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Dr. Rosella Biederman Boehm

6th in our series of famous Bluffton High School alumni;

Pioneer Bluffton-Jenera physician with original

intention of becoming a medical missionary to China

Rosella Biederman grew up in the rural Bluffton-Pandora Swiss Settlement. Her parents were George Frederick and Katharina Baumgartner Biederman. Through this family she counted persons with surnames of Baumgartner, Amstutz, Ramseyer, Neuenschwander, Sprunger and Nusbaum as relatives.

Dr. Rosella Louise Biederman Boehm, M.D.

Bluffton High School class of 1914

Bluffton College class of 1919

Born: March 12, 1897

Died: Nov. 8, 1955


Note: Declaring Dr. Mary Alice Howe Thomas as the first female Bluffton High School graduate to become a physician proves that nothing is ever certain. Last week we stated that Dr. Thomas, BHS 1940, holds this title. Soon after this story was posted, we discovered two earlier female physicians who lived in the Bluffton School district.


They are:

Rosella L. Biederman Boehm, (1897-1955), 1914 Bluffton High School graduate, who became a physician in 1925.

 

Ida Eby, (1881-1960), who attended the Diller county school, part of the Bluffton system in Richland Township, who became a physician in 1919. We will focus on Ida in a later feature, as we continue to collect details about her medical career.

 

We recognize these three each as pioneer female physicians, who attended or graduated from Bluffton schools.


Senior college photograph

Rosella Biederman Boehm:

Rosella graduated in 1923 from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. In 1925 she was certified as a physician by the National Board of Medical Examiners of the United States of America.

 

Her medical career began with an interest in becoming a medical missionary. However, while she was listed as a prospective missionary to China through the General Conference Mennonite Church, she never entered the mission field.

 

She opened a practice in Bluffton in the late 1920s in what became known as the Biederman Apartments at the corner of Main and Kibler. She served on the medical staff of Bluffton sanitarium, on Main Street, which became Bluffton Community Hospital, located on Garau Street in 1937.

 

In 1930 she opened a practice in Jenera, practicing there until her career was cut short when she died in 1955 following a 14-month illness from cancer. Locally, she was known as Dr. Biederman, although on May 28, 1946, at age 49, she married John G. Boehm of Jenera.


Rosella's high school photograph

Here’s her story:

Rosella Biederman grew up in the rural Bluffton-Pandora Swiss Settlement. Her parents were George Frederick and Katharina Baumgartner Biederman. Through this family she counted persons with surnames of Baumgartner, Amstutz, Ramseyer, Neuenschwander, Sprunger and Nusbaum as relatives.

 

It is not certain which Richland Township rural country school she attended. These schools taught students through the eighth grade. Following that, students either attended Bluffton High School or their schooling ended. The majority of students attending these Swiss Settlement country schools grew up speaking a Swiss dialect at home and did not speak English until entering school. This could easily have been the case with Rosella.

 

The first mention of her found in the Bluffton News is from June of 1910. She was one of 29 Richland Township rural eighth graders to participate in the Boxwell-Paterson Richland Township commencement held in the Bluffton town hall. This was Ohio’s first proficiency exam raising standards in the eighth grade allowing all who passed to attend high school. The News stated that each graduate recited a poem, essay or short oration committed to memory.

 

Rosella graduated from Bluffton High School in 1914. In 1919 she graduated from Bluffton College where she assumed several student leadership roles. While at Bluffton College activities included serving as literary program chair and literary president of the Philomathean Society, member of the YWCA cabinet, and a student senate member.

 

References in the Bluffton News, and her obituary, shed light on her early years.

 

1913 - She was a cast member of "She Stoops to Conquer,” the BHS junior class play.

 

Sept. 17, 1917 - Miss Rosella Biederman will teach in the Wapakoneta schools this coming year.  (She taught school there for two years.)

 

May 27, 1918 - Miss Rosella Biederman left Monday for Columbus to attend summer school at Ohio State University.

 

June 5, 1919 - The following were graduated from Bluffton College, with A.B. degrees from the community: Helen Adams, Rosella Biederman, Erma Stearns and Verna Davidson.

 

Oct. 7, 1920 – Miss Rosella Biederman returned to Philadelphia to resume her course in nursing at a hospital in that city. She was assistant in the Mennonite Hospital in Bluffton for the past three months.

May 5, 1939, Jenera News advertisement

She attended Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, (today part of Drexel University College of Medicine) and was graduated from there in 1923. WMC was the first medical college in the world authorized to award M.D. degree for women.

 

She interned at South Side Hospital in Pittsburgh (became part of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center).

 

The following account from August 1924 addresses her early desire to become a medical missionary. The “little son” mentioned in this story is Lawrence Burkhalter, who eventually retired in Bluffton, living at Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio, where he died in 2020 at the age of 99.

 

August, 1924 - Salem Mennonite Church, Dalton: Miss Martha Burkhalter, on furlough from Janjgir, India, Mrs. Adah Burkholder with little son from Bluffton, widowed wife of Noah Burkhalter, deceased, in mission field in India a few years ago, and Miss Rosella Biederman, M.D., of Bluffton, prospective medical missionary to China, were with us over Sunday providing several interesting, instructive and spiritually refreshing talks on missionaries and Bible topics. Miss Biederman dealt chiefly on her prospective work as a medical missionary.

 

In September of 1924 she spoke at a Women’s Missionary Sewing Society at St. John Mennonite Church, Pandora. At that time she was listed as a medical missionary going to China. However, also that month the Bluffton News reported her appointment to the staff of physicians at the children’s hospital at Louisville, Kentucky.

 

Following her Louisville experience, she served two years as an assistant college physician at Berea College, Kentucky.

 

Rosella’s connection with Berea College may have been through Noah Hirschy, the first president of Central Mennonite Church from 1900 to 1908, which became Bluffton College in 1913. In 1920 he was a faculty member at Berea.

 

The June 1926 annual report from the Berea College president states: "We are happy to retain Dr. Rosella Biederman, whose gentleness, skill and devotion have won the confidence of all the women of our staff and of the student body."

 

She returned to Bluffton and practiced medicine in the Bluffton-Jenera area in the late 1920s-early 1930s. While in Bluffton, Dr. Biederman had her office in her home, at the time known as the Gid Steiner apartments, which later became known as the Biederman apartments. Today it is the large apartment at the northwest corner of South Main and Kibler streets.

 

Her obituary mentions that her early success brought her to Bluffton before coming to Jenera. It further named her a “prominent medical doctor in the area for many years,” whose home more recently has been in Orange Township.

 

According to the Jenera Centennial history she was one of seven physicians who practiced in that community.

 

Senior at Bluffton College photo

While growing up Mennonite, when practicing in Jenera she became  a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, and her burial is in St. Paul Lutheran Cemetery.

Her tombstone lists her as Rosella Boehm, and in prominent letters also identifies her as “Doctor Biedermann.”

 

In addition to her husband, John G. Boehm, a widower, who she married in 1946, she was survived by five step-children: Lavonne Traucht, Williamstown; Vera Weihrauch, Jenera; Kermit D. Boehm, Jenera; Harold L. Boehm and Paul E. Boehm, Rawson.


She was also survived by a brother, Charles Biederman, Grover Hill, Ohio.


Note on spelling of last name: 

Each of the articles in the Bluffton News (including her obituary) and Bluffton College yearbook use “Biederman.”

In one census article her father’s name is spelled “Biedermann.” Rosella’s tombstone and Jenera News advertisement uses “Biedermann.”

 

Bluffton College Science Club 1919


Bluffton College Student Volunteer Movement 1919


Bluffton College Philomathean Society 1919


Bluffton College student senate 1919


Bluffton College senior photograph 1919


ALSO FEATURED IN THIS SERIES:


Ivan "Ike" Geiger, class of 1927

R.L. Triplett, class of 1902


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