Susan “Doc Susy” Anderson – Frontier Physician

 

 

Doc Susy in Cripple Creek, Colorado

Doc Susy in Cripple Creek, Colorado

Susan Anderson, M.D. (1870-1960) – Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Anderson’s family moved to the booming mining camp of Cripple Creek, Colorado while she was still a young woman. In about 1893, she left Cripple Creek to attended medical school at the University of Michigan, from which she graduated in 1897. While attending college she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and soon returned to her family in Cripple Creek, where she set up her first practice.

 

For the next three years the petite, quick-witted lady sympathetically tended to patients, but her father insisted that Cripple Creek, a lawless mining town at the time, was no place for a woman.

Anderson then moved to Denver, but had a tough time securing patients as people were reluctant to see a woman doctor in those times. She then moved to Greeley, Colorado, where she worked as a nurse for six years.

Cripple Creek, 1895

Cripple Creek, 1895

During this time, her tuberculosis got worse and she felt she need a more cold and dry climate, making the decision to move to Fraser, Colorado in 1907. Sitting at an elevation of over 8,500 feet, the area was certainly cold and dry. Anderson was most concerned with getting her disease under control and didn’t open a practice, nor even tell people that she was a doctor.

However, word soon got out and the locals began to ask for her advice on various ailments, which soon led to her practicing her skills once again. Her reputation spread as she treated families, ranchers, loggers, railroad workers, and even an occasional horse or cow, which was not uncommon at the time. The vast majority of her patients required her to make house calls, though she never owned a horse or a car. Instead, she dressed in layers, wore high hip boots, and trekked through deep snows and freezing temperatures to reach her patients.

Dr. Susan Anderson

Dr. Susan Anderson

During the many years that “Doc Susie,” which familiarly became known as, practiced in the high mountains of Grand County, one of her busiest times was during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19. Like people all over the world, Fraser locals also became sick in great numbers, and Dr. Anderson found herself rushing from one deathbed to the next.

Another busy time for her was when the six-mile Moffat Tunnel was being built through the Rocky Mountains. Not long after construction began, she found herself treating numerous men who were injured during construction. During this time, she was also asked to become the Grand County Coroner, a position that enabled her to confront the Tunnel Commission regarding working conditions and accidents. In the five years it took to complete the tunnel, there were an estimated 19 who died and hundreds injured.

Unlike physicians of today, Dr. Anderson never became “rich” practicing her skills, as she was often paid in firewood, food, services and other items that could be bartered.  Doc Susie continued to practice in Fraser until 1956. She died in Denver on April 16, 1960 and was buried in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated April, 2017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *