“Men were astonished when a strange woman appeared to have a look at the water plant … Now engineers are involved in outer space. Young women, adequately trained, have a fantastic opportunity to take part in some of the details of these new explorations. . .” — Jane Rider, addressing a group of young women interested in engineering careers in March of 1969
Jane H. Rider was blessed with a long life; she lived to the age of 91. And when her achievements are tallied, it is clear she wasted precious little time in those nine decades. In all, she gave Arizonans more than 50 years of service in the field of health. In her 16 years as the state’s director of hospital surveys and construction, she was responsible for making Arizona’s hospitals the very best possible. When she retired in 1961, she commented, “There’s so much yet to be done.” Although her energy was still driving her forward, she was ready to pass on the responsibilities and explore new avenues for herself.
While serving as director, she had had responsibility for deciding how to spend $2.5 million in federal funds allocated to Arizona under the Hill Burton Act to assist communities in constructing hospitals and health clinics. A new building for St. Joseph’s Hospital and the additions to Good Samaritan, Maricopa County General and Memorial Hospitals in Phoenix came under this program.
Even after her so-called retirement Jane Rider continued to serve in the field of health, working as a consultant for hospital projects in Arizona. For 40 years she was active in the Maricopa County General Hospital Auxiliary and St. Joseph’s Hospital Auxiliary. She was an honorary member of the Arizona Hospital Association and St. Luke’s Board of Visitors. She was one of the founders of the Arizona Public Health Association and a member of the Arizona Sewage and Water Works Association. She also served on the board of directors for Maricopa County Hospitals and was a trustee of St. Luke’s Medical Center.
Jane Rider might never have set foot in Arizona were it not for her father’s job. He was a Pennsylvania Dutch mining engineer (some accounts describe him as a chemist or an assayer) who had come to Arizona for the first time in 1882. He later returned to Pennsylvania to marry, and on August 18, 1889, Jane H. Rider was born in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, in a suburb of Pittsburgh. She was the eldest of three children. One brother died in infancy; another, Percy Sower Rider Jr., was killed in World War I.
When she was six years old, the family moved to Colorado, residing for a time in Rico and Durango. Later, Miss Rider attended a private high school for girls in Denver. In 1904, the family moved to Tucson. From 1907 to 1911, Jane attended the University of Arizona. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, becoming Arizona’s first female engineer.
Her first job was as a bacteriologist for the Arizona State Laboratories at the University of Arizona. She was later assistant director and in 1918 became director of the lab. Describing her work, she said she “juggled test tubes in (the) laboratory and made field investigations of milk and water supplies all over the map of Arizona, traveling by train, stage, automobile and horseback.”
“Water, then as now, was on everyone’s mind,” Jane Rider recalled years later. “I spent a lot of time in the field with railroad representatives and mining men looking for pure water sources.” She also was interested in seeing that milk supplies in Arizona were safe. “In 1913 Arizona had the second highest infant mortality rate in the nation and a good share of the blame went to unsanitary milk,” she recalled in a newspaper interview in 1966. “Do you know what a ‘dobe hole is? When people built their adobe houses they dug the material out of the ground and left the hole. They let this fill with water to water their cattle. Then cows, on hot days, would stand in the ‘dobe hole. Then milking time came but the hossies were not washed off before they were milked, and the dirt and stagnant water got in the buckets.”
Jane Rider worked to publicize the sanitation problem and played an important role in establishing the link between infant mortality and contaminated milk, convincing the dairy industry of the need for pasteurization. In 1918 she took a leave of absence from the laboratory to work with the American Red Cross Commission for Great Britain. She returned to the lab in May 1919 and worked there until 1935. Under her direction, one of the lab’s jobs was to test food and drugs. This was years before the federal pure food and drug acts existed. She and her assistants worked to stop the sale of dangerous patent medicines and cosmetics.
In 1935, Jane resigned from the laboratory to become the Arizona administrator for the National Youth Administration, an agency concerned primarily with construction work and sanitary engineering. The job included hospital construction and remodeling.
Her final job as state director of hospital surveys and construction lasted from 1948 to 1961. Miss Rider received many honors during her career. She was the second woman to be accepted into the American Society of Civil Engineers and was a senior member of the National Society of Women Engineers. In 1963 she was awarded the Distinguished Citizen Award by the University of Arizona. In 1970, she was selected as the Phoenix Woman of the Year by the Phoenix Advertising Club.
Jane Rider died on March 4, 1981 in St. Luke’s Hospital in Phoenix.