In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re taking a closer look at the life and work of some of the women who were important figures in the history of the Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Today, we’re taking a look at Amanda Parelius (ca. 1888 – Unknown).
Amanda Parelius is not a household name. She is not a recognized scientific pioneer, but her scrapbook is a snapshot into the passion that drives the amateur scientist. Amanda was born around 1888 in Chicago and lived most of her life in Elmwood Park, one of Chicago’s northwest suburban communities. When she was only 18 months old, Amanda contracted polio, known then also as “infantile paralysis.” At 16, she underwent surgery intended to help her walk, but complications afterwards instead led to the amputation of one of her legs. Her personal experiences with polio are important to note because it would influence directions she took later in her life.
She worked as a milliner and dress-maker until an accident caused her to break her ankle when she was 28. Less mobile, and the streetcar being less accessible, Parelius opened up a pet shop and bird hospital out of her home, calling it the Scarlet Pet Shop and Bird Hospital. She moved the location of the business as time progressed, but she developed a skill for curing birds, particularly canaries, after caring for her own birds. Although untrained as a veterinarian and largely self-taught, she performed surgery on birds, removing growths and tumors and even amputating legs. She received attention from papers in the Chicago area for creating artificial legs for canaries and other birds and for applying the “Sister Kenny” method used to treat polio patients on birds experiencing paralysis. She applied hot packs, hot baths, and massage to afflicted birds, similar to the procedures used in humans. She experienced some success, curing a parrot that was found suddenly motionless at the bottom of its cage.
All of the procedures she performed were completed with the permission and encouragement of the owners of the birds. In fact, much of her business was obtained through word-of-mouth references that brought birds from as far away as California to her hospital for treatment. Her scrapbook contains letters and newspaper clippings detailing her successes as well as numerous heart-felt thank you letters from bird owners whose pets’ lives were extended through her care. Her story is just one of many detailing the work of amateur scientists in the Museum’s archive.
Bringing Science Home
Click here to explore the anatomy of bird wings with our What’s in a Wing? handout! Then, go on a bird walk in the episode of Curious By Nature below.