Sonoma County’s first physicians were a hardy lot filled with notable and colorful characters.
Pioneer doctors in the 1800s carried medicine bags from residence to residence to treat patients. In those days surgeries were performed without anesthetic, either on a kitchen table or the scene of the accident. Epidemics like smallpox, typhoid and diphtheria were rampant in the community and doctors had to be stalwart.
Dr. John Boyce came to California as a gold miner and stayed to become its first doctor. A bit of a drinker, Boyce reportedly ate a piece of raw meat for breakfast to soak up the alcohol. Despite his vices, he lived a long life and according to some patients, was “a better doctor drunk than some others were sober.”
Dr. Anabel Stuart was Santa Rosa’s first female doctor. She started out assisting her husband as a nurse during the Civil War. In 1877 she became the Medical School of the Pacific’s second female graduate. When her husband died in 1887 she took over his practice where she earned the nickname “Doctor Dear,” for her kind and loving treatment.
Eventually treatment moved from homes, to offices, to hospitals. Advancements in medicine, equipment and sterilization have lengthened and improved lives.
We have come a long way since the rough and tumble times of our earliest doctors. Click through our gallery above to see what medical practice looked like from 1870 until 1970.
— Columnist Gaye LeBaron contributed to this report.