Dr. Florence Cooprider Friesen 1887-1985
Florence Cooprider was born in McPherson, Kansas in 1887. As a child she suffered from Diphtheria, Scarlet Fever and Tuberculosis and recovered from each.
Florence had what was described a delicate constitution. At a Goshen College basketball game she fainted when she saw a player sprain his ankle. The ankle was taped and the player continued to play but Florence had to be carried out in a stretcher.
While at Goshen College she read a report stating that many women in India refused the services of a male doctor and so their death rate in childbirth was very high. With that knowledge, she announced her intention to enroll in medical school. Her mother, Henrietta Brunk Cooperider, was opposed and stated “The sight of blood makes you sick. You can’t even cut off the head of a chicken. How will you do surgery?” Florence replied “Let me prove I can do it.” Her mother brought three chickens to the back steps of the house and handed Florence the ax. Within minutes Florence met the challenge and with her parents approval entered the University of Illinois Medical School.
Following medical school she left for India and devoted her life there to the health of women and children. She began her work with the health needs of women in India and set up six satellite clinics in villages surrounding Dhamtari, India. Dhamtari was the site of a Mennonite Hospital that served all the castes in Indian society including what Indian historian, P. J. Malager, identified as Hindus, Untouchables, Aboriginals and Muslims. One of her patients once stated, “Ah, your God must be a very good god, to send a doctor to the women in India.”
Also, while in India she married the widower P. A. Friesen who already had 4 children. In addition to her practice, Dr. Cooprider Friesen effectively trained a large number of nurses and encouraged many to continue their medical studies. Even to this day, Dhamtari is a significant center for women’s health in India.
Dr. Cooprider Friesen’s practice in India consisted of assisting women with birthing, education on malnutrition, leprosy and common childhood diseases.
After her retirement, she moved back to Kansas and operated a maternity clinic in her own home. She had a birthing room and recovery areas for the mother and child. Two children were born to P.A. and Florence. The youngest is Paul Friesen, professor emeritus of art at Hesston and Bethel Colleges. One of her step sons, John Friesen also served as a missionary in India and devoted much of his work to Leprosy care. And to make the circle complete, one of John Friesen’s grandsons is the pastor of Ellis Avenue Baptist Church in Hyde Park, Chicago.
Surely the Lord would say of Florence Cooprider Friesen, “Well done thou good and faithful Servant.”
The Living Mirror: Archaeology of Our Faith