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"Doc Susie" - Frontier Physician

Updated on September 2, 2015

Susan Anderson M.D.

Susan Anderson was born in 1870 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her family moved to the booming mining camp of Cripple Creek, Colorado while she was still young. She graduated from University of Michigan medical school in 1897. However, while pursuing her studies there she was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Returning to her family in Cripple Creek, she set up a practice. Sometime later she moved on to Denver. Folks during those times didn’t readily accept women as doctors. So she moved to Greeley, Colorado where she worked at nursing for 6 years.

However, Greeley’s climate didn’t set well with her tuberculosis and as her condition worsened she knew she would need a very dry and cold climate if she was to maintain her health.

In December of 1907 Susie boarded a train bound for Fraser, Colorado. A porter asked "Ma'am, are you sure you want to go to Fraser? Nothin' there but a saw mill and a few shacks. And it's so cold they say you've got to get out of town to get warm."

“Doc Susie,” as she would later become known, settled in a small shack east of the tracks. She was determined to deal with her tuberculosis or die in Fraser.

At first, Susie did not let people know she was a doctor, perhaps due to her personal health concerns. But eventually the town discovered her secret. As a competent physician, it was disheartening not to be trusted by her friends and neighbor. Finally, she got a patient…a horse.

1893 Cripple Creek.  Doc Susie Center
1893 Cripple Creek. Doc Susie Center

Doc, Vet and Dentist

It was common practice in that era for M.D.'s to also fill the roles of vet and dentist. She cured the horse and its’ satisfied owner spread the word they now had an honest to goodness doctor in town.

Shortly thereafter, Doc Susie was being asked for advice on various illnesses and soon had a thriving practice. Anderson understood the importance of sterilization techniques as well as good nutrition and preventive medicine…practices not recognized by some other doctors of the times.

Anderson Residence today in Fraser
Anderson Residence today in Fraser

Logging Families

As confidence in her abilities spread it wasn’t long before she was treating families in remote logging camps. Battling snow and sub zero weather Doc Susie would trek through the mountains to treat logging families. Anderson was once quoted as saying "I wear boots and long handle underwear just like everybody else up here...course, I don't wear them when I go to Denver, they'd probably throw me in jail."

One day an executive of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, William R.Freeman, informed her she was living on the D&SL right-of-way and would have to move. Fortunately, a local rancher sold her his small sturdy barn. Lumberjacks and ranchers disassembled the barn and relocated it to another piece of property. The house still stands today.

Once Doc Susie escorted a small boy needing an appendectomy to Colorado General Hospital in Denver. An intern, not trusting this strange woman’s diagnosis, was about to have them removed. However, another physician overhearing the commotion, intervened. After an examination he agreed with Anderson. The doctor sternly faced the intern and said, "Meet Doctor Susan Anderson, the finest rural physician in Western Colorado...the best diagnostician west of the divide".

During construction of the Moffat Tunnel,designed to replace the hazardous Moffat Road line over Rollins Pass, Doc Susie was offered a position as Coroner for Grand County. A "real" doctor, able to confront the Tunnel Commission about accidents and working conditions in the dangerous tunnel was needed. Some19 men were killed and hundreds of others were injured during its construction. Sometimes Susie would go into the tunnel to care for the injured or retrieve bodies.

In February 1928 the Moffat Tunnel officially opened. Ceremonies commemorating the event were held by W. R. Freeman and dignitaries of the Denver Post. It was announced workers and their families were not to go through the tunnel ahead of the dignitaries." Doc Susie angrily made a large sign to greet the snobbish dignitaries declaring..."WE BUILT THIS TUNNEL...THE POST DIDN'T".

During the many years "Doc Susie” practiced medicine, one of her most important contributions was made during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19. Numerous Fraser residents became sick and Anderson found herself rushing from one deathbed to the next.

Doc Susie never became wealthy as a physician. She didn’t do it for money. Anyway, she was often paid in firewood, food or other bartered items. Doc Susie continued to practice in Fraser until 1956. She died in Denver on April 16, 1960 and was buried in Cripple Creek.

On October 9, 1997 Dr. Susan Anderson was posthumously inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame.

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    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      No Prob Bob!

    • profile image

      alastar packer 7 years ago

      What a remarkable woman, and ahead of her time too. Thanks for bringing this one to light JY.

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 7 years ago from Guwahati, India

      It is gorgeous for a Lady Doctor and love for humanity.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image

      CASE1WORKER 7 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      thankyou for this hub-it is good to know that one lady made a real difference, despite health problems

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