In Honor of My Grandmother, Dr. Lulu Violet Long

for National Women's History Month

Posted by Nancy Lee on March 25, 2023

She is clothed with strength and dignity … (Proverbs 31:25 NIV).

She was born in 1886 while Grover Cleveland was President of the United States, the year the Statue of Liberty was dedicated and Apache Chief Geronimo surrendered, ending the US-Indian Wars. She was sixteen when the Wright brothers made their first famous flight; she was twenty-five when the Titanic sank, and she was thirty-three when the nineteenth amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote (On This Day). Her ninety-six years spanned seventeen US Presidents and both World Wars as well as the Great Depression and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

My grandmother, Dr. Lulu Violet Long, is a person who was admired as a well-educated, strong independent woman going back to my earliest memories. Born in the Victorian era, Grandma was prim and proper, but she broke away from traditional women’s roles expected of her. I remember her standing tall and always wearing a dress. We have photographs of her posing with our family on a camping trip we took to the Thousand Islands back in the sixties. The rest of us were dressed casually as you would expect for a camping trip, but there was Grandma, camping in a dress! 

She was from a bygone era where self-discipline, etiquette, and modesty were virtues to be cherished, qualities she exhibited in her everyday life until she passed away in 1982.

As a young person growing up in the height of the women’s lib movement, I was so proud of my grandmother who had gone back to school in the early 1920s to become a chiropractor. Most people who met her seemed impressed that she was a doctor, but Grandma was humble about her accomplishment. “I didn’t like teaching,” was her simple explanation.

Grandma was one of eight children born to a traveling salesman and his stay-at-home wife in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Daniel Long, Grandma’s father, believed it was equally important for his daughters and his sons to receive a college education. He sent Grandma to the Cumberland Valley State Normal School (now Shippensburg University) where she received higher education which qualified her to become a teacher. Grandma spoke with an appreciation for the education her father had provided her; they had an understanding that it would be up to Lulu to pay for any further schooling. At one point she went to Bucknell University for a year, partly funded by one of her brothers.

I remember Grandma talking about teaching being the only profession open to her after she graduated from college. She taught in various schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey until World War II broke out, and the men were sent to war, leaving jobs that were traditionally filled by men open for women. Grandma took advantage of this opportunity and moved to Washington, DC, where she lived in a boarding house with two of her sisters. She was hired by the railroad and worked at Union Station as a clerk in the Information Bureau.

In 1919, while working for the railroad, she took advantage of her employee discount and traveled by train across the country throughout the West, spending time in the Rocky Mountains and then taking the trans-Canadian railroad, stopping in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, through Alberta to Banff, and through British Columbia. She then took the train south and toured California before returning east. We have an album of photographs she took on that trip. Picture after picture of my grandmother dressed in what must have been the height of fashion for the day-- an ankle-length full skirt, genuine lace-up “granny” boots, and a large-brimmed hat-- proudly posing in front of mountains, rock formations, waterfalls, and other sites.

After the war, men came back and claimed their jobs. In 1920, Grandma was dismissed from her position with the railroad, so, already in her thirties, she enrolled in the National College of Chiropractic of Chicago. 

As a teenager, I was intrigued by the fact that Grandma had remained single until she was forty years old. To me, that represented a strong, independent woman. It’s not that she didn’t have any “suitors” as she called them. She dated a professional baseball player for an extended period. Her father had a heart-to-heart conversation with her and told her that if she had no long-term intentions with him, she should end the relationship.

Grandma also told a story of a young man visiting her at her parents' residence. He left late in the evening, and the road collapsed, causing his horse and buggy to get stuck. I don’t recall hearing how he was rescued, but apparently, it made quite a stir in town that Miss Lulu Long had a male visitor so late.

Grandma’s explanation for marrying so late in life was simple also, “I hadn’t found the right person to marry,” she said. 

I don’t know many details of her love story, but I know that Grandma met my grandfather while she was working in DC during WWI. She was a volunteer at Walter Reed Army hospital where my grandfather had been sent from the war to recuperate from injuries. He had been stationed in France, working in the Veterinary Corps. A romance blossomed between Lulu and this handsome soldier, James Long, who, coincidentally, shared the same last name.

We have found photographs of the couple, along with some of their friends, posing on rocks in the woods in Rock Creek Park. When I lived in the outskirts of DC in the late 80s and early 90s, I used to drive through the park imagining my grandparents courting there.

At the end of the war, my grandfather was discharged and hired by the US Forest Service. He enrolled in Yale University School of Forestry while Grandma went to Chicago to pursue her chiropractic degree. They continued courting long distance.

My mother used to tell a story of my grandfather staying in a boarding house during this time. The owner of the house had three single daughters. Mom speculated that they wondered why this handsome eligible veteran never paid attention to his daughters, that is, until his soon-to-be-doctor girlfriend came to visit, dashing any hopes they may have had.

Grandma graduated in 1925 at the age of thirty-eight, but instead of making wedding plans with the man she had courted for five or six years, she went back to Shippensburg, PA, and set up her first practice in her family’s home while she helped her mother take care of her ailing father. My grandmother’s strong sense of self-sacrifice and loyalty to her family is perhaps the attribute I most appreciate in my grandmother.

Meanwhile, James graduated from Yale and moved to Russellville, Arkansas, where he was stationed with the US Forest Service as a Forest Ranger working to acquire land in the Ozark Mountains.

It would be two years before Grandma’s father passed away and my grandparents planned their wedding. They were married three months later—the amount of time they felt was proper for mourning—in a small ceremony attended only by family. Finally, Lulu and her beloved Jimmie were united in marriage on July 12, 1927. For their honeymoon, they took a tour of the South and ended by driving over the Arkansas River on the Dardanelle Pontoon Bridge—a bridge that was made of pontoon boats--where they began their life together in Russellville, Arkansas. Grandma set up her chiropractor's office in their new home.

Lulu was not prepared for the attitudes she encountered in Arkansas. Though it was over sixty years since the Civil War ended, she felt like they were still fighting it. The locals in her small town were slow to warm up to this well-educated doctor from the North. They called her a “Yankee” and attempted to block her from registering to vote. Of course, Grandma did not give in and registered to vote despite those who opposed her.

Grandma’s first attempt to have a child ended in a miscarriage. She became pregnant again at the age of 43. She took excellent care of herself and hid the fact that she was pregnant for as long as possible. She did this by sewing the exact outfit in increasingly larger sizes to trick people into thinking she was wearing the same thing. We are not sure why she did this, but it might have been so she could continue working at a time when it would not have been common for pregnant women to work.

On July 3, 1930, Grandma went into labor, and Grandpa brought her to the small hospital in Russellville to give birth. In an era long before men were invited into labor/delivery rooms, her husband waited in the waiting room. It was a long, difficult birth—my mother was breech, and this small-town hospital was not equipped to do C-sections.

At one point the doctor came out and said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Long, but I am not going to be able to save both your wife and the baby.” We don’t know the details of what came next, but I imagine that my grandfather, the son of a minister, was deep in prayer. We are grateful the doctor was wrong. My mother, Elizabeth Dismukes Long, was born weighing only 5 pounds. 

“The only thing that saved me,” my mother used to say, “is that I was so small.” I believe there was more to it.

Grandma was well respected in the community and was involved in many social clubs and activities, like the Music Club, Culture Club, and Garden Club. Grandma was also an active member of the Arkansas Chiropractic Association, sometimes holding positions of leadership, and she was published in the Chiropractic American, a national publication. She was once honored in the same publication in an article titled, “Widely Known Arkansas Chiropractors” (Shannon 11).

More than Grandma’s civic and social involvement, I am impressed with her commitment to reaching out to the less fortunate. I remember my mother talking about my grandmother visiting shut-ins. It would amuse my mother because Grandma was much older than most of the people she visited. An article published on April 24, 1970, in the Russellville Courier-Democrat, Grandma’s hometown paper, describes the background of Grandma’s shut-in ministry.  In 1955, my grandparents saw a need and started a ministry to the shut-ins at their church. Lulu visited the women, and James visited the men. Lulu continued the ministry after her husband passed away ten years later. 

“Lulu made an average of 25 visits a month,” the article states, “and … when she was away on vacation, she kept up with her shut-in friends by mail.” The article goes on to say that the ministry grew to include 20 volunteers (as of 1970) but that Grandma continued to make her rounds, “because she has come to love what she is doing and says that her friends are an inspiration to her” (“Opportunity”). My grandmother continued the ministry until she finally gave up driving at the age of 90. 

Grandma’s compassion and loyalty to her family were evident when she cared for her husband. He had strokes and his health was declining by the time he retired in 1953, so Grandma gave up her practice to care for him. She was his primary caregiver until he was put in a Veteran’s Home in Little Rock, about eighty miles away, for the last three years of his life. At this point, Grandma rented a room and spent most of each week visiting with him in the home. He passed away in 1965, twelve years after he first began to need care.

Grandma spent seventeen years as a widow. Most of that time she stayed in Arkansas in the town she had grown to love. I have fond memories of visiting her. She would proudly introduce us to all the neighbors and her friends at church. I remember gathering flowers from her yard, picking fresh asparagus from her garden, and eating fresh peaches with cream. Though I was too young to remember, my older sister recollects gathering around the piano while Grandma played and led us in singing hymns.

Grandma often spent a month or more with us during the summer. I remember her neatly made bed with her Bible and a copy of the Upper Room sitting on her bedside table. An indication of a deep faith that she rarely talked about but lived strongly. 

It wasn’t until she was ninety-three years old that she finally agreed to sell her house and move to be near us in New York. I cherish the time I was able to spend with her while she lived in a facility in a nearby town while I was in community college. 

On October 8, 1982, the family gathered around Grandma’s bed to celebrate her 96th birthday. Grandma beamed as she looked around the room at her daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and those married into the family. She expressed joy and gratitude for God’s blessings. She had married so late in life that she once doubted she would ever have children, and now she was surrounded by the love of four generations. She passed away four days later.

“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18 NIV).

*The events described in this story are shared to the best of my recollection and include the collective memories of my sisters, my brother, and my Uncle Dub. A special thank you to my sister, Elizabeth, who spent hours researching and reminiscing with me, and to my niece, Mary, for the excellent paper she wrote about my grandmother.

Works Cited:


“Opportunity for Action.” Russellville Courier-Democrat, 24 Apr. 1970.

Shannon, Mary K. 2002, Dr. Lulu Violet Long: A Historical Analysis of My Great-Grandmother's Life.

If you enjoyed this story, you might enjoy these other stories from Nancy's Family History Collection:

In Honor of Older Americans Month: Inspiration from WC Carter, My 97 year-old-Uncle

Susan Brownlow, Civil War Hero: In Honor of National Women's History Month

A Message from My Father: Blessed Be the Tie That Binds

Finding Loveliness in Cancer: Inspiration from the Last Year of My Mother's Life