Erie County Medicine History

John Chaffee, MD, in his book Reflections on Erie County Physicians, chronicled lives of Erie County physicians in a large collection of short biographical essays. I have relied on his work heavily in compiling this timeline of notable events in Erie County medicine. – Thomas Falasca, DO FACA FACPM


Dr. John CulbertsonFirst Physician in Erie County 1803

John Culbertson Wallace was born in Dauphin County, PA February 14, 1771. After training at the Philadelphia College of Medicine with Dr. Benjamin Rush, he settled in Erie in 1803 to become Erie County’s first practicing physician.

 

Dr. Wallace was involved in embalming “Mad Antony” Wayne’s body in 1806 and supervised its subsequent exhumation from the foot of the flagpole of Fort Erie blockhouse for reburial on the grounds of the Episcopal Church in Radnor, PA, outside of Philadelphia

 

Smallpox Scare of 1822

Dr. Asa Coltrain settled in Erie about 1815. He ordered a batch of smallpox vaccine from New York and in August of 1822 began to inoculate any of the desiring Erie population.

 

In September, a family of Irish immigrants, one of whom had smallpox, landed on the Erie peninsula. They were quarantined there until the afflicted person recovered.

 

Cholera Hospital - Germany 1892Cholera Outbreak 1832

Dr. Chauncey Perkins was born in Connecticut. He studied medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York and settled in Erie in 1820.

 

A cholera epidemic in 1832 killed thousands in Europe and North America causing widespread panic. Numerous cases occurred on board Great Lakes steamboats and in many Great Lakes cities. Dr. Perkins attended many of the cholera patients.

 

In 1836, Dr. Perkins attempted to found in Erie the Sylvania Medical College and the Presque Isle Hospital; but both attempts failed. It would be 154 years before Erie saw the foundation of a successful medical college.


Diphtheria ImunizationEuropean Diphtheria Prevention 1845

Dr. Charles Brandes immigrated from Germany in 1845. At that time, the German and Austrian medical schools were more highly regarded than those in the US. He recommended gargling twice daily with herring brine to prevent diphtheria.

 

Unfortunately, Dr. Brandes was seduced by the California gold rush and left Erie in 1849, but returned in 1854, not richer but substantially wiser.

 

Smallpox Epidemic of 1871

Although the first smallpox vaccination in America occurred in 1800 when Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, founder of the Harvard Medical School, vaccinated his 5-year-old son, still no state in the US had a compulsory smallpox vaccination.

 

During the 1871 epidemic, Erie recruited Dr. Peter Barkey to come to Erie from Toronto. He vaccinated many of Erie’s citizens against smallpox, including 1200 people in the first week.

 

Erie County Health Department Created 1872

Dr. Edward Germer, having arrived in Erie from Germany in 1849, was a staunch advocate for sanitation and public health. He created the Erie County Department of Health in 1872 and served as its first President. Dr. Germer protested the dumping of garbage in Presque Isle Bay and established regulations to control trichinosis. Dr. Germer established the “pest house” at the foot of Ash Street to house smallpox victims.

 

Saint Vincent Hospital AutoclaveErie’s First Modern Hospital 1875

Dr. James L. Stewart graduated the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania and set up a local practice in 1848, leaving only to serve in the Civil War.

 

In 1873, he was approached by a group of the Sisters of St. Joseph from Meadville about establishing a hospital in Erie. He happily supported this and St. Vincent Hospital opened in 1875. In the early days of the hospital, the physicians brought their own instruments and medications while the Sisters provided all nursing services.

 

Childhood ImmunizationChildhood Immunization 1876

Dr. Adella Brindle Woods was born in Erie and attended school at what is now the Jones School Building. She taught school briefly then attended medical school at the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia and graduated in 1876.

 

She returned to Erie and worked tirelessly for the pasteurization of milk and a pure water supply. Dr. Woods was a staunch advocate for regular medical examinations in the public schools and immunization against childhood diseases.

 

Circus C-SectionCircus C-section 1897

Dr. Frank Walsh arrived in Erie in 1897. Shortly thereafter, he found himself performing Erie’s first Caesarean section in some very unusual circumstances.

 

A small circus, known as “Bostock’s Side-Show”, was playing in Erie at the time. A dwarf in the show had become impregnated by the show’s strongman. She was in labor and could not deliver. Dr. Walsh performed the C-section and very likely saved the lives of both the woman and the baby.

 

Renaissance Doctor 1897

Dr. George McClelland Studebaker was what we would now call a non-traditional medical school applicant. He graduated from Edinboro State Normal School (now Edinboro University) in1887 and then from Grove City College in 1891. Dr. Studebaker taught Latin, Greek, and chemistry, and then, in 1894, entered what subsequently became the University of Maryland Medical School.

 

Upon graduation, he did further training at New York University, where he learned a method of inserting an airway stent that he subsequently used to save the lives of many diphtheria patients. Dr. Studebaker arrived in Erie in 1897. During the typhoid epidemic of 1911, he made as many as 40 house calls in a single day. As a member of the Board of Health for 18 years, Dr. Studebaker advocated for the pasteurization of milk and the wrapping of bread prior to retail sale.

 

First Pediatrician in Erie 1897

Dr. Fred Ernest Ross was born in Waterford, PA and graduated from The University of Buffalo School of Medicine in 1897. After practicing a short time in Erie, he moved to Boston in 1908 to train in pediatrics at Harvard. After practicing at the Boston Children’s Hospital, he returned to Erie as the city’s first pediatrician. He was known as a strong opponent of circumcision and
was one of the first members of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1930.

 

Sheep Raiser and Pathologist 1899

Dr. Elmer Weibel was the city’s first radiologist and pathologist. He was born in West Milford Township, Erie County and trained in New York City. He returned to Erie in 1899. He practiced radiology and pathology from his own private office at 217 West 7th Street. True to his country upbringing, Dr. Weibel raised his own sheep for the Wasserman syphilis test.

 

Surgical GlovesSurgical Gloves and Gowns 1901

Dr. Guy Broughton came to Erie 1901 and was immediately appointed to the surgical staff at Hamot Hospital. Although Dr. William Halstead pioneered the use of rubber gloves in surgery in 1889, it was still common for surgeons to use neither gloves nor gowns and to operate in their underwear!

 

Dr. Broughton introduced the local use of rubber gloves and white aprons by the surgeons and a surgical scrub of chloride of lime and soda, followed by permanganate, and then a rinse of mercury bichloride. He was a local pioneer of antiseptic surgery.

 

First Thyroidectomy in Erie 1904

The first Erie thyroidectomy was performed by Dr. Edward Gifford in 1904. He, along with Dr. H.E. Griswold, accompanied his patient Leonora Arbuckle to Rochester, MN to watch Dr. Charles Mayo perform her thyroidectomy and to learn the surgery from him. He then returned to Erie and began performing the operation. Dr. Gifford died in 1914 from blood poisoning resulting from a needle stick sustained while he was operating on a patient.

 

Typhoid EpidemicObstetrics and Typhoid Epidemic of 1911

Dr. William Washabaugh graduated from Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia in 1903 and settled in Erie, entering private practice in general medicine and obstetrics. During the typhoid epidemic of 1911, he urged all to boil drinking water and abstain from eating fruits or vegetables.

 

Dr. Washabaugh campaigned actively that all physicians involved with infectious diseases should separate themselves from the practice of obstetrics. He strongly opposed inducing labor for convenience only. Dr. Washabaugh’s office and residence were in the 200 block of West 8th Street, at the time known as “Pill Avenue.”

 

First Head and Neck Surgeon in Erie 1912

Dr. G. William Schlindwein was born Erie in 1872. After graduation from Jefferson Medical College, he spent a year at Will’s Hospital (later Will’s Eye Hospital) in Philadelphia. After returning to Erie in 1906, he was appointed as chief of surgery at Hamot.

 

Dr. Schlindwein departed for Europe in 1912 to train further in ENT in Vienna and Berlin. He returned as Erie’s first head and neck surgeon at a time when ophthalmology was still a part of ENT.


Dr. Katherine Law WrightSpanish Flu and Tuberculosis 1918

Dr. Katherine Law Wright was born in Erie in 1877 and was one of the best-trained physicians of the time. After graduating from the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia in 1904, she did additional years of training in abdominal surgery and ENT at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

 

Flu St. Louis, MODr. Wright returned to Erie in 1909 and immediately became involved in public health. She was intensely active in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and also assumed directorship that year the state TB clinic at 21st and Peach. Her service merited her election to Presidency of the Erie County Medical Society in 1920. In later years she was vigorously active in the movement for free chest x-rays for all adults.

 

 

War Hero 1918

Dr. Joseph E. Dudenhoeffer was born in Erie in 1888. After graduation from Jefferson Medical College, he returned to Erie. In 1917 he read that 87% of the German wounded returned to their units while only 23% of the Allied wounded did so.

 

War HeroDriven by this, Dr. Dudenhoeffer became the first of 34 Erie physicians to volunteer. He went to the front in France in 1918. On the second day of the Argonne Battle, a shell from a “Big Bertha” struck his field hospital killing him along with all but two of the staff.

When his body returned to Erie, several prominent Erie physicians served as pallbearers. The extensive funeral procession to Saint Peter Cathedral included the nurses of St. Vincent Hospital, the Erie County Medical Society, the Knights of Columbus, and the Sisters of St. Joseph. He was the only one of the 34 Erie physician volunteers that was killed.

 

Dr. Worster's Model TCountry Doctor 1921

Dr. Vere Worster was born in Smethport, PA in 1895. He earned money for medical school tuition by selling the pelts from hunting and trapping beaver, fox, muskrat, bobcat, and mink in Potter County.

 

After graduating from Jefferson Medical College in 1921, he settled in Waterford to assist his uncle Dr. Row Woodruff. His uncle died shortly thereafter and he found himself managing the geographically dispersed practice on his own.

 

In winter, he made house calls in his horse and sleigh. In summer, he used a specially outfitted 1918 Model-T with balloon tires, large diameter wheels, two spare tires, a large tool compartment, and roof-mounted license plate. In 1946, he made a home delivery in a blizzard, transported in a Sherman Tank. In 1957, he was transported to a remote house call in an Army helicopter.


Hamot by the Bay 1920s

Dr. Charles Strickland was born in Erie and returned when he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1904. In 1914, he and Dr. David Dennis were among the first physicians to attain Fellowship in the newly founded American College of Surgeons.

 

In the 1920s there was a strong effort to relocate Hamot Hospital to an area near what is now Mercyhurst University. Dr. Strickland vehemently opposed this, and today Hamot remains at its original location.

 

First Orthopedic Clinic in Erie 1922

Dr. Arthur George Davis was a Canadian who graduated from the University of Buffalo Medical School. He came to Erie in 1922 and soon thereafter established the first orthopedic clinic. He was an innovative orthopedist who authored several articles in national medical and specialty journals.

 

Ruth, Bentley, DunnTrain Wreck and New York Yankees 1923

Dr. Augustus Henry Roth was an Erie native who returned in 1907 after graduation from the University of Michigan Medical School. In 1909, he became division surgeon for the New York Central Railroad.

 

Thus, it came to be that on December 19, 1923, when at 1:40 AM the New York Central’s 20th Century Limited crashed in Forsythe, NY, the injured were his responsibility. Nine people died in the crash and five injured were taken by train to Erie and admitted to St. Vincent Hospital where Dr. Roth attended them.

 

One of the injured attended by Dr. Roth was George Weiss, an executive with the New York Yankees. Thereafter, in appreciation, Mr. Weiss made sure that Dr. Roth always received tickets to World Series Games.

 

Dr. Benjamin GoldmanMentor of Young Surgeons 1923

Dr. Benjamin Goldman graduated from New York University Medical School at Bellevue Hospital and received special training in surgery for cleft palate in Boston. He settled in Erie in 1923.

 

Dr. Goldman became chief of surgery at Hamot Hospital and there established Erie’s first 4-year surgical residency program. Over the years, he trained 18 surgical residents.

 

Dr. Goldman produced a large number of medical journal articles. He was the most published physician in Erie at the time.

 

Drs. Banting and BestFirst Insulin Use in Erie 1923

Dr. Herman Rahner was born in Rochester, NY of German immigrant parents. He interrupted his education to join the Canadian Army to participate in World War I prior to the United States’ entry into the conflict.

 

At the end of the war, he attended the University of Toronto Medical School where he became acquainted with Drs. Banting and Best, the discoverers of the insulin treatment for diabetes. After graduation in 1923, he interned at Hamot where he became the first local physician to treat diabetes with insulin.

 

Generous Orthopedist 1927

Dr. Clayton Wilmot Fortune was a Canadian who graduated from the University of Toronto Medical School and then trained in orthopedics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

 

Dr. Fortune settled in Erie and was on staff at Shriner’s Hospital in Erie since its inception in 1927. He treated free of charge over 1750 pediatric patients at Shriner’s Hospital.

 

Dr. Fortune became chief of the new orthopedics department at Hamot in 1950. When he died of myocardial infarction at the age of 62, the Hamot flag flew at half-staff.

 

Mayo BrothersMayo Brothers, General George Marshall, and Charity 1927

Dr. Hyman Casselman was born in Russian Ukraine. In 1910, his parents fled to Canada, arriving in Montreal after a 10-day train trip from Ukraine to Amsterdam and a 10-day ocean voyage to Canada.

 

As a teen, he had an after-school cleaning job at the McGill University Medical School Pathology Museum. One day Dr. William Mayo visited the museum. When the revered surgeon dropped his stethoscope, young Hyman quickly retrieved it. When Hyman mentioned that he too wanted to become a doctor, Mayo gave him the stethoscope.

 

Dr. Casselman graduated McGill Univ. Medical School in 1927 and came to Hamot for an internship. At the outbreak of World War II, he made three unsuccessful attempts to join the US Army. Finally, he was accepted but declared disabled for overseas duty and assigned to the Signal Corps Post in Arlington VA, where he was placed in charge of the dispensary and 50-bed hospital.

 

At the Signal Corps Post, Dr. Casselman came to the attention of General George C. Marshall, subsequent architect of the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of post-war Europe. General Marshall promoted Dr. Casselman from captain to major, at which rank he was discharged from the Army.

 

Upon returning to Erie and Hamot, he spent 25 years with Dr. Melchior Mszanowski in the non-compensated care of ward patients and intern training.

 

Radium BombFirst Radiation Therapy in Erie 1928

Dr. Orel Chaffee graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Baltimore in 1906 and then furthered his medical education in Vienna. In 1912, he settled in Erie.

 

Dr. Chaffee was an early proponent of radiation therapy. In 1928, he mortgaged his home to buy 75 millicuries of radium for the treatment of uterine cancer.

 

He made over 18 trips to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN to attend seminars in the use of radium. Unfortunately, his contact with the radioactive element produced hand damage that subsequently required the amputation of his thumb and middle finger. Dr. Chaffee was famous for his challenge to other physicians to evaluate unusual vaginal bleeding immediately and thoroughly.

 

Dr. Chaffee was also a public health advocate resulting from his affliction with tuberculosis for which he was confined for six months in a sanatorium in Boulder, CO. He was noted for advocating sleeping with the windows open and abstaining from unpasteurized milk.

 

Camp Crane Ambulance CorpsTrench Warfare and Erie 1931

Dr. Percy Jones graduated from the University of Tennessee Medical School and joined the US Army. He served in the Philippines in 1898 in connection with the Spanish-American war and in France in 1917 during World War I.

 

He organized an ambulance service of 3000 vehicles along the Hindenburg Line; and, his ambulances transported over 1 million wounded during the battles of the Marne, Verdun, Chateau-Thierry, and others. The French government subsequently presented him their highest honor, the Croix de Guerre, and made him an officer of the French Legion of Honor.

 

He left the Army in 1931 to become director of Hamot Hospital. After he died in 1941, the Army named its newly erected facility in Battle Creek, MI, the Percy Jones Army Hospital.

 

Dr. James HartOne-armed Surgeon 1934

Dr. James Hart graduated the University of Buffalo Medical School, interned at St. Vincent Hospital, and completed surgical training at the University of Chicago and in Vienna in 1930.

 

His interest in aviation was marked by tragedy. In 1934, he had just spun the propeller of a small one-engine plane when the plane began slowly moving forward in the direction of a parked automobile with four occupants. He attempted to prevent the advance of the plane by lunging against one of the wings, but he was thrown into the path of the propeller and lost his left arm. Quick action prevented his bleeding to death and he made a dramatic recovery. He returned to the operating room but always participated in surgery with two colleague surgeons.

 

Open-chest Cardiac Massage 1949

Dr. Lemuel Lasher graduated from the University of Maryland Medical School in 1917 and, after service in the Army Medical Corps, relocated to Erie, joining the surgical staff at Saint Vincent Hospital.

 

Dr. Lasher noted the high incidence of goiters locally and struck up an acquaintance with surgical innovator Dr. George Crile of the Cleveland Clinic. He visited Dr. Crile numerous times and learned Crile’s technique for thyroidectomy in Graves Disease patients.

 

Unfortunately, in 1942 Dr. Lasher had the unwanted opportunity of performing Erie’s first open chest cardiac massage. His 52-year-old female patient was anesthetized and being prepped for thyroidectomy when she went into cardiac arrest. Dr. Lasher restarted the heart; but, the period of anoxia was too long and, though the patient survived for a year, she remained in a vegetative state.

 

Dr. George D'AngeloPacemakers and Pavarotti 1958

Dr. George D’Angelo graduated from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and trained in surgery at Duke University. He settled in Erie in 1958.

 

Dr. D’Angelo performed the region’s first open heart surgery, the repair of a hole in the heart of a 9-year-old boy. In addition, he performed the region’s first cardiac catheterization, pacemaker implant, heart valve replacement, and coronary artery bypass procedure.

 

In addition to his medical activities, Dr. D’Angelo was a generous and active community supporter. As President of the Erie Philharmonic for six years, he brought to Erie such luminaries as Luciano Pavarotti. He endowed Mercyhurst University to create the D’Angelo School of Music and the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center.


The history of Erie medicine is replete with stories of courage, resourcefulness, inventiveness, generosity, and self-sacrifice. These are just a few of the stories of the men and women whose endeavors can be an inspiration to all.

 

 

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