Peoria Public School Board Member Ernestine Jackson remembers walking to Dr. Maude A. Sanders’ downtown office as a child.
“My mother moved us here from Mississippi and she was looking for a doctor for us. There were only two Black doctors here in town and she chose Dr. Sanders,” said Jackson.
In a six to one vote last month, Jackson and he school board colleagues elected to change the name of deceased president Woodrow Wilson School to Dr. Maude A. Sanders Primary School, located at 1907 W. Forrest Hill Avenue.
Jackson was in favor of the name change because she supported having a local woman honored for her unselfish giving to a community. “She was a very prominent African American woman in our community. She was more than a doctor because she had been a teacher first, so she knew how to care for her patients. She knew how to work with people and teach them how to take care of themselves,” said Jackson. “I am very excited for the name change to happen this fall. We are in the planning stages of the ceremony and things to come for her celebration, “said Jackson.
Jackson said many people called her (and not all of them were African Americans) and urged her to follow through with the name change. She said when the mainstream newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star, wrote a positive article endorsing Dr. Sanders that was when the public got on board with the idea. The school board website was reflective of positive feedback and comments.
School board member Dan Walther and Mrs. Jackson serve on the school board building committee together and sponsored two public meetings to listen to members from the community. Dr. Sanders’ daughter and granddaughter attended and spoke at the meeting. Walther said that Dr. Sanders’ family members were humbled by the idea for the name change.
The idea for the name change originated from Peoria Public Schools teacher Linda Wilson, who suggested the idea to the Peoria Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Then the idea was brought to the school board Jackson said.
Dr. Sanders’ (1903 -1995) life was exemplary because of her compassion, kindness, networking and knowledge. Jackson said that her mother had her youngest sister “up North”, during a time when African American doctors were not allowed to work in mainstream hospitals. Dr. Sanders treated her mother’s pregnancy until she delivered her baby at Saint Francis Medical Center, whereas Dr. Sanders had to recruit a white doctor to treat her mother in the hospital.
Mrs. Jackson is not worried that many of today’s children are unaware of the triumphs of Dr. Sanders. “We will be teaching our children about her. This is something that should have taken place years ago. This will happen,” said Jackson.
Dr. Sanders remained endeared to many people because she received payments whenever people could make them. There was not insurance available for most of her working class and working poor residents. Jackson said she remembers her mother waiting until her father was paid, and then walking one dollar down to her office. Dr. Sanders trusted people’s word and they honored that bond with her.
At press time, the school board was still making preparations for the upcoming ceremony to happen. Please stay tuned to this newspaper for upcoming news about the official event.
Humble Servant Avoided the Limelight, Despite Unselfish Acts of Kindness By Cassiette West-Williams
(Information for this article came from esteemed writer Millie Hall and the Traveler Weekly archives.)
The Peoria School Board member said more information about Dr. Maude A. Sanders’ life will be presented to Peoria’s young people. Here are some accolades and facts that touched Dr. Sanders’ life between the years 1903 – 1995.
*In libraries across the world, sits a three volume set of reference books titled “Black Women in America”, which were edited by Darlene Clark Hine (second edition). Dr. Maude A. Sanders can be found in volume 2, on page 493. The entry is brief, but emphasizes her education and retirement after 48 years of service.
*Dr. Sanders was born the youngest child of 19 siblings in New Orleans, LA. (Hall, Archives)
*Her father was a carpenter and encouraged all of his children to be self-sufficient and able to work with their hands. (Hine, 493)
*She attended a historically, Black college or university (HBCU), Xavier College and New Orleans University, earning mostly science credits. (Hine 493)
- Dr. Sanders worked as a tailor and as a teacher to support herself. Her older sister, Naomi Garrett, encouraged her to attend medical school. (Hall and Hine)
At the age of 32 years-old, Dr. Sanders attended another HBCU, Meharry Medical School in Nashville, TN and graduated in 1939. (Hine 493)
*Dr. Sanders interned at City Hospital (Homer G. Phillips) in St. Louis, MO, making history as one of two Black medical doctors. (Hine 493)
*In 1942, Dr. Sanders relocated to Peoria, IL and due to Jim Crow Laws, was refused admission into any of the hospitals as an “equal” physician. (Hall, Archives)
*She earned $60 a week and paid $15 a month for her office space, which was packed daily with Black clients. (Hall, Archives)
*Dr. Sanders’ Black patients were seen in the “Negro” annex, when there were no black beds. She regularly worked 12 to 16 hour days. (Hall, Archives)
*Dr. Sanders’ formed a bond with public aide recipients.
*Dr. Sanders retired, at the age of 90 years-old, after family urged her to smell the roses. She was unsure about retiring because she did not want to leave her patients without quality medical assistance. Most of her clients were working class or the working poor. (Hall, Archives)
*She received the Governor’s Award for Lifelong service in Illinois. (Hall, Archives)
*She received the Peoria Mayor Jim Maloof’s highest honors and “Dr. Maude A. Sanders Day” (Hall. Archives)
*Dr. Sanders’ now has a Facebook page, connected with her new school.