Dr. Jennie Newman Norris was one of Atlanta’s first female physicians. A champion of women’s health, Dr. Norris provided care for over 150,000 cases during her career, which spanned more than 30 years.
Born in Tennessee in 1861, Jennie Newman moved to Atlanta with her family. Her father, William Newman, joined the Atlanta City Council and advocated for free public education.
When poor eyesight prevented Jennie from pursuing a career as an artist, she decided instead to enter into the medical field. Dr. Norris graduated from the Grady School of Nursing and belonged to the first graduating class of the Women’s Medical College of Georgia. Dr. Norris married twice. Her second husband, Wallis Norris, never attended medical school and assisted her in her practice.
In 1918, the couple was arrested for practicing an “illegal operation” on a patient. Dr. Norris admitted to performing the operation, which was criminalized at the time, but contended that it was done at the patient’s urgent request and believed to be necessary to save the patient’s life. Defense attorney Reuben R. Arnold, an Oakland resident who also represented Leo Frank during his infamous trial, represented the Norrises in court. They were cleared of all charges, and Dr. Norris returned to her practice in her Oakland Avenue home and office.
Dr. Norris delivered more than 3,000 babies during her career, including ten sets of twins. Dr. Jennie Norris continued to help the women of Atlanta and honor their reproductive rights until shortly before her death in 1938.