The "Delaware Flats," the building farthest to the right (south) at the corner of North Delaware and East Michigan Streets, was the location of the combination office-apartment home of Helene Knabe, M.D. She was a bacteriologist whose significant contributions to Indiana public health are often overshadowed by her sensationalized murder at age 35 in this building on the night of October 24-25, 1911.
Background and Education, 1875-1904
Born in 1875 in Germany to a family of modest means, Helene Elise Hermine Knabe earned money to emigrate to the U.S., where women could study medicine. She arrived in New York on November 16, 1896, and in Indianapolis two days later, lodging at a boarding house where her cousin, Auguste Knabe, also boarded. She took a course at Butler College in the summer of 1900 and then entered the Medical College of Indiana (MCI), apparently also working as a nurse during this period. MCI held its neurology and psychiatry classes in the Pathology Building at Central State Hospital, so Knabe likely attended classes in what is now the Medical History Museum (also on this tour). She graduated as a physician on April 23, 1904, with three years' specialized experience assisting a faculty member with postmortem examinations and microscopic analysis.
State Laboratory of Hygiene and Rabies Expert, 1905-1908
Beginning in 1905, Dr. Knabe worked for the State Board of Health's Laboratory of Hygiene as a Deputy State Health Officer, investigating cases of poor sanitation, typhoid (about which she would later publish a professional paper), and other diseases. She rose quickly to Assistant Pathologist and, in 1906, to Assistant State Bacteriologist.
After completing specialized study with renowned experts on rabies, she became the first in Indiana to use the innovation of dissecting heads of animals suspected to be infected, and to recommend the Pasteur method: during the incubation period, people exposed to rabies received increasingly strong inoculations containing the diluted virus, thereby stimulating antibody production and greatly reducing the chances of developing the disease. By 1912, this treatment had reduced nationwide mortality among infected people from about 16% to less than 1%. After becoming Acting Superintendent of the Bacteriological Laboratory around 1908, Dr. Knabe authored the lab's monthly reports, in which she was blunt, such as scolding owners for not muzzling dogs, and criticizing physicians for incorrect preparation of records and blood specimens for analysis. Although she was Indiana's expert on rabies, she was not promoted beyond "Acting" Superintendent and was chronically underpaid until, in November 1908, she resigned in disgust.
Community Activism, Teaching, Private Practice, Early Death, 1909-1911
Dr. Knabe became a community speaker on sexual health and on the importance of sanitation, and went into teaching and private practice. Just three years later, someone slashed her throat with a weapon that was never conclusively identified. Despite extensive police investigation, reward offers, advocacy by women's groups, and a trial for two defendants that was pre-empted by the judge directing a "not guilty" verdict instead of jury deliberation, her murder remains unsolved.