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 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.
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.
THE DOCTOR WORE PETTICOATS by Chris Enss
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