Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Mary Evelyn Brydon (2 June 1878–13 April 1930), physician and public health officer, was born in Danville, the daughter of Robert Brydon, a pharmacist and native of Scotland, and Ellen Page Dame Brydon, daughter of George Washington Dame, minister of the Episcopal Church in Danville from 1840 to 1895. Her brother George MacLaren Brydon was a prominent Episcopal clergyman and historian.

Instructive Visiting Nurse Association
Following graduation from Danville High School, Brydon entered the Joseph Price Hospital in Philadelphia for training as a nurse. She then returned to Virginia and settled in Richmond, where she met and came under the influence of Sarah "Sadie" Heath Cabaniss, who had pushed for the professional training of nurses in Virginia and who became the first president of the Virginia State Association of Nurses (later the Virginia Nurses Association). Brydon was a founder of the association and served as its third president in 1906–1907. Cabaniss and other Richmond nurses established the Instructive Visiting Nurse Association in 1900. Modeled on similar programs elsewhere in the nation, it provided nursing care and health education to the urban poor. The IVNA accomplished a great deal in Richmond by giving guidance to new mothers, assisting the bedridden, and leading public campaigns against tuberculosis.

About 1904 Brydon moved back to Danville, a small industrial city with no organized means to provide medical care to the poor, and she there put the ideals of the IVNA to work. She convinced the local chapter of the King's Daughters, a Christian women's service organization, to provide supplies and a nominal salary for a visiting nurse. To get the work under way Brydon took the job herself. The streetcar company gave her free tickets, but during the next three years she still walked many miles through Danville's streets to reach patients who needed her help. In 1910 Danville finally appointed its first city health officer, and the King's Daughters relinquished to the city responsibility for the visiting nurse program.

Medical Degree
In 1907 Brydon enrolled in the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. She received an M.D. in 1911, completed her internship at the Woman's Hospital in Philadelphia, and spent short terms working at the Jackson Clinic in Milwaukee and as physician at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. In 1915 Brydon became resident physician at the State Normal School for Women at Farmville (later Longwood University). When the United States entered World War I in 1917, she attempted more than once to enlist for foreign medical service, but the military would send no female physicians overseas. Brydon remained in Virginia and volunteered with the Red Cross and other service organizations.

Public Health Officer
The war effort and reports of the poor physical condition of the men drafted into the military inspired public support for government-sponsored health programs in Virginia and elsewhere. In 1918 the General Assembly authorized public schools to hire nurses and required teachers to inspect the health of their students. Administration of the program fell to the ten-year-old Virginia Board of Health, and in June 1918 Brydon began working there as a field health officer to carry out the provisions of the legislation. Within a year she had acquired the title director of the Bureau of Child Welfare and School Hygiene. Brydon delivered more than 100 lectures annually to normal schools and teachers' institutes, helped develop a manual for teachers who had to inspect their students' physical condition, and instituted Physical Inspection Day on 3 November 1919 in all of the state's schools. The State Board of Education then ruled that persons requesting a teacher's certificate must have completed training in the physical inspection of schoolchildren. Brydon hired physicians and nurses to conduct the training at eleven summer institutes. To publicize the program, she wrote a monthly column for the Virginia Journal of Education from September 1919 through December 1921.

By 1925 the Bureau of Child Welfare had a staff of two physicians, one dentist, six nurses, four teachers, a librarian, and six secretaries and clerks. It conducted programs for child welfare and hygiene, public health nursing, dental hygiene, infant and maternal care, and midwife education. In addition to her many administrative duties, Brydon also continued to campaign for better health care for children. She organized activities in Virginia for the national Child Health Day program and in 1926 developed a program to commend schools whose students breathed through their noses, were of a proper weight, had healthy teeth, and enjoyed adequate vision and hearing. Brydon expanded the campaign in 1929 to encourage students' families to equip their houses with sanitary sewerage, clean water, and window screens.

On 5 September 1925 Brydon married George L. MacKay, a Richmond salesman who was a widower with one daughter. She took his name in private life but in public and professional roles remained Dr. Mary E. Brydon. Her marriage and responsibility for a stepdaughter scarcely slowed her pace. From January through March 1930, for example, Brydon attended 114 conferences, delivered 61 speeches, and traveled 3,236 miles. At the end of March she developed a severe cold, which swiftly worsened into pneumonia. Mary Evelyn Brydon MacKay died in Richmond on 13 April 1930. On the day after her death child health care workers from Iowa and Mexico arrived in Richmond to study her work. Ennion G. Williams, the state health commissioner, stated that "her untimely death was the severest blow that the Health Department has ever sustained." Following the funeral in Richmond she was buried in her family's plot in Green Hill Cemetery in Danville with a gravestone inscribed to her as "Doctor, Nurse, Humanitarian."

Sources Consulted:
Birth Register, Danville, Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS), Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; BVS Marriage Register, Richmond City; Highlights of Nursing in Virginia, 1900–1975 (1975), 3, 29; Jane Gray Hagan, The Story of Danville (1950), 46–47; Annual Report of the State Board of Health, 1918–1930; Brydon, "Public Health Nurses for Rural Schools" and "The New Viewpoint for the Health Program in Virginia Schools," Virginia Journal of Education 12 (1919): 42–45 and 20 (1926): 21–23; portrait in Virginia Nurses Association Records, Special Collections and Archives, Tompkins-McCaw Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond; obituaries in Richmond News Leader and Richmond Times-Dispatch, both 14 Apr. 1930, Danville Bee, 14, 15 Apr. 1930, Danville Register (with editorial tribute), 15 Apr. 1930, and Virginia Journal of Education 23 (1930): 435; memorials in Virginia Medical Monthly 57 (1930): 136, 210, 563–564, and Annual Report of the State Department of Health (1930): 11 (first quotation); Green Hill Cemetery, Danville, Virginia: Gravestone Records (1988), 2:304 (second quotation).

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by John T. Kneebone.

How to cite this page:
John T. Kneebone"Mary Evelyn Brydon (1878–1930)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001, rev. 2018 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Brydon_Mary_Evelyn, accessed [today's date]).

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