Dr. Helen Pollay Weeks

Article contributed by the Fairview Area Historical Society

This year several member organizations of Erie Yesterday, a county-wide group of museums and historical societies, put together program for teachers on a subject of importance to each local historical community.  The overall program is called “Out of the Box.”  FAHS’ specific program was about Dr. Helen Daggett Pollay Weeks who was an extraordinary woman, far, far ahead of her time.

Helen was born in Girard Township on March 10, 1840 to Austin and Elvina Daggett.  Their farm was located in the northeast corner of the township and the rural school there was built on Daggett property.  Helen was one of 10 children.

Facts about her early life are slim.  We know she was intelligent.  She may have taught school at the same one-room school she had just attended.  This often happened with the brighter students when a new teacher was needed.  We also know that she did not remain long on her family farm.  She was married in 1857, a few months before her eighteenth birthday, to Samuel Bates Pollay of Dryden, New York.  Samuel was 18 years old.  Supposition is that they met through their respective churches, which is often how young people met.  After their marriage they lived with his older brother William and his wife Esther in Rochester, New York, where Samuel worked as a cigar maker.

If circumstances had not interceded this might just be the end of our interest in Helen.  But, life happened.  A deep division developed between the North and the South.  The South seceded and a terrible Civil War ensued.  Fifteen months into the war President Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 volunteers to serve in the Northern Cause and Samuel responded.  On July 28, 1862, he joined Company K of the 108th New York Infantry Regiment.  The couple had been married five years and as yet had no children.

But alas!  They never would, for in Samuel’s first experience with war, the Battle of Antietam, now known as the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, Samuel was killed.  He is buried in the Antietam National Cemetery and Helen soon returned home to her family’s farm.

Helen had a sentimental heart and wrote a poem to her husband’s memory titled “The Death of Samuel B. Pollay.”  Later in life she would reveal her feelings again in a novel she titled The Sequel of a Wasted Life.

One of Helen’s brothers, Julius, married Fedelia Melinda Weeks, originally from Vermont and now living in the Girard area.  Fedelia also came from a large family and one sibling was Welcome Joshua Weeks who was a Civil War veteran.  Six years after Samuel’s death Helen and Welcome were married.

After earning her medical certification from Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College February 25, 1880, Helen and her second husband Welcome J. Weeks opened a practice, first in Girard Township and then in Fairview Borough.  They bought a large home in Fairview near the main intersection and a smaller two-story building next door.  The first floor of the smaller building became their drug store and the second floor was available for various meetings. Both Helen and Welcome practiced medicine into their late 70’s, until they died in 1916 and 1918, respectively.

During Helen’s studies at the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), a women’s prohibition group, was growing in membership and influence. At home in Fairview, Helen joined a local union of the WCTU and offered the second floor of her drug store as a meeting space for the group. She was an active member of the organization throughout the remainder of her life, and even used her one and only novel, “The Sequel of a Wasted Life,” to raise awareness of the ill effects of alcohol abuse and advocate for reform.

Dr. Helen Daggett Pollay Weeks was extraordinary 19th century woman.

To read additional stories from the Fairview Area Historical Society visit their website.

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