Women's History Month

Women's History Month

Julie Pryde and Julia F. Burnham

3/15/2024 | Angela Whitlock, CSRA


Historically, women within Champaign County have had a large role in the development and expansion of local healthcare. A prime example of this dates to over 100 years ago and involves the establishment of the Julia F. Burnham Hospital.  

Julia F. Burnham was an educated New Yorker who relocated to Champaign County. Julia joined the Woman’s Social and Political Science Club of Champaign County shortly after its founders, Melissa Harris and Elgin Ray, returned from attending the inaugural meeting of the National Council of Women in 1888. Harris and Ray, alongside Burnham and the rest of the organization, began to study the formation of the Constitution and Illinois’ state laws, with particular interest in land ownership.  

By 1893, the name of their club was changed to The Social Science Club of Champaign, and the club members directed their interest to tangible service projects that bettered the community. Julia proposed establishing a hospital in Champaign, and a committee was formed. It would take almost three years to plan and build the hospital. In 1895, the hospital opened and by 1904, the first students were admitted to the Julia F. Burnham School of Nursing, another project planned by the Social Science Club. The hospital’s motto, which was engraved on a cornerstone and remained for the next 100 years, reads “With Good Will Doing Good Service.”   


Another example that showcases the tremendous work that women have accomplished within our local healthcare system can be shown in their accomplishments during the Covid-19 pandemic. Recently, we were able to interview Judy Pryde, the Public Health Administrator of Champaign-Urbana’s Public Health District (CUPHD), on this topic.  

Pryde is a Certified Public Health Administrator that earned her Masters of Social Work from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and her Masters of Public Health from the University of Illinois, Springfield. Pryde began her career at CUPHD in 1995, when she was working with the HIV/AIDS Program. She is the former Director of the Division of Infectious Disease Prevention and Management at CUPHD, a role she maintained until 2007 when she was appointed Public Health Administrator.  

When we interviewed Pryde for Women’s History Month, she spoke in detail about both the challenges she faced and the work she accomplished during the Covid-19 Pandemic. She states, “While Covid was the third pandemic of my career, following HIV and H1N1, it was one of the most challenging.” Although she and her team had prepared and practiced for a pandemic caused by respiratory virus, they were focusing on influenza, which they were much more familiar with, rather than coronavirus. The main challenges faced with this virus were due to its unfamiliarity, which included lack of information and access to testing. Pryde adds, “There were no treatments and there was no vaccine. All of that uncertainty plus the chaotic messaging coming from the federal government just added to the confusion and anxiety.”  

Pryde feels fortunate that the Covid pandemic arrived later in her career, because she was working with the same team at CUPHD that she had gone through H1N1 with. As a result, they each knew their roles and knew that as a team, they were committed to working toward making the community as healthy and safe as possible. Pryde states, “This was not the case for many of the communities where my public health administrator colleagues lived and worked. Many were harassed, threatened, intimidated, unsupported, and some were even fired.”  

Even though the Covid pandemic was not the most challenging situation in Pryde’s career, it gave her the most hope. Pryde was extremely proud of the Champaign County community, and “impressed by the compassion, creativity, and collaboration shown by many.” As a result of the pandemic, Pryde has learned many lessons that will help her and her team prepare for the next public health crisis. In addition, she says that the pandemic will also help in addressing entrenched problems that affect our community, such as violence, racism, and the lack of safe and affordable housing.  


These are only two examples of women who have made a difference within the Champaign County healthcare system, but there are many more. Museum of the Grand Prairie’s current temporary exhibit, A History of Healing: Infectious Diseases and Community Responses to Defeat Them, approaches different epidemics and pandemics through their effect on Champaign County, and includes a section that features women within the healthcare system.  

To those many other women, Museum of the Grand Prairie wants to thank you for your dedicated service.


Sources: First-person interviews, Mahomet Daily, ChampaignHistory.com