LC’s Oldest Living Female Doctor Celebrates 95th Birthday
By Lydia Crochet
Dr. Yvonne Stelly-Anderson, of Lake Charles, has celebrated many milestones throughout her lifetime. And on June 22, 2016, she celebrated a monumental one — her 95th birthday. She spent the day surrounded by her favorite things: family, friends, cake and iced tea.
Born on June 22, 1921, Yvonne Juanita Stelly was the daughter of a barber and a school teacher. She and her four siblings were raised with a strong work ethic; the children helped their parents run a dairy farm in Sulphur, La. The Stelly children commuted to Lake Charles to attend high school at St. Charles Academy, as a Catholic school education was very important to her parents. She graduated from high school in 1938 at the age of sixteen and went on to attend the historic Ursuline College in New Orleans on a scholarship. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and math at the age of twenty.
Dr. Stelly-Anderson attended medical school at Loyola University in Chicago, Ill., during World War II. She lived at “the Y,” where the students were fed two meals a day. She recalls, “We walked to the school every day and we had to carry our 20-pound microscope with us. We weren’t allowed to leave it at the school. It was quite a workout!” She finished medical school in three years, attending year round. “It was during the war, and we (the country) needed doctors. We went throughout the summer months so that we could finish early”, she recalls. “I graduated ninth in my class.” Dr. Stelly-Anderson was one of only four girls in a class of 100 medical students.
After graduation, Dr. Stelly-Anderson returned to Louisiana where she completed her internship and residency at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. It was there that she met her husband, Dr. George Anderson, who was completing his residency. “As an intern, I was not allowed to sit with George at the residents’ table in the cafeteria. So he would come and sit with me at the interns’ table,” she recalls with a smile. “At the time, I was making only $10 a month, and George’s income was $25 a month. George would sell a pint of blood so that he could take me to dinner at Antoines,” referring to the famous restaurant in the French Quarter. The two were married on April 26, 1948, in the Immaculate Conception Church of Lake Charles.
In 1949, the physicians set up their private medical practices and were both affiliated with St. Patrick’s Hospital. In those days, there weren’t many female doctors in Louisiana. Society in the 1950’s glorified domesticity, and a woman’s primary role was that of homemaker. Although the majority of nurses at that time were women, men dominated the field of physicians. In fact, only 5 percent of students entering medical schools were women. After the feminism movement in the early 1960’s and the passage of Title IX of the Higher Education Act (preventing federal funded educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of gender), these numbers began to increase significantly. By 1974, around 20 percent of new medical school entrants were women. And by 2014, that figure increased to 47 percent, according to the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges).
Dr. Yvonne Stelly-Anderson practiced medicine in Lake Charles for over 50 years. She loved her job and enjoyed working with her husband; they were married for over 63 years, until his death in 2011. The fact that she was one of only a few women doctors at the beginning of her career never bothered her. “I did my job just like the others. I was their colleague and it was never an issue,” she says. On living a long and healthy life, Dr. Stelly-Anderson says, “The key is to do what you love and to keep yourself busy. And take plenty of afternoon naps.”