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Notable Virginia Women -  Orianna Russell Moon (1834–1883)


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Image of Orie Russell Moon

Orie Russell Moon.
Courtesy of the
Woman’s Missionary Union

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Born on 11 August 1834 at Viewmont, in Albemarle County, Orianna Russell Moon (1834–1883) achieved considerable academic success. After attending Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary during the 1850–1851 school year, she attended the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (1854–1857). Incorporated in 1850 “to instruct respectable and intelligent females in various branches of medical science,” the college was the oldest permanently organized medical school for women in the United States. Moon received her medical degree on 28 February 1857, along with six other women in the school’s sixth graduating class. She was evidently the school’s first Virginia graduate, although not the first southerner.

After graduation, Moon accompanied her uncle, James Turner Barclay, a missionary with the Disciples of Christ, on a trip to Jerusalem. Moon continued, at least for a time, to break new ground. In July 1861, she wrote John Hartwell Cocke, offering her medical services to the Confederacy. She requested placement in a surgical hospital and offered “to follow the army and seek the wounded on the field of battle.” Cocke delayed answering, and she then entered into “a temporary arrangement with the medical faculty” at the University of Virginia, where a general hospital had just been established by the Confederacy. It was impossible for Moon to remain idle, because she had “the will and the nerve to witness and relieve the suffering” of soldiers.

Moon married John Summerfield Andrews, of Tennessee, on 28 November 1861 and turned her medical attention to her family, which eventually included twelve sons. From 1870 to 1883, the couple ran a hospital in Scottsville, in Albemarle County. Orie Moon Andrews was listed on the 1880 census as “keeping house,” not practicing medicine. Attitudes regarding women doctors likely made maintaining a practice difficult, especially in the South. Dr. Edward Warren, medical inspector of the Army of Northern Virginia, admitted that although Moon “made an excellent nurse,” he still believed, “No one possessing a womb or endowed with the attributes of femininity ought to dream of entering the ranks of the medical profession.” The demands of domesticity, when combined with a general distrust of women doctors, likely limited Moon to nursing duties, despite her medical degree.

Orie Moon Andrews died of pneumonia on 26 December 1883, and was buried in Scottsville’s Presbyterian cemetery.