History of San Diego, 1542-1908
PART SIX: CHAPTER 4: Growth of the Medical Profession
Throughout all the days of Spanish and Mexican rule, the practice of medicine was very primitive. A surgeon was attached to each presidial company and the missionaries, as a rule, had some skill. But the presidios were feebly maintained and usually slack in medical and surgical equipment; and the traditions lead to the belief that the missionaries were rather poorly equipped as regarded medical and surgical skill, even for that day. Still, the few simple things they could do seemed marvelous to the Indians, and the colonists were not far behind them in their gaping wonder at the exhibition of very slight attainments. When the missions went down and the presidios were but intermittently maintained, there were long periods when the people were without the services of a physician. It is said that for almost twenty years before the Mexican War there was no resident physician in San Diego.
Naturally, the people had some strange notions and superstitions about the practice of medicine. When Alfred Robinson lived in San Diego, in 1829, he found that every foreigner was supposed to have a knowledge of medicine. Being requested by an old woman to prescribe for her daughter, who was suffering with cramps, he prescribed a small dose of laudanum. This having a good effect, he found his fame as a physician established. He says that, had he been so inclined and willing to furnish the medicines himself, he could have had a good practice. Other visitors were less scrupulous, judging from the story he tells of a drunken American deserter who imposed upon the poor people of Santa Barbara, using his pretended knowledge of medicine as a means of procuring brandy for his own consumption.
The first American doctors in San Diego were the United States Army surgeons who came with the troops. Lewis B. Hunter and R. F. Maxwell, the surgeons of the Cyane, and the three doctors with Fremont’s battalion, who arrived July 29, 1846, were undoubtedly the first, but they did not remain. There does not appear to have been a surgeon with the little garrison left under Captain Merritt; but when Commodore Stockton arrived with his ships, early in November, the surgeons attached to his fleet landed with the men and performed duty on shore. After the battle of San Pasqual, they were joined by Dr. John S. Griffin, the surgeon of Kearny’s force. These doctors found themselves confronted by the problem of providing hospital accommodations for the wounded men. This was accomplished by quartering them with the private families in the town, where the surgeons could visit them. From this time onward, San Diego was not again left without a physician and surgeon. There were always government troops present, in San Diego or at the mission, and the surgeons attached to these small commands bridged the gap between the Mexican occupation and the coming of civilian physicians by doing a little practice outside their official routine.
The honor of being the first American practicing physician in San Diego probably belongs to Dr. Frederick J. Painter. He was an invalid and died November 30, 1853, at which time it was stated that he was an old resident, but very little information about him is given. His professional card appeared in the first number of the Herald, May 29, 1851, and he is mentioned at different times in that paper. He acted for a time as clerk of the common council in 1851 – a position which paid $50 per month.
There were at least two other men in San Diego about the same time as Dr. Painter who are called “doctor” in the records, but no evidence has been found that they engaged in practice. These are Dr. John Conger and Dr. Atkins S. Wright. The former acted as secretary of the ayuntamiento before the American civil administration began, and as clerk of the common council throughout the year 1850, at the time the “boodling” council was in power. Dr. Wright was a member of this first council, chosen June 16, 1850, and served one term. He was also city translator and interpreter and was well paid for his services.
Dr. David B. Hoffman was the next regular practicing physician to locate in San Diego. A brief biography of him has been given. He was a graduate of Toland Medical College. When he came to the Pacific Coast, he was at first in the employ of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, between Panama and San Francisco. His card first appears in the Herald on December 1, 1855, which probably marks the date when he left the employ of the steamship company and settled in San Diego. In later years he was post surgeon of the army in San Diego. When the San Diego County Medical Society was formed, July 23, 1870, he was chosen president of the organization, and the address which he delivered on that occasion is extant.
On April 19, 1856, Dr. George E. Knight’s card appeared in the Herald but, apparently, he only remained a short time.
Dr. Edward Burr came to San Diego from Oakland soon after the Civil War, and was coroner and county physician for several years, being first elected in 1867 and again in the four succeeding years. He was a native of Ireland and what would now be called “a doctor of the old school.” Dr. R. J. Gregg was his assistant for a time in 1868-69.
An old resident of New San Diego relates that when he came, in 1869, it was often necessary for him to go to Old Town on business, and for this purpose be was accustomed to take Seeley’s coach which ran between the two towns. The first time he made this trip, the coach halted in front of Dr. Burr’s office, and the doctor came out and sprayed all the passengers with some liquid from a small perfumery spray. There was a smallpox scare On at this time, and it was his duty, as county physician, to disinfect all travelers arriving at the county seat, and that was the way he did it.
Dr. George McKinstry, Jr., came to California in 1846 and was somewhat prominent in the northern part of the state before coming to San Diego. He was first sheriff of the northern district, at Sutter’s Fort, in 1846-47, and a business man at Sacramento and San Francisco at a very early day. He left a valuable diary. He died before 1880.
The physicians at Old Town when Horton came were Hoffman, Burr, and McKinstry, who had settled in the order named.
The first physician to settle in Horton’s Addition was Dr. Jacob Allen, who came from Santa Clara in the spring of 1869. He was a graduate of Toland Medical College. He had his residence, drug store, and office on the east side of Fifth Street, near F. He was also the
first postmaster and kept the post-office in his drug store. He remained here several years, but many years ago removed to Riverside, where he died. He was the father of Legare Allen, a well-known official and business man of San Bernardino. He was engaged in a number of activities and seems to have been regarded as an able man.
Dr. Robert J. Gregg is the pioneer of the physicians now living in San Diego. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a graduate of Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia. He started west in the spring of 1864 and reached Texas, where he had yellow fever, and had to return home. In 1868 he came to San Diego, arriving October 16, and settled at Old Town. After acting as assistant to Dr. Burr a few months, he opened an office of his own in Horton’s Addition, on the west side of Fifth Street, opposite Dr. Allen’s drug store. He has since resided in New San Diego and practiced until his retirement, a few years ago, and is one of the best known physicians in Southern California.
The next oldest pioneer physician of New San Diego is Dr. Thomas C. Stockton, who came here in 1869. He is a native of New Brunswick, Canada, and a graduate of Bellevue Hospital School. He was chosen coroner in 1875 and served two years, also as coroner and public administrator in 1880-1-2-3, and as city health officer at different times. Having purchased the property on the southeast corner of Columbia and F Streets, he leased it to the government for thirteen years and then he and Dr. Remondino occupied it for four or five years as a sanitarium. He was one of the organizers of the San Diego County Medical Society, in 1870, and a regular practitioner still in practice. His reminiscences of early days are most valuable as well as his collections, among
which is a record of births, kept before physicians were officially required to make such returns.
Dr. P. C. Remondino is also one of the few living pioneer physicians. He is a native of Turin, Italy, whose parents came to America while he was young. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, in 1865. Coming to San Diego in January, 1874, he opened an office next door to his old classmate, Dr. Gregg, and entered at once upon the practice of his profession. He was city physician in 1875-76; county physician for several terms; surgeon for the California Southern Railroad Company for some time; surgeon of the Marine Hospital, also surgeon for the Pacific Coast Steamship Company.
In 1887 he retired and built the St. James Hotel. In later years he resumed practice and is still actively engaged in it. He is the author of several works on medical subjects which have a wide popularity, and is engaged in the preparation of others. His technical library is one of the best in the United States.
In 1874 the physicians in San Diego were: Drs. D. B. Hoffman, Edward Burr, J. Allen, R. J. Gregg, T. C. Stockton, P. C. Remondino, W. W. Royal, Wm. A. Winder, and Chas. M. Fenn. Dr. Fenn came to New San Diego soon after Dr. Gregg, but did not engage in practice for some time after his arrival. He served as county coroner, county physician, and public administrator several terms between the years 1873 and 1885. He died in March, 1907.
Dr. Winder is one of the best remembered of the later residents of Old Town. He was a native of Maryland who had led an adventurous life and was a veteran of both the Mexican and Civil Wars. In 1854 he sailed from New York as a captain with the Third Artillery Regiment, for San Francisco. The ship was wrecked and decimated by cholera, but he was among those rescued. Arriving at San Diego, he was stationed here and at Fort Yuma until the Civil War. After that war, he resigned his commission and, in 1872, settled at San Diego and engaged in practice. After practicing about twelve years he retired. He was a man of character and had other interests besides those mentioned. He painted the portrait of Judge Witherby which now hangs in the court house, and was the owner of Winder’s Addition to San Diego.
There were also in 1874 the following other physicians in New San Diego: Drs. T. S. Harrison, W. S. Williams, Cluness Bibb, and Drs. Tufford and Barnes, the latter being the first homeopathist in San Diego. Dr. F. R. Millard came in October, 1874, and still lives here, keeping a drug store. This completes the list of early physicians.
The first county hospital was the old cobblestone jail which Haraszthy built, at Old Town, It was used for a short time, and then, about 1869, a large frame house at Old Town was rented for the purpose.
After the county offices were removed to New San Diego, one of the old houses built by William Heath Davis was purchased by Captain Knowles and removed to Eleventh Street in Horton’s Addition, and was later used as a hospital. It is still standing, and is now occupied as a residence.
The county farm in Mission Valley was purchased in January, 1880, from the Commercial Bank. The magnificent new brick hospital building on the rim of the mesa overlooking the valley was erected in 1903-4. It is generously supported and well managed and is a credit to the people of San Diego County.
Following is a list of the physicians of San Diego at the present time. They are a fine body of men and women, who hold the professional standard high:
Anderson, Thomas B.
Averill, Maria B.
Baker, Charlotte J.
Burney, William A.
Burnham, Fred R.
Butler, Edward A.
Crandall, Alice H.
Cummings, William M.
De Berra, Alexis
Doig, Robert L.
Elliott, Albert J.
Escher, John F.
Fenn, Charles M.
Fletcher, Oliver P.
Franklin, Berte V.
French, James M.
Goff, H. Neville
Greene, Dr. & Co.
Gregg, Robert J.
Hearne, Joseph C.
Hoffman, Mary E.
Hulbert, Robert G.
Kendall, Oscar J.
Leisenring, Peter S.
Howe, Robert C.
Lewis, Eva. M.
Lewis, J. Perry
Luscomb, Charles E.
Madison, Frank M.
Magee, Thomas L.
Marsh, Charles E.
Mead, Francis H.
Murphy, George S.
Northrup, Daniel B.
Oatman, Homer C.
Parker, P. James
Parks, Joseph A.
Polhemus, W. P.
Potts, Anna M. L.
Powell, Charles S.
Remondino, Peter C.
Reyber, Ernst L.
Roberts, Samuel L.
Skewes, Thomas J. D.
Smart, Willard N.
Smith, David A.
Smith, Q. Cincinnatus
Steade, James M.
Stockton, Thomas C.
Stone, John B.
Sundberg, John C.
Thayer, Orson V.
Valle, Charles C.
Verity, Minnie E. J.
Waterman, Elmer L.
Willard, E. P.
Byars, William R.
Elliott, David H.
Frazer, Charles F.
Woodhull, Anna B.
Woodhull, Frederick B.
Return to Books.
HISTORY OF SAN DIEGO
PART ONE: Period of Discovery and Mission Rule
- The Spanish Explorers
- Beginning of the Mission Epoch
- The Taming of the Indian
- The Day of Mission Greatness
- The End of Franciscan Rule
Priests of San Diego Mission
PART TWO: When Old Town Was San Diego
- Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
- Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
List of Ranchos in San Diego County
- Political Life in Mexican Days
- Early Homes, Visitors and Families
- Pleasant Memories of Social Life
- Prominent Spanish Families
- The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
List of Mission Indian Lands
- San Diego in the Mexican War
- Public Affairs After the War
- Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
- Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
- American Families of the Early Time
- The Journalism of Old San Diego
- Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego
PART THREE: The Horton Period
- The Founder of the Modern City
- Horton’s Own Story
- Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
- San Diego’s First Boom
- Some Aspects of Social Life
PART FOUR: Period of “The Great Boom”
PART FIVE: The Last Two Decades
- Local Annals, After the Boom
- Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
- Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
- The Disaster to the Bennington
- The Twentieth Century Days
- John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem
PART SIX: Institutions of Civic Life
- Churches and Religious Life
- Schools and Education
- Records of the Bench and Bar
- Growth of the Medical Profession
- The Public Library
- Story of the City Parks
- The Chamber of Commerce
- Banks and Banking
- Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
- Account of the Fire Department
PART SEVEN: Miscellaneous Topics
- History of the San Diego Climate
- San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
- Governmental Activities
- The Suburbs of San Diego