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Lillian Estes Eichenberger Mickel (1909–1986)

Lillian Estes Eichenberger Mickel pioneered women’s roles in multiple fields. She served as a professional photographer, founded a nursing home, established a unique facility for handicapped children, was an accomplished portrait painter, and served as Johnson County’s historian.

Lillian Eichenberger was born in Clarksville (Johnson County) on June 14, 1909, to Lafayette Eichenberger and Martha Louisa Black Eichenberger. She had seven siblings. Her father, a house painter, died in 1912. Her mother was an extremely talented seamstress. At the age of twelve, Eichenberger went to work in M. E. Anderson’s photography studio in order to give financial help to her widowed mother. She learned the photography business, becoming the first woman photographer in the state to make and distribute colored postcards and color transparencies.

She married Rheual Wesley Mickel, a railroad worker, on September 30, 1933; they had one child. He sustained a permanently disabling injury in 1938 while working and was forced to retire after two years of hospitalization. At that time, he and his wife became licensed physiotherapists to aid in his recovery, opening a slenderizing and physical therapy studio on Rogers Street in Clarksville. They specialized in steam baths and Swedish massage. At the suggestion of their family doctor, they purchased some Tennessee Walking Horses to provide Rheual Mickel with some form of exercise. They later started the Mary Ann Stock Farms, named after their daughter. The Mickels raised prize-winning horses and formed the first Johnson County Riding Club.

Lillian Mickel continued her photographic work and, in 1941, she and her husband bought a half interest in Anderson’s studio. In 1947, they became the sole owners. The following year, at a state convention of photographers in Little Rock (Pulaski County), she received two gold seals for excellence in color photography. When she retired as a photographer, roughly 60,000 glass and other negatives were donated to the Museum of Prehistory and History at Arkansas Tech University.

In 1954, Mickel’s mother became ill and moved into the Mickel home. A local doctor asked Mickel to also take in one of her mother’s neighbors who had a broken hip. Gradually, other women in need of care were added, beginning the transformation of the Mickel home into a care facility. In 1963, the Mickels built Mickel Nursing Home, the first such licensed care facility in Johnson County. Through a correspondence course, and with the aid of local doctors, Mickel became a certified nurse. Her daughter, Mary Ann Farris, a registered nurse, returned to Clarksville in 1968, and, in 1969, Mickel and Farris became the first mother-daughter team to receive their Arkansas nursing home licenses and to become licensed nursing home administrators. Mickel Nursing Home became a licensed skilled care facility

In 1976, at the urging of the Office of Long Term Care, the Mickel Nursing Home began accepting multiple-handicapped children aged from birth to six years. That wing of the facility was named Mickel’s Infant Infirmary. The trained nurses began employing strength and cognitive activities as soon as the infants were admitted. Physical therapists, speech therapists, audiologists, social workers, and a special education teacher were added to the staff. Ultimately, 153 babies were treated at the infirmary; children were transferred to the Arkansas Children’s Colony in Conway (which was renamed the Conway Human Development Center in 1981) when they reached age six. In 1978, Mickel’s husband suffered a major stroke, and so Mickel transferred the daily operation of the nursing home and infant infirmary to her daughter. After Lillian Mickel’s death in 1986, the nursing home was sold.

Mickel was also a noted self-taught portrait painter. Her portrait of President Harry Truman hangs, on a rotating basis, in the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. Her oil painting Christ in Gethsemane won state awards in Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.

In 1954, the county judge appointed her as the Johnson County historian. She published four volumes of compiled Johnson County history in addition to publishing the 1835 tax records and the 1840 Census of the county, deeds, and estate settlements. Just prior to her death, she designed the Johnson County flag, and it is registered with the secretary of state. It was the first county flag in Arkansas. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Order of the Eastern Star.

Mickel died on May 5, 1986. She is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Clarksville.

For additional information:
Ferguson, John L. Arkansas Lives: The Opportunity Land’s Who’s Who. Hopkinsville, KY: Historical Record Association, Inc., 1965.

“Mrs. Rheual Mickel: Businesswoman, Civil Leader Dies.” Arkansas Gazette. May 6, 1986, p. 10A.

Obituary of Lillian Mickel. Johnson County Graphic. May 7, 1986, p. 11.

Mary Frances Hodges
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 11/20/2009

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