Opinion — Susan Anderson: Medicine woman of the American West

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, January 22, 2022

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Dr. Susan Anderson, was one of the first women medical practitioners in Colorado. After watching Wild West Chronicles on INSP last spring I thought about the tv show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman starring Jane Seymour which aired in the 90’s on CBS. Her role as Michaela

Quinn was a strong dedicated doctor carving a place for herself in the American West. Anderson had that same grit and determination.

On January 31, 1870 Dr. Anderson was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her parents educated Susan and her brother, yet, after her parents divorced Anderson, her brother and father moved to Kansas along with her grandmother. While there she developed an aptitude in Morse Code. When she informed her dad she wanted to be a telegrapher he encouraged her to attend medical school.

In 1892 she graduated high school and moved to Cripple Creek, Colorado with her family, which now included her stepmother. Anderson attended medical school in 1893 at the University of Michigan where she attended co-ed lectures; surprisingly(not) the anatomy class separated the females from the males. Can you guess why?

Anderson interned at a local hospital, and unfortunately, contracted tuberculosis which she battled the rest of her life.

Anderson did not let that stop her and in 1897 graduated from medical school as a licensed physician. She returned to Cripple Creek to practice medicine but found it difficult to find work. Amidst her quest to obtain employment she was briefly engaged but was left at the altar in 1900.

In Greeley, Anderson worked as a nurse and eventually worked at Colorado General Hospital. Because of her exceptional work there she was appointed coroner of Grand County in 1904. There she investigated the many deaths that were involved in the Moffatt Tunnel railroad construction.

Eventually, Dr. Anderson settled in Fraser where the locals nicknamed her “Dos Susie” and for forty-nine years she was the only doctor in the town. The ailments and conditions Dr. Susan treated included childbirth, skiing injuries and particularly pneumonia during the 1918 flu pandemic. Most of Dr. Anderson’s work involved visiting patients in their homes, yet, she never owned a horse or car for travel and her payment for services rendered was usually made with food or firewood instead of money.

Dr. Anderson was the subject of several newspaper and magazine articles. Actress Ethel Barrymore offered to make a film about her life but the good doctor declined.

Dr. Anderson retired in 1956.

In 1958, due to poor health, she was admitted into Denver General Hospital where she stayed until her death at age 90 in 1960. Dr. Anderson was buried in the Mount Pisgah Cemetery in Cripple Creek, near her beloved brother. In 1997 she was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.

Dr. Susan Anderson was a woman in the American West who had a desire to heal the sick. Fame and notoriety were not her number one goals. Dr. Anderson gave all that she had to her patients despite battling tuberculosis and sexism throughout her life time. That iron will, drive and determination are signatures of those who settled the American West.

Judy Moore is a tour guide with The Central High Museum and can be reached at v5agabond2@gmail.com. She lives in Wylliesburg.