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Dr. Mary Alice Howe Thomas, first BHS female grad to become a physician

By Fred Steiner

Dr. Mary Alice Howe Thomas
Born: April 23, 1922
Died: Jan. 1, 2018 
Member of the Bluffton High School class of 1940
Bluffton College class of 1943

The word “versatility” printed under Mary Alice Howe’s senior photo in the 1940 Bluffton High School Buccaneer is no accident.

It describes this multi-talented young woman’s career, beginning as president of her seventh grade class, leading to her being the first Bluffton High School female graduate to become a physician. (Realizing the record may incomplete, we are not aware of an earlier female BHS graduate to become a physician.)

Among her professional achievements: 

  • Distinguished Service Award from Huron Road Hospital, Cleveland, 1980
  • Outstanding Woman Physician Award from Cleveland Women's Medical Society, 1987
  • Special Honors Award from Cleveland Academy of Medicine, 1991 
  • Bluffton University Professional Achievement Award, 1995
  • Executive Minister's Award of the Cleveland Baptist Association for Excellence in Christian Faith and Service, 2006


Here’s her story:

Born in Trenton, Ohio, her parents Wilbur and Elfrieda Howe, came to Bluffton and both graduated from Bluffton College.

Mary Alice Howe’s leadership and talent blossomed at Bluffton High School. Joining nearly every school organization, as a senior she was president of the Girls’ Athletic Association, president of the Senior Honor Society and editor of the high school yearbook. And, as a senior, singing alto in a mixed ensemble that group advanced from district to state competition. She was also first chair violin in the school orchestra.

As a junior, she was class secretary-treasurer, and was a junior editor of the school newspaper. 

Following her Bluffton High School graduation, she enrolled at Bluffton College, graduating in three years in 1943. There, her abilities sharpened as she became student council president, member of the orchestra, cheerleader and the 1942 homecoming queen. In the summer prior to her senior college year, she managed the Bluffton swimming pool. Immediately following graduation she married Royal Thomas, also a 1943 Bluffton College graduate. 

Today, an endowed scholarship at Bluffton University exists established in the couple’s name.

As perhaps the first-ever couple accepted into the Hahnemann Medical College, Philadelphia, they both graduated in 1947. Mary Alice was one of only 10 women in her class of 350 medical students, and one of the very first women accepted into the school, the first being admitted in 1941. 

When she and her husband finished the second semester of their junior year at Hahnemann they were accepted as junior interns at the Jeanes Hospital, a Quaker institution, in Philadelphia. Today it is a campus of Temple University Hospital­­­.

Mary Alice and Royal were accepted at Huron Road Hospital, Cleveland, for their residencies in Internal medicine and OB/GYN respectively, certainly another husband-wife first.

Following medical school, Dr. Mary Alice Thomas joined the staff at Huron Road Hospital, serving 37 years, from 1950 to 1987. She also served there as assistant director of internal medicine from 1975 to 1987. Huron eventually became part of the Cleveland Clinic’s Health System.

Two significant events occurred in June, 1950. That month she completed her residence and  gave birth to the couple’s first child. Soon after, she continued medical practice in Cleveland while her husband was stationed in Great Falls, Montana, as an obstetrician in the Air Force during the Korean War. 

Click HERE for the rest of the story.

Fred Steiner is the founder of the Bluffton Icon.

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