Frances Vanzant, ’22: “Soap is the thing I missed most at the front.”

This afternoon I was looking for the file on Moshe Vardi and I paused to check out the folder right next to his. Interestingly, it’s mislabeled. It says”Francis Van Zandt,” which is also how her name appears in the 1922 Campanile. I had never heard of her.

The Campanile managed to misspell her entire name. She was actually Frances Vanzant, which took me quite some time to figure out. The reason I bothered to keep looking (and the reason I forgot about Moshe) is that the stuff in the folder was so unexpected. It was full of newspaper clippings, all praising the “girl doctor” who went off to Spain during its civil war as part of an American unit of doctors and nurses who provided medical services to refugees. This piece is from the New York Daily News, published on May 3, 1938:

I found this picture of her with the group of medical personnel she led to Spain in the fantastic Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. She’s in the middle of the front row:

Dr. Vanzant earned her medical degree from the University of Texas medical school in Galveston and was one of the first two women to intern at John Sealy Hospital. She then spent five years at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota before she returned to Houston and private practice as a gastroenterologist.

There’s some indication in the file that she may have written a series of columns for the Houston Post during her time in Spain so I hope to have more about her soon. I think she’s wonderful and I’d like to hear more from her.

Bonus: Here’s her Campanile photo. She looks very serious. That big round collar is a dead giveaway that it’s 1922, by the way. All the girls had them.

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7 Responses to Frances Vanzant, ’22: “Soap is the thing I missed most at the front.”

  1. Galloway Hudson - Wiess '60 says:

    Earl Vanzant, ChE ‘621’62, had a brother (not a Rice alum) who a physician in Houston and was our pediatrician for a while. Chances are, they are in the same family as Frances. Now, some history major please help me out. How is it that she was wearing “a three-pointed star of the International Brigade” and was also a Captain in the Spanish government forces. I thought those were the two opposing sides, but I am an engineer after all. In any case, great story, Melissa.

    • Katherine Eggert (Hanszen '84) says:

      The Abraham Lincoln Brigade supported the Loyalist forces, who fought for the elected Spanish government. The other side was made up of the far-right Nationalists — led by Franco and others — whose coup overthrew the Spanish Republic. We tend to think of the Lincoln Brigade as the “rebels,” but in fact it was the other side, the Nationalists, who rebelled against the legitimate government of Spain.

      Her time in Spain evidently broke Dr. Vanzant’s health. There’s a heartfelt obituary of her in the journal Gastroenterology, https://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(57)80145-0/abstract. “She was a wonderful person, with a brilliant brain, tremendous driving energy, great friendliness, and a wonderful sense of humor. It is a great sorrow to her friends that she had to be cut down so early in life.”

    • Bill Peebles, Hanszen '70 says:

      I need to know if this is part of the family history of my dear friend Dr. Bob Vanzant. He was my Best Man at my wedding and his wife Melinda was a bridesmaid for my late wife Karen. Wonderful people.

  2. williamwatson says:

    Frances appears to have been the aunt of Earl and Bob. Her parents were Dr. Birto Thomas Vanzant (1875-1955) and Lucile Lugenia Ralston Vanzant (1878-1955). A younger brother was Thomas Jefferson Vanzant (1908-1985), and he appears to have been the father of Bob and Earl.

  3. Wonderful and informative comments.
    Thanks to all of you.
    I remember that Vanzant from my medical training days.
    “Ubi sunt …”

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