Community Health 1900 – 1950

As the Twentieth Century dawned, medical doctors were required to hold M.D. degrees and pass state board exams in order to open a practice. Training was made easier for Utah residents with establishment of the University of Utah Department of Medicine in 1905, which was changed to the University of Utah Medical School in 1912.1History of Medicine in Utah,, 2012.

By this time, most doctors had been trained concerning the germ theory first espoused by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. This meant providing a separate sanitary medical office and, in some cases, a hospital — even if it was only a couple of beds. It also meant a new understanding of the role of germs in the broader picture of community health. Despite an adequate number of doctors in private practice, public health remained a major concern, particularly epidemics. In Utah, as well as the entire nation, infectious disease remained the primary cause of death up through the 1930s.

Brigham City had a Board of Health, of which Dr. E. A. Rich was listed as chairman in 1904.”City Officers List,” Box Elder News, September 29, 1904, 1. The position was held through the years by various local physicians, most often by Dr. R. A. Pearse. The board’s duties were primarily enforcement of quarantines for contagious diseases, as well as promoting local sanitation.
Smallpox vaccination was practiced widely in the East, but was not yet common in the West and there were several local outbreaks, the worst occurring in 1903. Patients were quarantined in the “pest house” near the mouth of the canyon, where they were nursed by a relative or a person who had already had the disease.

As sanitation became a more recognized solution to public health, the city took measures to prevent disease. The spread of disease was alleviated somewhat by installation of the 1892 city water system. However, this water source was the cause of a typhoid epidemic in 1923-24 that was traced to a carrier living near the water intake in Mantua.2Sarah Yates, Stitches in Time: A Historical Overview of the Practice of Medicine in Brigham City and Surrounding Communities, Brigham City Community Hospital, 2001, 3. In 1911, the State Department of Health abolished the use of the common drinking cup in schools and public places as a method of cutting down on spread of disease.3Sarah Yates, “Many were dedicated in early medicine,” Box Elder Journal, Brigham City, UT, July 15, 1976, p 9.

Since horses were still widely used for transportation and many households within the city had chickens or livestock, flies plagued residents throughout the summer. In 1914, the city sponsored an all-out battle against the fly. Local children were given free theater tickets for every 100 flies killed and brought in to be counted. That task fell to City Councilman Peter Knudson.
Probably the most devastating epidemic was the influenza that swept the nation in 1917-20. There was hardly a local family untouched by the disease. During its worst period, influenza was responsible for closure of local schools, church meetings, theaters, and public gatherings. Persons venturing into stores wore masks to prevent contracting the dread disease.4Sarah Yates, “Many were dedicated in early medicine,” Box Elder Journal, Brigham City, UT, July 15, 1976, p 9. Influenza was still rampant in February, 1920, when a special meeting of the Board of Health was called to adopt a policy to combat the disease. Dr. Fister suggested that the two local hospitals (probably Cooley and Pearse) combine and make one an operating hospital only and the other a flu hospital exclusively. Ward amusement halls and the tithing house were offered, but the board agreed that Dr. Fister had the proper solution.

“Dr. Pearse declared that fifty new cases of influenza had developed during the last twenty-four hours and he frankly predicted that the community would be alive with the pestilence by the end of the present week unless everyone cooperated to check its spread.”5“Policy Adopted to Combat Flu,” Box Elder News, February 3, 1920, 1.

He went on to say that he did not think it would be necessary to close up the city, as they had in the previous year, but that families must report cases promptly and observe quarantines. Nurses were needed, and health officers were called upon to assist Inspector John. M. Burt, who was “running his legs off” checking cases.

In the mid-1920s an outbreak of spinal meningitis took several lives in the community, including the son of local physician Dr. R. A. Pearse.

Brigham City’s public health program was greatly enhanced by Winifred Brown (Ryan), who arrived in 1919 as a graduate nurse. She worked for Dr. Pearse, later served as city sanitarian, and in 1934 became the first county public health nurse. Mrs. Ryan was largely responsible for quarantine programs that helped halt a scarlet fever epidemic, for establishment of food service inspection, for fly control programs, and was instrumental in setting up public immunization clinics.6Yates, Stitches in Time, 4.

Boards of Health bounced from being city and county organizations through the years, with efforts focusing on sanitation, public immunization, and well-baby clinics, such as the 1926 announcement of a free health clinic to be held in the courthouse, with mothers encouraged to bring infants and preschool children.7Box Elder News, October 15, 1926.

That same year, the Health Center was reorganized during its annual meeting at the Commercial Club rooms. Among individuals named on the organization’s roster, which included such entities as the Board of Education, were Dr. R. A. Pearse, medical; Dr. E. H. Marble, dental; John H. Burt, Board of Health.8Box Elder News, November 26, 1926.

Early Hospitals

In the earliest days, patients were called upon at home. As a doctor’s practice grew, it was more efficient to watch over several patients in a hospital when they were recovering from surgery or required professional care. Several local doctors installed beds for a few patients, especially those who had undergone surgery or had critical needs.

One of the first area hospitals was Brigham City General Hospital opened in 1906 by Dr. Pearse, housed in the brick residence of John Anderson on the corner of Seventh South and Main. In March, 1913, Dr. Pearse and Dr. A. L. Brown opened a hospital in a house leased from Mrs. Lars Olsen at Fourth West and First South. Dr. Brown, joined by a Dr. Henderson, continued the private hospital after Dr. Pearse moved into his own facility.9Yates, Stitches in Time, 4.

The Box Elder News notes in 1914 that Dr. Pearse would open a private hospital in the “west house of new homes recently erected by Mr. George Craghead on First South,”Box Elder News, May 23, 1914. but by August of that year he was studying and serving briefly in hospitals in England.10“Interesting Letter from Dr. Pearse,” Box Elder News, August 20, 1914.

Drs. J. D. Harding and H. R. McGee had a hospital upstairs in the Widerborg-Jones building at 70 South Main. It was there that local resident Moroni Bott recalled that, while a teenager, he worked as an orderly and custodian to pay off the bill owed when his mother broke her leg.11Sarah Yates, interview with Moroni Bott, 1976.

A private home at 32 South 100 East was converted to a hospital by Drs. LeRoy Smith and George Fister for years, and a hospital was open for a short time by Dr. Cooley in an adobe house at the corner of Second South and Second East.

Another private home referred to as a hospital was that of Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Cheney, who had some experience with midwifery and then worked as a nurse for Dr. Pearse. During a typhoid epidemic, she was asked by Dr. Pearse to take patients into her home. Her young son recalled going to live with family members so that he would not be exposed, and later helping to run errands for patients.12Unpublished family memoir, as well as correspondence from grandson, Dr. Richard Cheney, March 2013. Mrs. Cheney (later Lewis) worked several years with Dr. Pearse in his larger hospital. She later purchased the two-story building and nursed patients there prior to converting it into apartments on the corner of Forest and Second West.

Circa 1920, Dr. A. D. Cooley converted the two-story Abraham Hunsaker home at Fourth South and Main into a hospital. He had begun practice with Dr. Pearse in 1916 and a Pearse-Cooley Hospital is listed in local news and obituaries from 1916 through mid-1919. By 1920 references are made separately to the Cooley or the Pearse Hospital. Dr. Cooley continued his practice in the Main Street facility until he built the larger hospital which served the city from 1935 into the mid-1970s.13Yates, Stitches in Time, 4.

In 1920, “Messrs A. Lisle Eddy and Dr. R. A. Pearse, who also represented all the medical men of the city” appeared before the Board of Governors of the Commercial Club with the importance of establishing a general hospital to serve all of the city. A committee was appointed to look into the idea, but there are no further news articles on the subject.14“General Hospital being discussed,” Box Elder News, July 13, 1920, 1.

Bushnell General Hospital, operated by the United States Army from 1942-46, also is part of Brigham City’s medical history, not because it served local patients, but due to its impact on the community at large and its role in the development of penicillin. Important trials of this new drug were carried out at Bushnell in the winter of 1942-43. The success of the tests on wounded men at Bushnell Hospital led to massive funding being put into the development of penicillin. By mid-1944, production of penicillin was well-established, leading to the saving of many lives of wounded military personnel.15Yates, Stitches in Time, 5.

Bushnell was known as one of the leading military hospitals for treatment and rehabilitation of amputees, as well as for blind patients and those with psycho-neurological conditions. In addition to bringing in medical personnel and military employees, Bushnell was a source of considerable local civilian employment and volunteer activity. Patriotism and compassion for the patients encouraged local residents to open their homes to families who came to visit with patients, as well as to hospital employees.

Private Physicians & Midwives

Several of the doctors listed in the 1890 first edition of the Brigham Bugler were still practicing in the city at the turn of the century. Not listed were midwives, most of them mentioned in pre-1900 accounts. A midwife who practiced well into the twentieth century was Mrs. Anna Elizabeth Kaiser, who was licensed to practice obstetrics with the Territory of Utah in 1893. She wrote a book on midwifery, in which she described 38 years of practice and delivery of approximately 1,900 babies, which is noted on her headstone in the Brigham City cemetery.16

By 1904 a number of doctors had hung out their shingles, including Dr. R. A. Pearse in the Knudson block above Eddy’s Drug, Dr. A. W. Ensign, Dr. Z. A. Damour with offices in Mrs. Cozier’s home, L. D. Berg and L. H. Harding, dentists in the Widerborg building; and Dr. Edward A. Rich, who was moving into “beautiful ground floor offices in the old post office station … continuing his residence and night office at the E. W. Dunn Home.”17Yates, “Many were dedicated…,” 9 (based on Box Elder News editions of 1904).

Dr. Rich installed an x-ray machine in his office on June 20, 1907, and newspapers of that same year report that Drs. J. D. Lewellyn and Whitlock opened offices over Eddy’s Drug, Dr. Verdo B. Gregory was assisting Dr. Pearse, Drs. G. Harding and J. D. Harding were in business, and dentists Berg, Bryan, and Ohmart were all advertising their services.18Yates, “Many were dedicated…,” 9 (based on Box Elder News editions of 1904).

Doctors usually respected the confidentiality of their doctor-patient relationship, for they held a store of personal information about the patients who broke local taboos concerning liquor or sexual activity, even to providing physical exams to the local “ladies of the night.” This personal code of ethics was particularly important during the years of anti-polygamist crusades, since they were aware of the family relationships of those whom they treated.

Local doctors offered services for approximately the same fees, as noted in a schedule of prices published in the Box Elder News by Drs. R. A. Pearse, D.W. Henderson, A.D. Cooley, and E.A. Weymuller in 1918:

. . . confinement- normal, first child – $30,19In 2014 dollars, about $510. See second $25, out-of-town, mileage extra, must be paid at time of delivery; office calls – each $1 and up, town (home) calls, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. – $2, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. $3; tonsils and adenoids, $25, including hospital fee; circumcision, $15, including hospital fee; abdominal operations – $125 and up; hospital fee (not including private nurse) $3.50; operating room for major surgery – $10 extra; anesthetic $5; out-of-town, $1 per mile, night call $1 extra.20Box Elder News, November 11, 1918.

It is not possible to list all of the doctors who served Brigham City through the years, but there were a few who had special impact on the community.

Doctors and Dentists

Doctors during this period included:

Dr. Richard A. Pearse
Dr. Arthur D. Cooley
Dr. W. R. Merrell
Dr. Simon L. Moskowitz

Dentists during this period included:

Dr. Rose Ellen Bywater
Dr. Mary Petersen

Other Doctors in the 1930s – 1940s

Although Dr. Pearse had lost one son, another followed him into medicine. Harper Pearse worked as a pharmacist for one year, then attended medical school, graduating in 1933. He gradually took over his father’s practice, which he continued in the small office on West Forest, following his father’s death in 1945. After 18 years of medical service in Brigham City, he opened a practice in Salt Lake City in the mid-1950s.21Obituary, Harper Pearse, MD, Deseret News, Sept 29, 1993.

Dr. J. Howard Rasmussen completed Rush Medical School in Chicago in 1939, and opened a family medical practice locally in the mid-1940s, remaining in practice at 115 East First North for over 40 years. He moved to Orem following retirement.22Obituary, J. Howard Rasmussen, MD, Deseret News, September 24, 1991.

After serving stateside in the US Army in World War II, Dr. J. Gordon Felt opened a local practice circa 1944-46, upstairs in the hotel on Main Street. Noting the many expectant mothers whose husbands were in the military, he created a maternity clinic and delivered hundreds of babies. He partnered with local dentist J. L. Huchel, DDS, in building the Brigham Medical Clinic just south of Cooley Memorial Hospital (AKA Professional Center) on the corner of Forest and First East. He was in local practice for over 40 years.23Sarah Yates, interview with Helen Felt, March 11, 2013.


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