chosen was a farm near Terra Alta in Preston County. Hopemont started with a receiving building with offices, kitchen, dining room and apartments,” Crockett wrote.

“Two patients’ cottages followed, one for each sex. In 1913, three cottages were constructed housing 60 patients, and additions were gradually made until the hospital had a rated capacity at one time of 475 patients. The addition of a post office in 1921 necessitated the change of the name from State Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Terra Alta to the Hopemont Sanitarium,” Crockett wrote.

Women’s rights were of great interest to Jones. Her fight to have women admitted to the state’s colleges and its only university was won in 1889. She also served as president of the state’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She was active in the West Virginia Equal Suffrage Association from its beginnings in the 1890s until women were granted the right to vote in 1920.

Jones then became a member of the League of Women Voters. Combining her medical expertise and her civic interests, she lectured throughout the state on temperance, literature and public health issues. Her memberships included the West Virginia State Medical Association, the Ohio County Medical Society and the American Medical Association.

Jones also lobbied to establish state sanitariums for TB treatment and was executive secretary of the West Virginia Tuberculosis association for 10 years, according to “Changing Faces of Medicine.”

Jones’ interest in the welfare of homeless girls moved her to lobby tirelessly for six years to enact a bill on their behalf. In 1897, the West Virginia Legislature passed an act establishing the West Virginia Children’s Home at Elkins, as well as a state reformatory, the West Virginia Industrial Home for Girls.

Once women had the right to vote, Jones became active in politics. She won the 1924 election as a Republican in the state House of Delegates from Marshall County and was later re-elected to a second term.

Before her death in 1943, Jones authored several pamphlets, including “What You Should Know About the Government of West Virginia,” “Parliamentary Laws” and “How We Got Our English Bible.”

She also wrote a history of women’s suffrage in West Virginia.

For more information about Jones, go to “Changing Faces of Medicine” at