Divorced at eighteen from an abusive husband in 1859 (scandalous at the time), and with a little baby to care for, Bethenia Angelina Owens was determined to make her way in the world. Her family begged her to let them support her but she wanted to earn her own livelihood.
Taking in laundry, teaching school, and making cheese were among the tasks she set herself to. She eventually built a thriving business as a milliner that allowed her to send her son to college and to fulfill her own dream of becoming a doctor.
Against all odds and a tidal wave of objections by friends, family, and male doctors, she prevailed. Despite the sentiment of the times that it was disgraceful for a woman to practice medicine, she enrolled in 1878 at the University of Michigan.