Minnetrista Blogs

Bertha and Sarah, an Unlikely Pair

If you live in Muncie or Indiana for that matter, you’ve likely heard about the philanthropic work of the Ball brothers. They were major contributors to the building of the local Y.M.C.A. and Masonic Temple Buildings, and also critical in establishing Ball State University and Ball Memorial Hospital. In general, these men were invested in the well-being and growth of their community . . . so were their wives.

In 1929 Ball Memorial Hospital opened to the public. This photo was taken on opening day and shows the large crowd that came to see the new facility. Minnetrista Heritage Collection

To the outside eye, sisters-in-law Bertha Crosley Ball (wife of Edmund B. Ball) and Sarah Rogers Ball (wife of Dr. Lucius Ball) probably seemed very different from one another. Sarah was twenty years older than Bertha and was born to Irish immigrants. Bertha’s family had roots stretching back to the American Revolution and was the youngest of the brothers’ wives. Even their husbands had marked differences. While Edmund played a vital role in the management of Ball Brothers Company, Lucius dedicated his energy to his medical practice.

Not everything about the two women was so different, however. When Bertha attended Vassar College in the 1890s she studied Social Work. Sarah pursued training as a nurse at the Buffalo General Hospital of Nursing. It was this interest in people and their well-being that later brought the two women together to advance public health in early 20th century Muncie.

Pictured here are Bertha Crosley Ball (left) around 1908, and Sarah Rogers Ball (right) around 1917. Minnetrista Heritage Collection

By 1910 the community was a busy hub of manufacturing and industry. As Muncie’s businesses grew, so did its population. With all of those people came germs and disease that could easily spread. Needless to say, for women such as Bertha and Sarah it seemed obvious that work needed to be done.

In response, two local organizations were formed to help the community begin thinking about health in a modern way. The first was Muncie’s Visiting Nurses Association. Formed in 1916, the Visiting Nurses served the area by providing services such as general nursing, maternity care, child welfare, and programs for mental health and handicapped children. A few years later the Delaware County Tuberculosis Association was formed. Tuberculosis had become the leading cause of death in the country and in the Delaware County citizens were concerned with educating the public about the risks of the disease. The local Association put on lectures, placed ads at local movie theaters, sponsored educational exhibits, and sent nurses into homes to provide instruction and care to people suffering from the illness.

Staff of the Visiting Nurses Association in September of 1932. Minnetrista Heritage Collection

Right in the thick of the action were Sarah and Bertha. Between the two of them, both women served on the board of directors of both organizations for nearly two decades. Sarah had personally helped organized the visiting nurses, and Bertha provided critical financial support to the organization. Their work with the Tuberculosis Association was no less involved. Bertha served for a time as President of the Association while Sarah represented the group on the state-level as a board member of the Indiana Tuberculosis organization.

Through these efforts, Bertha and her sister-in-law Sarah played a vital role in propelling Muncie’s public health system into the modern age. Their work with the Visiting Nurses and the Tuberculosis Association led to more organized efforts focused on creating better health care in the area. By the late 1920s Ball Memorial Hospital was established, and the community had many more health care amenities than even fifteen years earlier. While Bertha and Sarah may have been an unlikely pair, together they were able to do great work for their community.