Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dr. Susan Anderson

By Anna Kathryn Lanier

The genre I have fallen into as far my writing goes is American Western. Though most of my stories are contemporary, the Early American West is really dear to my heart. The women of the west fascinate me. The hardships they endured following either their men or their own hearts west are amazing. But they went and helped to shape the west and the country as much, if not more, than the men.
One such woman was Dr. Susan Anderson, who practiced medicine in the mining towns of Colorado when women doctors were far and few between.

Susan Anderson, born in 1870, she and her brother were both well-educated by their parents. After her parents’ divorce, she moved with her father and brother to Kansas. There she excelled in Morse code, but when she told her father she wanted to be a telegrapher, William told her to set her sights higher and become a physician.

(Susan with her brother and father)
After graduating high school in 1892, Susan followed her father and step-mother to Colorado. In 1893 she enrolled into the University of Michigan’s medical school. With the handful of other women in the school Susan attended the co-ed lectures, but the anatomy class was separated by the sexes. The school did not think men and women should take this class together.

As Susan attended medical school, she also interned at the local hospital. The hours were grueling and it was at the hospital that she contracted tuberculosis, a disease that plagued her the rest of her life. After graduating in 1897, she turned down a position at the hospital and instead returned to Colorado to practice and to improve her health in the clean air.
(Susan's graduation picture)

There were 55 other doctors in the area she settled, so she drew mostly female patients. However, her proficiency in cleaning wounds and staving off infections—thus prevent amputations—grew her reputation as a good doctor. The thriving practice and clean fresh air did improve her health, as did her engagement to marry a man she loved.
Tragedy struck twice, however, in a short amount of time. First, her fiancée left her at the altar, breaking her heart. Before she could pick up the pieces of her broken engagement, her beloved brother and best friend John died of influenza. Dr. Anderson was sent into a deep depression and to help lift her spirits, she travelled Colorado. Finally settling in Denver, she once again set up a practice, but with a glutton of physicians already in the area, the budding business floundered. She then moved to Greeley and took a job as a nurse in the local hospital.

When a typhoid epidemic struck the area, she decided to leave for the good of her health and moved to Fraser, Co. There, she decided to practice medicine again and opened shop. After proving herself a good doctor, her practice thrived. “She mended bullet wounds, set broken limbs, and even removed abscessed teeth.” She was so admired by the local loggers she treated that they built her a house.

Dr. Anderson became well-known throughout Colorado and the country. Colorado General Hospital recognized her as an exceptional healer and Grand County, Co. appointed her as coroner.

As coroner, she held the commission overseeing the blasting of a tunnel through the mountain accountable for any on-the-job deaths or injuries due to safety negligence. When accidents did happen in the tunnel, she’d travel the six miles into the Moffat Tunnel to give first aid and retrieve dead bodies.

Dr. Anderson practiced for more than 50 years. At age 88, she was hospitalized and lived the remainder of her life in Colorado General Hospital. After her death in 1960, she was buried near her brother in Cripple Creek, Colorado.


Further reading:

Next month, I’m teaching a class on Pioneering Women of the West. Win a free workshop by leaving a comment. One lucky winner will receive a free workshop registration. Another commenter will win a copy of my ebook SALVATION BRIDE….the heroine is a mail-order bride and practicing physician.

Pioneering Women of the West Workshop
By Anna Kathryn Lanier

August 1-31, 2011
Hearts Through History RWA’s Campus

The West was discovered by men looking for adventure and fortune. But it was civilized by women who brought families, schools, churches, and stability to the area.

In PIONEERING WOMEN OF THE WEST, you’ll learn about the western movement, the treacherous journey hundreds of thousands people took and of the lives of specific women who helped shape the West, intentionally or not. Some women went looking for a better life; others followed their man into the wilderness.

There will be three lectures a week, with time for questions and answers and additional research on the participants’ part.

Anna Kathryn Lanier


Debby Lee said...

Hi Anna Katherine, this was such a great article. I love stories of the Old West. It's one of my favorite genre's to read and the more I write, the more I'm discovering that western's are my niche. This article reminded me of Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. I "loved" that show. thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Great post!!!

Margaret said...

Wonderful testament to the power of women in the west. Thanks for sharing
this wonderful biography.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Debby, Tess and Margaret. Thanks for stopping by. I am always amazed by what the people went through just to survive. they are a true testement to endurance!

Susan Macatee said...

She was a beautiful woman! And so dedicated! I guess that was the only way women physicians could gain respect in a male dominated field.

The heroine of my newly contracted historical, set just after the Civil War ended, is a self taught physician who longs to attend a respected medical school. The story's not set in the west, but in a small town in Pennsylvania. But the stories of real female doctors in the 19th century fascinate me, so I wanted a doctor as heroine in my latest romance novel.

Jannine said...

Women had to be strong to survive in the American West, and Dr. Anderson certainly was.

I love learning about how people lived and worked in the 19th century. Great article!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I do postings on women of the west as well because they were a strong and often forgotten breed of women. I admire how well they survived all the hardships and could stand tall beside men who didn't fully accept them. Good for Dr. Susan Anderson!!!!

Winona said...

I've been amazed by the women of the west since I was a junior in high school and did a research paper on the Oregon Trail. Many, many years later I have an almost complete manuscript featuring a young woman on the Oregon Trail. My research has led me in many directions but it seems strong women always were the anchors of families. I have registered for your coming workshop and can't wait for it. Very nice post.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Jannine, Susan, Paisley and Winona. Thanks for stopping by. Yes, the women of the West were of stout stature. In reading about the doctors, I'm learning that although they were derided by many, their reputations as healers was wide-spread and nearly legendary.

marybelle said...

"The West was discovered by men looking for adventure and fortune. But it was civilized by women who brought families, schools, churches, and stability to the area. " - love that. So, very true. This was a fascinating post.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Mary. I'd say the same is true about Australia. Though I know some people were forced to go down under, many men went for the adventure and the women went to civilize the area.

Janie Mason said...

I'm planning on writing a story with a female doctor, too.
Thanks for another interesting post.

P.L. Parker said...

I loved this! I generally prefer really ancient history but a story such as this really catches my interest.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Janie and P.L. Thanks for stopping by. It's unfortunate, that the accomplishments of women such as Susan are overlooked in history classes! Such fasinating people.

Tanya Hanson said...

Terrific post, Anna Katherine. I too admire the women of the Old West. I'd love to have known this woman. And boo to that cretin who broke her heart!

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, all. I drew for the workshop winner a few days ago, but forgot to mention it here. I also forgot until today, that I was supposed to draw a winner for a copy of my novella SALVATION BRIDE. The workshop winner was Paisley and and Winona won the ebook. Thanks to everyone for stopping by.

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