‘I Was Kind Of Late Getting Into Things’

April 13th, 2012

Dorcas Stoltzfus morrow ’56

Dorcas Stoltzfus Morrow ’56

Every inch of tabletop space in Dorcas Stoltzfus Morrow’s apartment is covered with loose papers and three-ring binders, spillover from the crammed bookshelves that surround her living room at Landis Homes in Lititz, Pa.

One of the first women to complete a full pre-med program at EMC, Morrow enrolled in the fall of 1956 at The Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (now the Drexel University College of Medicine). Five years later, after completing an internship in West Chester, Pa., Morrow shipped off to Africa as a missionary physician with Eastern Mennonite Missions. Suddenly this petite woman still in her twenties was often the only doctor dealing with cases ranging from complicated births to malaria and other tropical diseases. From late 1961 to early 1964, she worked in obstetrics and pediatrics based at a mission hospital in Shirati, Tanzania. Next, Morrow went to Jamama, Somalia, where she worked for a year and half at another hospital run by the mission board.

Morrow then returned to the U.S. long enough to spend another year in Harrisonburg doing seminary studies, before heading back to Pennsylvania where she dabbled in surgery but ultimately entered a full OB/GYN residency in Harrisburg (a career in surgery, she’d decided, seemed like it would have been too hectic). By August of 1970, she was back in Shirati for another service term of a little more than two years – during which  she had some fantastic adventures, like the time a flying doctor service dropped her off to call on patients in a remote village but never showed up to pick her up, eventually forcing her to borrow a bicycle and trek back to civilization on her own.

Back home for good by 1973, Morrow ended up marrying the husband of her first-year roommate at EMC, who had died of breast cancer. Suddenly, at age 43, she was the mother of four children – three in high school and one in elementary school. She spent the next decade as a physician for the school system in Philadelphia, during which time she became ill, went to the doctor and discovered she was pregnant. Soon thereafter, at age 47, she had her first and only child.

When her son was still young, it was dawning on city school officials that physicians were expensive people to keep on staff, and Morrow could see the writing on the wall. Soon, they’d have a nurse doing her job. It was time to explore another long-held fascination: psychiatry.

This interest dated back to her undergrad years at EMC, when an uncle of Morrow’s, suffering from a debilitating mental illness, came to live with her parents as an alternative to institutionalization. Her uncle did well there and ended up staying for years, regaining relative independence and good health and serving as inspiration to Morrow 30 years later. At age 53, she began a three-year residency at Norristown (Pa.) State Hospital in 1984. After finishing that program, she worked there as a psychiatrist until she qualified for the state retirement system and, in 1998, was able to hang up her white coat.

“I was always kind of late getting into things,” says Morrow, chuckling as she reflects back on the life she’s led, now spread in a fantastic jumble of documents around her as she works to set it to paper.

— Andrew Jenner