Lillian Francis McMackin Collection [1931-2021]
Dr. Lillian Francis McMackin, MD, a pediatrician and the first female medical trainee and house officer at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, was born on February 22, 1915, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Her mother, Mary Paiva Pinha Francis (1894-1980), from São Miguel Island in the Azores, immigrated to the United States with her parents in 1900 and settled in New Bedford. For a few years she worked in one of the city’s cotton mills and married in 1912. Also from an Azorean family, but born in New Bedford, her husband, Antone Francis (1880-1936), worked as a carder in a cotton mill, then as a salesman, before obtaining a job on the New Bedford police force around 1914. He had two children from a previous marriage, and Lillian would be the only child of Mary and Antone Francis.
Growing up in New Bedford, Lillian Francis lived in the Ward 6 section of the city, in the vicinity of the former Howland Mill Village District, a working-class area that was heavily settled by Portuguese, notably Azoreans. By the time she attended New Bedford High School her family lived on Brock Avenue. Although still in Ward 6, this neighborhood was ethnically diverse and had a mix of working-class and middle-class families. She was especially close to her mother who impressed upon her the importance of a good education and, when she was quite young, encouraged her to become a medical doctor.
Interested in a medical career, as a high school student, Lillian Francis volunteered in a hospital (as a “candy striper” as such volunteers were then called) and assisted a doctor in various nursing tasks. This reinforced her desire to enter the medical profession. She excelled academically in high school, graduating in 1931 as valedictorian, and was also a talented tennis player. Among her close friends was a neighbor, Evelyn I. Coderre (1911-1997), of French-Canadian parents, whose mother, widowed at a young age, worked as a weaver in a cotton mill to support her three children. Also interested in the medical profession, Coderre became a nurse and later served with distinction in the U.S. Navy, attaining the rank of commander. Both young women enjoyed sailing and likely encouraged each other in their career pursuits.
Following high school graduation, Francis entered Wellesley College on a scholarship. She adjusted well to a markedly different culture in which many of her classmates hailed from affluent Protestant, New England families. During the summers she worked in wage earning jobs, including a stint as a waitress at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Cambridge. At the same time, her father’s poor health and death in 1936 put a greater financial and emotional burden on her mother (often called “Mam,” an abbreviated form of the Portuguese mamae) who subsequently worked as a domestic for wealthy Boston families. But Mary Francis continued to provide some financial support for her daughter during her years at Wellesley. As in high school, Lillian Francis excelled academically. She also joined Alpha Kappa Chi, an academically oriented society with a focus on the Classics.
Graduating in 1937, Francis applied and was admitted to Boston University (BU) Medical School. Although primarily concentrating on pediatrics while at BU, Francis accepted a residency upon graduation at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her medical training at Mercy included research into the pathogenesis of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly known as “black lung” disease. Seeking to return to New England, she was admitted to Boston’s Children’s Hospital in 1941, the first female medical doctor to serve there. Her title, “house officer,” reflected her role as a recipient of additional medical training under the general supervision of an attending physician. She later observed that while some of the hospital’s male physicians and house officers placed her on an equal footing with them, a number of male doctors and trainees were less accepting, treating her with indifference or occasionally with hostility. Her self-confidence and strong-willed personality—traits that her mother undoubtedly instilled in her—helped her cope and even flourish in this challenging climate.
While at Children’s Hospital, Lillian Francis met and married John F. X. “Mac” McMackin, a graduate of Holy Cross College, businessman, and well-known leader in the Cardinal O’Connell Council of the Knights of Columbus. They had three sons, John, Thomas, and Robert, and lived in Milton, Massachusetts. While starting a family, Lillian McMackin entered private practice as a pediatrician, initially with a partner, Dr. Richard M. Smith, an attending physician at Children’s, where they met, before striking out on her own. In addition to her practice in Milton, she opened a second office, south of Boston, in Quincy.
The sudden death of her husband in 1950, following a gastrointestinal surgical procedure, occurred just as she was becoming successful in her pediatric practice. Mary Francis helped care for her young sons especially during the long hours of attending to her patients. Her work required frequent house calls to various sections of Boston and its environs. She saw patients, from infants to adolescents, from all socio-economic and ethnic and racial backgrounds. Although not politically active like her late husband, Lillian McMackin believed in a woman’s right to choose to bear a child. She was also outspoken in her opposition to the Viet Nam War and counseled young draft-age men on various medical deferment options.
Although Lillian McMackin remarried a few years after John McMackin died, she never felt the strong bond that she experienced with her first husband. She and her second husband lived apart for many years before divorcing in the 1980s. She remained dedicated to her practice and retained privileges at Children’s Hospital until 1968. She was also a staff member at Milton, Quincy, and South Shore hospitals and taught pediatrics at BU and Harvard medical schools. After retiring in 1987 she spent more time on her long-standing interests in antiques and classic automobiles. Among her legacies were her years as the first female physician at Children’s Hospital and as a highly regarded pediatrician. As Dr. Judith Liebermann, a physician and researcher at Harvard University and MIT, observed, “She opened many doors for women in medicine.” Lillian Francis McMackin died at the age of 85 at the Norwell Knoll nursing home in Norwell, Massachusetts
Scope and Contents:
This collection covers multiple areas of Lillian's life. Photographs include images from her teen years, her time at Wellesley, her time at BU Medical School, and her later married life. Many items include images of Lillian's mother and her children. Also included in this collection are two written pieces about Lillian's life: one written by Robert McMackin and another compiled from Lillian's own words.