Women in Herstory: Daisy, Maud & Nell: Building the foundation of Rochester’s heritage

Three remarkable women made their homes in the historic houses on pages 32-33. Each left a unique fingerprint on Rochester, helping create its identity and shape its future.


Daisy Berkman Plummer: Patron of the Arts

Daisy Berkman Plummer agreed with John F. Kennedy: “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” Her community activism and philanthropic acts exemplified these words.  

An accomplished pianist—Daisy dutifully practiced four hours each day—she made it her mission to support and promote local musicians. In 1912, Daisy founded the Rochester Music Society and organized the Lawler-Dodge Orchestra, predecessor of the Rochester Symphony & Chorale Orchestra. 

Perhaps her greatest gift to the community was her historic Quarry Hill home, which she shared with her husband, Dr. Henry Plummer, and their two children. In 1971, she donated the home and its acres, along with a small endowment, to the Rochester Art Center. Daisy envisioned Quarry Hill as a place for musicians, painters, dancers and other artists to showcase their talents.

When Daisy died at the age of 97 on February 1, 1976, she had seen her dream fulfilled. Quarry Hill was used extensively as a center for the arts during the 1970s. Operated by the Rochester Park and Recreation Departments, Quarry Hill is now known as Plummer House of Arts, a place for social gatherings, such as weddings, and other events. Its beautiful botanical gardens are open for the public’s enjoyment.

Maud Mellish Wilson: Pioneer Medical Editor

Maud Mellish arrived in Rochester on March 1, 1907, at the invitation to join the Mayo staff as a medical librarian and editor. After graduating from nursing school in 1887, Maud had acquired 20 years of experience in the medical field and was especially skilled in editing medical papers. 

The Mayo medical practice required her expertise to organize its wealth of reference material and help produce professional medical papers for publication. 

Maud applied herself to the task with great efficiency and aplomb. She immediately sought out and gathered the medical materials scattered throughout the practice, placing them in a central location where every staff member could have access. After organizing the library, she turned her attention to medical editing. In “The Doctors Mayo,” author Helen Clapesattle states, “[Maud] set herself the task of seeing to it that the Rochester men said what they meant to say, that they were accurate in their facts and, as far as she could ensure it, straight in their thinking.” It wasn’t long before “editors and readers of other medical journals began to remark upon the uniform technical excellence and the clarity and readability of papers emanating from the staff.” By bringing editorial consistency to the published work of her colleagues and authoring “The Writing of Medical Papers,” Maud changed medical publication standards. 

It wasn’t all work for Maud. She married Dr. Louis Wilson, a Mayo physician, in 1924. When Maud died from cancer in 1933, Mayo Clinic closed during her funeral, a testament to the importance of her legacy. 

Nell Bryant Crenshaw: World War I Nurse Anesthetist

Nell Bryant was so impressed with her aunt’s medical care at Saint Marys Hospital that she enrolled in its first nursing anesthesia class in 1914. The training led to volunteer participation in the American Expeditionary Forces Base Hospital #26, organized by the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic in 1917.  

Nell arrived in France the summer of 1918 and was soon transferred to Mobile Hospital Unit No. 1, where her anesthesia skills were needed for soldiers arriving directly from the Battle of Chateau-Thierry. Nell often worked 12 hours straight without eating or sleeping. The unit lacked electricity, and surgeries were often conducted under the glow of kerosene lamps. Sophie Winton, a Minnesota nurse serving in the unit, stated that during shell drops, a nurse would “remain standing, and continue her anesthetic of open drop ether and chloroform while holding a metal surgery tray over her and her patient’s head.” After the war ended, Nell remained in Europe for six additional months, continuing to care for the wounded.

After participating in the war effort and saving the lives of many soldiers, Nell returned to Rochester, married Dr. John Lewis Crenshaw and had three children. She was an active community member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Rochester Garden Club. She died on May 30, 1979, at age 91.  

Amy Hahn is a freelance writer and published romance author. She has a master’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and is pursuing a certificate in historic preservation.