Doc Susie: The truth of Colorado Women Physicians & Giveaway

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Doris McCraw/Angela Raines

Doris is giving away four eBooks,

so be sure to leave a comment!

In January 1991, “Doc Susie, The true story of a country physician in the Colorado Rockies” was given to the world. This biography of Dr. Susan Anderson began the legend of the lone woman doctor who gave up so much to follow her dreams. This legend became a myth when “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” hit the airwaves in 1993, two years after the release of the book. Both were full of drama and pathos.

But was Dr. Anderson the norm for women doctors, or is there more to the story? Susan Anderson , born January 31, 1870, received her license to practice medicine in Colorado in 1897 and the bulk of her story takes place in Frasier, Colorado after 1907, where she was the lone doctor, and never married. To put this in perspective, Colorado had women physicians as early as 1873. Dr. Alida Avery came to Denver, Colorado in 1874 from Vassar, where she taught and was their physician for nine years. Like Doc Susie she also remained single.

9-6-2015 209In 1876, according to relatives, Dr. Harriet Leonard arrived in Manitou Springs, Colorado, with husband and children. By 1878 she was joined by Dr. Julia E. Loomis, Dr. Esther B. Holmes and shortly after Dr. Clarabel Rowe in Colorado Springs. All four of these women were married and practiced their chosen career, along with the sixteen other doctors in the area in the late 1870’s. Dr. Loomis went to medical school in her 50’s. None of these women, who appear to have been married prior to going for their medical degree, could have achieved their goal without a least some support from their husbands.

In 1881 when Colorado started licensing physicians, women were licensed the same as men. Dr. Edith Root of Denver, Colorado may have been the first to receive her license. Her license number was 82.2-19-2013 020

Between 1870 and 1880 Colorado saw the arrival of many physicians, which included a number of women. This may have in part been due to Colorado being touted for a climate known for helping those who suffered from consumption. Note, consumption was not just TB, but any wasting disease. There was another spurt from 1890-1900. Yes, many of these women congregated in the larger towns, to include the boom towns of Leadville, Cripple Creek and Victor. Once the floodgates were opened, women physicians made their way to Colorado. Many became involved in the suffrage movement, while others worked to better the conditions of others. Dr. Caroline Spencer of Colorado Springs and Dr. Alida Avery worked for the rights of women. Dr. Mary Helen Barker Bates helped start a hospital in Leadville. Dr. Kate Yont worked in the Italian community with the naturalization process in Denver. Some carried guns, others didn’t have to, but all have stories waiting to be told.

So you see, while the story of Dr. Susan ‘Doc Susie’ Anderson is a wonderful story, it is by far not the norm for women doctors in the state of Colorado. There were many before her who also followed the dream of helping people in need.

Doris McCraw has been researching the women doctors in Colorado prior to 1900 for some time. Finding the stories of these pioneering and determined women is a passion. Doris also writes fiction under the pen name Angela Raines where she tells the stories of strong women and men who find the strength to love, much like the women doctors who followed their dreams.

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What do you think was the biggest challenge for those early female doctors?


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49 thoughts on “Doc Susie: The truth of Colorado Women Physicians & Giveaway”

  1. I think the biggest challenge for these lady doctors was facing the prejudice against them. Especially when many times people didn’t go to them for help simply because she was a woman.

    • Faith, that seems to be the case for some of the women in Colorado, but not all. Harriett Leonard was the proprietor of one of the mineral spas in Manitou and she handled both men and women. Still, the early years were a struggle for so many.

  2. The biggest challenge was first obtaining the necessary education, then getting society to trust the were as capable as the men doctors.

    • Geralyn,
      Yes, education in the early days was a challenge. However after Elizabeth Blackwell and her sister started a school, many were rushing to follow. Some allowed co-ed and others were for women only. Also they seemed to fill the need, especially in the East for medical care for women and children.

    • Debra,
      Proving themselves for some was an issue. For others, I am finding they had faith in themselves and didn’t worry about what society thought. There was one female physician who was captured during the Civil War and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. This in spite of the fact that the army wouldn’t accept women doctors. If you get the chance, read up on Dr. Mary Walker. Here is the link. It is fascinating.

  3. Doris, I always learn from your posts. Good on you for researching and sharing the stories of remarkable women. Without them, women today might still be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen, whether or not they intended to be there.

    What a generous giveaway! I can attest to winners receiving some wonderful reading — especially your stories, dear friend. 🙂

    • Kathleen,
      Thank you for your kind comments not only on this post, but for my writing. The non-fiction I am pretty comfortable with my abilities, but the fiction…guess I’m still pretty new to that part.

      My whole goal is to make sure these women, their lives and stories don’t get lost. They did so much. Colorado College had a woman doctor for the students in 1893, Dr.Grace Preston, and she was followed by another female Dr. Hannah Taylor Muir. CC hired a woman doctor many years before they hired a woman PhD.

  4. Welcome to Petticoats and Pistols, Doris! And thank you for the interesting post! Coming from a medical background as a nurse, I’d say the biggest challenge was getting people to accept their level of expertise and trusting them. Like Ginger Rogers said about dancing and having to everything as well as Fred Astaire and yet in high heels and backwards–the women doctors probably had to be so very careful. So much could be blamed on them if their patients had a bad outcome through no fault of their doctoring.

    • Thank you Kathyrn.

      The early years when women first entered the profession, they surely did have to prove themselves. I’ve always loved the Ginger Rogers quote. As the years progressed, at least here in Colorado there was more acceptance. Of course in many ways Colorado was a bit progressive for the time. Women were licensed the same as men, were admitted to medical societies, and worked along side many of the men, especially in the late 1880’s and 1890’s. The more I learn the more I find I need to know. Getting ready to study the papers of Dr. Carolyn Spencer and her education. Can’t wait to get started.

  5. Hi Doris….Welcome and thank for paying us a visit. We’re so happy to have you. Such an interesting post. Women doctors back then really had a difficult time but when given a chance, they really made a difference. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman was one of my favorite TV series. She always handled things with such grace and humility. Yet she was extremely strong. I have a woman doctor living in Indian Territory play a small part in the book I just finished. She was such an interesting character I may use her in future books.

    Wishing you tons of success!

    • Oh Linda, I love that you have a woman doctor in your book. That is so cool. Thank you for having me here to share my passion for these women.
      Dr. Quinn was a fun series and ran for many seasons. To think it may never have happened had Virginia Cornell not met Dr. Susan ‘Doc Susie’ Anderson when young, she might never have written Susan’s story.

  6. We women have always been a determined lot. Thanks for all the great info, Doris! A great post. Have a great day.

    • Kristy, you have a wonderful Valentine’s weekend. I appreciate you stopping by. I also agree, we women, when we make up our minds are a force to be reconded with. Thank you for the kind words and so glad you enjoyed the story of these amazing women.

    • Colleen,
      Acceptance was a big hurdle in the early days. Once they moved West, I think it became easier, although it was no picnic for anyone who ventured out this way. Some of the doctors, both men and women, came to Colorado for their health. It made for some interesting situations.
      Thanks for stopping by.

    • I thinks that’s what we all strive for, even today, changing stereotypes. I know I am very grateful to all those women who paved the way for the rest of us. Their stories are amazing, and I want to make sure we don’t forget them. Thanks!

    • I’ve heard of women who strive to be accepted as someone who can do the work just a well as a man. I guess I’ve been lucky. Most of my jobs were the type where gender didn’t make any difference. Still, researching these women has added so much to my understanding of what it took to be a pioneer. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Welcome, Doris! So glad to have you with us today. I always learn from your posts, and you have such a way of making these people “come to life”–I can see them in my mind’s eye.

    I think probably the idea of them being women would be the hardest stumbling block for them to get past…just the idea that, being a woman, they would not know as much as a male doctor would–in the public opinion. But a lot of doctors, male and female both, had it hard back then, I would think–just because of the lack of knowledge and information of the times. Probably lost a lot of patients due to that.

    Great post. I love your research!

    • Cheryl,

      Thank You! To me these women are real. I sometime wish I could just sit down and talk with them. Oh the questions I’d ask. I will say, Alida Avery, who was a Vassar for nine years before coming to Colorado, did not lose a single patient. Amazing!

      I am so glad others enjoy hearing of these special women. The more I dig, the more wonderful stories I find, and even women I’d not known existed. The rabbit hole is getting deeper and deeper. LOL

    • Connie,
      In the early days they did have a lot to overcome. Men thought it would be too much for a woman to observe a corpse being dissected. I think they forgot women had always been taking care of the sick and were stronger than they thought. As Elizabeth Blackwell and all who followed her proved. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. What a wonderful post, Doris! I am glad to read some facts because Dr. Quinn remains my favorite TV show. I love learning true “stories” about the strong foremothers who helped carve out the west. thank you! I imagine the biggest impediment against physicians who were women was prejudice against their gender, (same as in many fields today) and that they were best for female issues and children. For a PRP story, I learned how difficult it was for women to practice law in the 19th century…it was “unladylike” to appear in court or even outside the office. Sheesh. Thanks for a terrific post I know I’ll come back to time and time again.I’m sure that attitude prevailed whenever women sought out “masculine” professions.

    • Tanya,

      Thank you for the kind words. The topic just gets more and more fascinating the more I research. I’ve been at it for a while and still keep finding more women who followed their passion. An author friend wrote a novel based on an early woman attorney. It was a great read. The more we tell the stories of the ‘pioneering’ women, I think the better we can feel about what we have accomplished.
      As I said earlier, if the author of ‘Doc Susie’ hadn’t met Dr. Anderson when she was young, so many things would have been lost. In fact Dr. Anderson has two graves in Cripple Creek, where her brother is buried. They say she had TB but she lived to be ninety. What a life.

    • Melanie, yes education was tough to find in the early days. Starting in the late 1840’s more and more schools began to go co-ed and others were started that were for women only. Harriett Leondard was a graduate of the Keokuk school for Physicians and Surgeon, which was an early co-ed school. Where there is a will, there is a way. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  9. I never realized there were so many women doctors during that time period. Was this just in Colorado or was it true nationwide? Since these women were being trained elsewhere, it would seem there were other places that would accept them. Or did they come West because they weren’t accepted elsewhere? I am sure they had people that felt they were not as capable as male doctors. They probably were accepted more readily to treat women and children. I imagine that men wouldn’t like being a woman’s patient. Having her in a position of authority and superior knowledge was not something I would think they were used to. Did many think it was improper for a woman to be treating a man in such a personal manner?
    Thank you for an interesting post.

    • Patricia, I believe their coming west was a combination of easier acceptance and the greater need for physicians. The East was pretty firmly entrenched with a number of doctors. The major ‘healthy’ areas had a fair number of both men and women doctors. California and New Mexico were also known for their health benefits. What research I’ve done on those states seems to bear out the acceptance of women more readily. As for it being proper, that gradually changed over time, as more and more were seeking the cure. Thank you for bringing up such great questions.

  10. Acceptance of folks that women could fix them up as well as a male physician! I can’t imagine the prejudice they went through.

    • Melody, At first it was a challenge and most of these women directed their practice to woman and children. Dr. Esther B. Holmes, in Colorado Springs, became known as the ‘baby doctor’, which seems to indicate the direction her practice took. But as the biography of ‘Doc Susie’ pointed out, the need for care essentially overcame that prejudice.

  11. Breaking prejudicial barriers against women in medicine, as well as what the others here have said. I would imagine most “professional” women of that day had similar challenges. Bless their hearts for paving the way for the rest of us! Thank you, Doris, and Petticoats and Pistols for what you do! I just discovered your site this morning and I’m looking forward to reading and learning more from you.

    • Brenda, glad you found this amazing blog. The posts are as varied as the wonderful authors who contribute. I consider it an honor to be asked to add to the knowledge these writers share. As you can see, my research passion is these wonderful ‘pioneering’ women. I want to make sure we acknowledge their contributions, no matter how small. We are where we are today because they followed their dreams. Appreciate your lovely comments. Thank you.

  12. Hi,Doris, Such an informative and delight trip through the history of women doctors. I too, coming from a medical background can appreciate the effort and perserverance of those women who broke the ground running for us to follow in their footsteps. I loved watching Dr. Quinn, golly I’d forgot it until you mentioned it. I too have a book–I think I mentioned it on another site of yours recently–where I have a woman doctor(almost doctor)have to battle the leeriness of others, esp. the male population in just how adapt she was. I think that must’ve been the hardest hurdle for women entering the medical world, esp. as an MD to show that they were just as knowledgeable as well as skillful with surgeries. One tough group of ladies and we are so lucky they stood tall and proud and strong. Thanks for a great post. Wishing you the best.

    • Bev, thank you for the encouraging words. I remember you talking about your story. Looking forward to that one. As much as I enjoy writing my fiction stories, researching and making sure the stories of these women are known is vitally important to me. Yes, we are lucky they didn’t let what others thought keep them from following their dreams. The fact that a number of them had husbands who also supported them in following their passions seems to say more about the acceptance of women in this field than other data. Thank you and looking forward to your book.

  13. Always surprise to see MD on a tombstone I know women docs were few back then and some were not even allowed to have that on the tombstone after they died. Thanks for the info.

    • Kim, Julia is the only woman physician who was practicing prior to 1900 who has an MD on her headstone in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs. There is a woman dentist, who also practiced prior to 1900 who has a DDS on her headstone, but she passed away after 1900. To me, Julia must have been very loved and admired. She didn’t even go to medical school until she was in her fifties. Thanks for adding to the information on these women.

  14. How many of them started off as midwives or were they MDs from the beginning. I think some of the prejudices were caused from men’s discomfort with being examined by women, yet women had dealt with this kind of thing for many, many years before. It really surprised me that there were so many female doctors at that time considering how much vocal trouble women have had until fairly recently with careers. Who was the first male to accept treatment from a woman. Does anyone know?

    • Whitney, I’m still working on some of their backgrounds, but it seems a few did start out as midwives while others came from families who were doctors. The climate for women was different in the West, but since most came from the prejudiced areas, there was still some struggle. In England, very early on, a woman dressed as a man, rose up in the ranks of the army and treated many men as did the women who were doctors, who served in the Civil War. Necessity overcames a lot of prejudices in this case. Great questions. Now to continue to find the answwers.

  15. I think the hardest part was proving that they could do what men did in that area. Men still thought women couldn’t do stuff like that.

    • Susan, you are correct. I think that’s why a number of them focused on treating women and children. Women were not comfortable, in some cases, with being treated by men. It filled a need to have women doctors. Still, these women more than proved they could do what men did, in some cases even better, as they paved the way for those who followed. Women actually did fairly well up until WWII when things seemed to have taken a step backward. I will say, it’s an eye opening research topic I’ve become very passionate about. I love writing fiction, but also am driven to tell the stories of these early women doctors.

  16. Last summer I attended a week-long summer camp at Camp Chief Ouray at the Snow Mountain Ranch. The camp was for “Active Older Adults” and they had me a “active.” At the camp were two pioneer cabins, and one was fully restored with some of the actual furnishings and such from the late 1800s. Doc Susie name was mentioned and her story told. I had never heard of her until then and standing in that little cabin, thinking about what the winters were like near Fraser, I was most impressed by her stamina. She could have done her doctoring in the lower elevations but chose the sparsely populated high country. I imagine that when one is injured or is having appendicitis, the patient don’t care one bit who is treating him.

    • Darlene, what an amazing experience you had. Fraser is high up there and has some brutal winters. Dr. Anderson did a wonderful job, and did overcome some hesitation at her being female, but she perservered and a lot of people survived due to her tenacity. I believe that was the case for most of these early women physicians. They kept at their dream to make a difference. Thank you for adding that great observation of Fraser and Dr. Anderson. I appreciated it.

  17. My Great-Great- Great G’ma Cordelia Barnes (born in 1831) was one of the country’s first women doctors. A book “Doctor Lady of Fair Plain” was written by Russell Leffell about her life.

  18. Linda, Thank you for that information. I will be following up on that book. I’d heard of Dr. Barnes, but hadn’t done much research. Thank you.

    • My aunt said the book was printed in Limited amount mostly for family. I have a copy. Hopefully it is also out there for public reading also.

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