Dr. Dorcas Stolzfus Morrow '56, one of the first women to go through Eastern Mennonite College's pre-med program, passed away Aug. 7, 2015 in Lilitz, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Centennial Stories: Dorcas Stolzfus Morrow, one of the first women to complete the pre-med program

This is the first of an occasional series leading up to Eastern Mennonite University’s Centennial celebration in 2016-2017 featuring the life stories of inspiring alumni.

Dr. Dorcas Stolzfus Morrow ’56 was one of the first women to complete the pre-med program at Eastern Mennonite College. Morrow was a gifted and well-traveled doctor and missionary who became a mother at age 43 of four children  of her former college roommate, Catherine Roth Morrow in 1974.

Dorcas passed away Aug. 7, 2015 in Lilitz, Pennsylvania.

Roommates Dorcas Stolzfus and Catherine Roth stand in front of the Chapel in the early 1950s. The two remained close and Dorcas eventually became stepmother to Catherine’s four children after Catherine died of breast cancer in 1974.

“Catherine and Dorcas lived together in Room 219 at Eastern Mennonite College during the 1951-52 school year,” writes her (step)daughter Mary Morrow-Farrell ’80. “They shared the joys and challenges of their schoolwork, family lives and their emerging sense of self as two women entering college in their early twenties during a time when it was still not popular for women to obtain anything other than their M.R.S. degrees. They would both eventually be sharing, again, the same joys and challenges of careers, marriage and childrearing in a way neither could have or would have expected.”

Catherine was a teacher and an intrepid spirit as well. She traveled to Germany to assist her own adoptive parents with operating a school and orphanage for refugee children. After her marriage to Theodore “Ted” Morrow, she raised their four children Joseph, Alice, Mary and Rita before dying of breast cancer.

Dorcas married Ted and continued to raise Catherine’s four children as her own along with a son born to her at age 47. Late in life, she penned a forthcoming memoir titled “Begin by Loving Again: My Safari from Farm Girl to Missionary Doctor to Wife and Mother.”  The title is taken from a song written by her husband.

The following article is republished from the 2012 summer issue of Crossroads, featuring profiles of alumni working in the mental health field.

‘I was kind of late getting into things’

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