Ellis Reynolds Shipp

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Ellis Reynolds Shipp was one of the first female physicians in Utah and combined a successful medical career with her devoted life as a mother. She was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Ellis Reynolds was born on January 20, 1847, in Davis County, Iowa. At the age of five she traveled with her family by covered wagon to Pleasant Grove, Utah. While visiting a friend at age 12, she saw a photograph of a young man and said in jest, “This is the man I intend to marry.” Several months later she met the young man, Milford Bard Shipp, when he visited her cousin. A few years later they married. She was nineteen and he was thirty. Together they had ten children; only six survived infancy. After the death of her second son, she began a lifelong self-improvement, which consisted of rising at four in the morning and studying for three hours.

In October 1873, President Brigham Young encouraged women to train as doctors. Shipp began training at the University of Deseret (later called the University of Utah), and then continued her studies in Philadelphia, beginning on November 10, 1875. Her training required her to leave two sons at home with her husband and his second wife, Maggie. In exchange for food, she began instructing a baker’s daughters in dressmaking. She traveled back to Utah periodically during the years of her study. On May 25, 1877, the day after she passed her exams, she gave birth to a baby girl. She kept the baby with her in Philadelphia. During that summer, Ellis took her daughter Olea to the New Jersey countryside. Walking from farmhouse to farmhouse, Ellis finally found a home where a mother welcomed her to stay and teach her daughters dressmaking skills in exchange for board and room. She graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania on March 14, 1878. She later studied further at the University of Michigan.

When she returned to Utah, she moved her family into a house near her office in Salt Lake City. Only a few months passed before Shipp realized that more women doctors were needed. So in the fall of 1878 she opened her School of Obstetrics and Nursing. She taught classes in Utah, but also traveled with her children to teach in Colorado, Nevada, Canada, and Mexico. She also gave birth to four more children, although two sons died in infancy.

Shipp served on the board of the Deseret Hospital Association. During her long medical career, she delivered more than 5,000 babies. She also helped over 500 women become licensed midwives.

Shipp served as a member of the general boards of the Relief Society and the Young Women organizations of the Church of Jesus Christ. She wrote poetry and published them in a book entitled Life Lines. She also penned the words to a hymn, “Father, Cheer Our Souls Tonight,” that was included in the 1985 Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

She died on January 31, 1939. Her legacy is recognized and honored in several ways: a West Valley, Utah, public health center is named after her; one of the women’s dorms at Brigham Young University was named after her; a display room in the Pioneer Memorial Museum honors her; and a park near her Salt Lake City home and office is named after her.