Adventist Doctors Daniel and Lauretta Kress

by Diana Kohn

The Seventh-day Adventists brought medical care to countries across the globe as part of their early missionary outreach. Takoma Park is home to one of those hospitals, which opened in 1907 on the banks of Sligo Creek, offering a unique brand of health care. Two of the pioneers behind both these efforts were the husband-and-wife doctors Daniel and Lauretta Kress. Of their 43 years as doctors and medical missionaries, 26 years were spent in Takoma Park.

Their story as chronicled in their joint autobiography, Under the Guiding Hand, is a fascinating look at the early days of Adventist health practices and missionary life, as well as life in Takoma Park.

The Adventists were one of several new denominations that arose out of the intense religious fervor of the 1840s. Two tenets, however, set them apart from the others:

By 1862, they had settled in Battle Creek, Michigan, where the 3500 adherents formally organized as a church.

Daniel Kress, born in 1862, was not originally Adventist. He married Lauretta Eby in 1884, and they were swept up in the Baptist evangelism. Daniel found his calling as a gospel preacher and she joined him to organize missionary outreach. Lauretta recounts in their duo biography how personal Bible study prompted her to adopt the seventh day sabbath beliefs and the dietary restrictions of local Adventists. She then converted Daniel. Given his status as head of the local Baptist church, this was a big deal. Their solution: become Adventist missionaries.

That decision led them to the Adventist world in Battle Creek, dominated by Dr. John H. Kellogg at the Sanitarium. Kellogg wanted to build on the Adventist view of health to create a hospital system, which in turn would foster religious converts. This evangelical medical corps required trained doctors. Taking note of Lauretta and Daniel's zeal and organizational skills, Kellogg recruited them to enroll in the University of Michigan's medical school. Lauretta managed to juggle attending class with raising two daughters and overseeing the Adventist dormitory in Ann Arbor. She and Daniel both graduated in 1894, part of the university's first four-year class, with Lauretta one of ten women in a class of 65.

They returned to Battle Creek Sanitarium until 1899 when they were sent to London to open the first medical mission and sanitarium there. In addition to providing medical care, Daniel preached to the men while Lauretta taught nutrition and health classes for the women.

Barely a year later, they were on their way to Australia. Lauretta established the Sydney Sanitarium while Daniel was away on multiple speaking tours, including a trip to New Zealand. He preached the value of Adventist dietary principles and prayer to overcome disease and habits like smoking, alcoholism and drug abuse. This teaching rests on the Adventist belief that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and defiling that temple is a sin.

Meanwhile, Adventists back home were reeling from a series of fires in Battle Creek that destroyed the sanitarium and publishing house. Dr. Kellogg remained in Battle Creek to rebuild the Sanitarium, but in 1903 the bulk of the Adventists relocated to the outskirts of Washington DC. Here their vision of healthy living based on nutrition, exercise and faith in God met the B.F. Gilbert's vision for his sylvan suburb of clean air and water in Takoma Park.

In 1907, Daniel and Lauretta Kress were recalled from Australia to oversee the opening of the Washington DC Sanitarium, the first medical facility in Montgomery County. She later recounts her first impression: "We were much pleased with the location in the woods, with the little Sligo creek rolling by over the stones in its basin. Our only fears were the inaccessibility of the institution, situated so far from the capital, and the impossibility of its being finished by the time set for its opening."

Kress Maternity and Childrens Hospital at Washington Sanitarium 1916

It took all of Lauretta's organizing skills to get the rooms ready for the 40 patients and 12 staff. The Washington Post's opening day coverage described the medical care as health and nutritional education, fitness classes, and treatment that employs the simple agencies of nature - water, air, massage and pure food.

Although Daniel had been appointed medical director, he spent much of his time away giving speeches, leaving Loretta to manage the staff, organize training for nurses, and handle her own practice focused on expectant mothers and newborns (making her the county’s first woman doctor).

Two years later Daniel's speaking duties were expanded nationwide, and Lauretta practiced briefly in California and Boston. But 1915 found them back in Takoma Park for what turned out to be their longest stay anyway - 24 years. They settled into 705 Carroll (now 7705) across from the Sanitarium, at the north end of the Sligo Creek bridge, which was named Krestwood.

Lauretta (and her daughter) passed the Maryland State Boards and were officially licensed to practice medicine. Within a year, she spearheaded the opening of a ward dedicated to maternity care, adjacent to the San but under her management. She delivering an amazing number of babies, while seeking to reduce the risks to mothers, and introduced a parent education program in 1935. The nursing school remained under her supervision.

Meanwhile on the lecture circuit, Daniel was ramping up his crusade against smoking, far ahead of his time. He had been speaking on the subject since his own renunciation of tobacco in the mid-1880s. His tract, "A Physician's View of Cigarette Smoking" spends 96 pages describing the dangers of cigarettes (19 toxins), with chapters devoted to young boys, women, and athletes. He blasted the technicality that exempted tobacco from regulation under the Pure Food and Drug Act, the tobacco companies ("smoke as incense to the Tobacco Gods"), and the evils of advertising.

Cover of anti-smoking pamphlet by Dr. Daniel Kress

Daniel marshalled anti-smoking quotes from an impressive array of prominent figures -- from Luther Burbank, Herbert Hoover, William Mayo, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford to sports figures Knute Rockne, Ty Cobb, Red Grange, and Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson. His "cure" advocated no tapering ("give it up"), natural diet especially fruit, no highly seasoned food or stimulating drinks, and the aid of religion. His crusade led to the establishment of the Kress Memorial Foundation in 1947 to promote research in narcotics and paved the way for Adventists to introduce the first formal "quit smoking" programs.

Walter Johnson testimonial

On their 50th wedding anniversary in 1934, the Kresses hosted a party and invited "everyone that we have brought into the world since we began the practice of medicine." More than 600 arrived, and were captured in a massive group photograph on the creek bank next to the house.

Wedding Anniversary Party 1934

Five years later, in 1939, they retired to Orlando, leaving many legacies of their work behind in Takoma Park. According to the Washington Post story, the final tally for babies delivered stood at 4,372.

Dr. Lauretta Kress, who died in 1955, is one of 45 women honored in the Montgomery County Women's History Archives. Dr. Daniel Kress died one year later.

Historic Takoma would like to thank realtor Hank Prensky for making rhe reference materials and Kress family photos available to us. The materials were collected in preparation for the recent sale of Krest View.