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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Texas Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

At a time when strapping on a gun was as commonplace and as necessary as breathing, you can imagine that the odds of getting shot were fairly high. Treatments for gunshot were pretty basic—dig the lead out if you could and if you couldn’t you were likely a goner. Not a good scenario when doctors were hard to come by.

When we’re crafting our western romances, we usually have to do a lot of research about various things and sometimes we run across truly amazing stories. Here’s one I stumbled upon when I was researching gunshot wounds and treatment. I thought you might like to know about one of the most unique women who lived in Texas.

Sofie Dalia Herzog was born in 1846 in Vienna, Austria. Her father was a physician. At the age of fourteen, she married Dr. August Herzog and they moved to America where she gave birth to fifteen children. There were three sets of twins and eight children died in infancy. But she had a dream of practicing medicine so she went back to Austria to medical school. For nine years, until August died, she treated patients in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Dr. Sofie moved to Brazoria, Texas in the late 1800’s. To say she was very colorful was putting it mildly. The lady doctor’s arrival in the small coastal community of Brazoria created a huge stir. She was attractive, energetic and a highly skilled physician. Though not Texas’ first woman doctor, in 1895 she was definitely a pioneer in a male-dominated field of the Victorian era. Not only was Dr. Sofie out of place in her chosen profession, but her appearance shocked a good many. She wore her hair cropped short, rode a horse astride instead of sidesaddle, and shaded her face with a man’s hat. Needless to say she set tongues wagging. But the doctor had obvious medical skill and little competition, so when someone needed assistance, they weren’t too picky about the gender. Soon folks were calling her simply Doctor Sofie.

She became particularly adept at removing bullets from gunshot victims. One of her techniques was elevating a gunshot patient so that gravity would aid in getting the lead out. Only twice in her career was she unsuccessful in recovering a bullet. When she had accumulated 24 extracted pieces of lead from gunfighters, she had a jeweler fashion the slugs into a necklace with a gold bead threaded between each slug. She wore it constantly as a good luck charm the rest of her life.

Word of her medical skills and pleasing bedside manner soon spread. Dr. Sofie made calls in her buggy or traveled astride a horse. Often, she rode on handcars or trains to get to someone along the rail line in need of a doctor. In 1906, the railroad formalized its relationship with Dr. Sofie, appointing her chief surgeon of the S.L.B. & M Railroad. But, when headquarters learned that a female doctor had been hired, Dr. Sofie received a polite letter asking her to relinquish her position. She stubbornly refused and remained on the line’s payroll the rest of her life.

In addition to her medical practice, Dr. Sofie operated her own pharmacy, built and operated a hotel, and became wealthy by investing in real estate. She was very enterprising.

In 1913, the 65-year-old doctor married Marion Huntington—a 70-year-old widower—and moved to his plantation seven miles outside Brazoria. Having reached an age when many would have retired, Dr. Sofie continued her practice, commuting each day from the plantation to town in a new Model T Ford—the first automobile in the county.

Fourteen years later, Dr. Sofie died of a stroke at a Houston hospital on July 21, 1925. At her request, they buried her with her lucky bullet necklace, evidence of her surgical skills and charming eccentricity.

Here are a few prices for medical procedures and assistance in the 1800’s:

A visit within one mile  ---  $1.00
Each succeeding mile --- .50
Simple case of midwifery --- $5.00
For bleeding --- .50
Bullet Wounds --- Between $1.00 to 10.00
For setting fracture --- $5.00 to 10.00
Amputating Arm --- $10.00
Amputating Leg --- $20.00
For advice and prescription in office --- $1.00
For difficult cases, fee based in proportion to difficulty.

But as was often the case, the doctor accepted goods in lieu of money. There were probably doctors who refused to treat someone because they couldn’t pay but not too many.

How about these prices? Sure be nice if medical treatment was this cheap today!!


  1. I am so intrigued by Dr. Sofie. I can't help but wonder what became of her children and her first husband when she went back to Austria to study medicine. Any word on that, Linda.
    Dang, I sure do wish those were the prices for medical treatment today, and, oh, wouldn't it be lovely if you could trade or barter for medical care?
    I don't know where all that high cost health insurance is going--except maybe to the insurance companies. Most of the doctors I know are either changing over to concierge offices where the patients each pay $2000 a year just to be members or they work for extra money in ER's or other institutions part time.
    I really enjoyed your article, Linda.
    It's amazing what we find when we're researching. I can get lost in it sometimes.

    1. Hi Sarah, I'm glad my post intrigued you as much as it did me. I don't know for a fact, but I assume that her husband took care of the children during that time. I know he stayed in America; he had a thriving medical practice. It makes sense that the children stayed with him. Back then a person could get a medical degree within a year, not like now where it takes about six years. I sure wish I had that bullet necklace! That would be really something. But then, Dr. Sofie was quite something.

  2. Linda,

    This information is as interesting as it is amusing. Dr. Sophie must have been quite the character.

    To comment on some of your points:

    1. "When we’re crafting our western romances, we usually have to do a lot of research about various things and sometimes we run across truly amazing stories." I do this all the time. I call it going down rabbit holes. I love it when I stumble across these tidbits and jewels of information, but I also have a hard time getting back to writing because I love the research so much.

    2. "At the age of fourteen, she married Dr. August Herzog...she gave birth to fifteen children. There were three sets of twins and eight children died in infancy." OMGosh - That's all I got to say about that. 0_o

    3. "She wore her hair cropped short, rode a horse astride instead of sidesaddle, and shaded her face with a man’s hat." Yup. My kind of gal--practical. ;-)

    4."How about these prices? Sure be nice if medical treatment was this cheap today!!" No fooling. I saved the doctor and hospital bills from the births of my three kids (1976, 1978, 1980), and the one in 1976 was a whopping $300 for the overnight hospital stay plus delivery. Isn't that crazy compared to today?

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Kay, I'm glad you found her extraordinary. I just love this woman. She was tough, had brains, and knew her stuff. Bet she didn't take much off anyone either. She's the kind of woman I model my heroines after. I hear you on those medical prices. I had my three children in the 70's also and it cost around $300 each time. I used to have a hospital bill I saved but I don't know what I did with it. Hope I didn't throw it away. But, I've moved four times since then so it's possible. Take care and have a great day!

  3. As someone who has been researching the women doctors before 1900 in Colorado, this is most interesting. There are actually more women doctors than most people realize. Colorado Springs had 4 before 1880 and the first medical school doctor, Alida Avery, arrived in Denver in 1874. If you want to know more just let me know and I will gladly share. Doris

    As a side note, Doc Susie, who Dr. Quinn is based upon actually practiced in Frasier, Co. after 1902.

    1. Hi, Doris. Wow! Colorado really did have a lot of women doctors, Thank you for that information. If I ever set a story in Colorado I may just contact you. Those women back then were so tough and determined. With the living conditions at the time being what they were they had to be. If not, it put you in the ground. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Always a pleasure to see you.

  4. Linda, what a gem of a blog post! I just find this woman fascinating. She was one of those people who knew what she wanted to do and set about doing it! Not an easy task for a woman of those times. SO interesting, and I want to thank you for all your time and research you put in on this wonderful post. I am just enthralled by Dr. Sophie! What a life she must have had!

    1. Cheryl, I'm glad you found Sofie as fascinating as I do. She was such a unique, strong woman. Had to be to give birth to 15 children and lose 8 as babies. And then she wasn't done when she married again at age 65. Wish I could be more like her and have her indomitable spirit.

  5. My compliments to both Linda Broday and the Renaissance Women commenter. It is nice to hear about actual strong women with a vocation, particularly in the West. One thing I sometimes get annoyed about when it comes to all these stories set in the 19th century is when women in childbirth always call in the male doctor. In reality, in most areas, women were attended by midwives and close neighbors and friends. Women did not like to have anything to do with a man examining her body and she avoided it when possible. I have at least one ancestresses who came from England and helped to support her family and community by serving as a midwife. In many a communities, a midwife was the closest thing to a medical professional that was available. They often knew their healing herbs and helped with illnesses. I think is it historically incorrect and a shame when midwives are written out of historical westerns.

    1. Robyn, you're so right. The midwives were the ones women turned to back then. They often knew as much or more than many full-fledged doctors. My mother gave birth to four of us children under horrible conditions and often alone. I was born in a tent in the 40's and it wasn't an easy time. At least she had a midwife then. Thank you so much for your comment.

  6. Great article. Doc Sophie was quite the character, a true pioneer and a free spirit. As for the medical prices, they seem really low to us now, but back then $10 was a lot of money, esp. for a poor person. The country went through a lot of panics and recessions in that period.

    1. Hi Linda, thank you so much for leaving a comment. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about Dr. Sofie. She was quite a pioneer and didn't mind blazing trails to get where she wanted to go. You're right about the prices. Often $20 was a year's wages. It was even a struggle to come by a dollar.

      Take care and I hope to see you again.