Colorado's Healthcare Heritage

Updates to Volume One — 1876

When Dr. Joseph Lister died in 1912, Denver ophthalmologist Dr. Edward Jackson— a native of West Goshen, Chester County, Pennsylvania, who had received his MD in 1878 from the University of Pennsylvania — wrote about the radical change in surgical procedures that had taken place during his own time in medical school.

When the students of medicine in the University of Pennsylvania came back to the surgical clinics at the University Hospital, in the fall of 1876, a new thing greeted them. The smell of carbolic acid was in the air, and one or more steam atomizers were buzzing in the operative arena, with an attendant or interne watching, or occasionally adjusting it to make it do its duty. When the operation was begun the cloud of carbolized watery vapor was turned upon the field of operation, on the hands of the surgeon, and his assistants, and incidentally on their faces and eyeglasses, which from time to time needed to be wiped clear of the mist.

Professor D. Hayes Agnew's old black frock coat, bearing many stains from former service, was gone. Instead, we saw a long white operating gown that swathed him from neck to heels and wrists: and which he found sometimes awkward, so that he had to appeal for assistance to readjust it. (CM Apr 1912, pg. 110)
Just the previous month, Professor Hayes Agnew had attended the International Medical Congress that had been held in Philadelphia during the Centennial Exposition. Professor Joseph Lister had led the section on surgery.

Dr. Jackson moved to Denver in 1894 because of his wife's tuberculosis.


Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound was marketed nationwide with enormous success beginning in 1876. Its popularity was partly due to the fact that women saw it as an alternative to an ovariectomy, which at the time had a mortality rate of 40%. The label claimed that Vegetable Compound was

. . . a Positive Cure for all those Painful Complaints and Weaknesses so common to our best female population. It will cure entirely the worst form of Female Complaints, all ovarian troubles, Inflammation and Ulceration, Falling and Displacements, and the consequent Spinal Weakness, and is particularly adapted to the Change of Life.

It will dissolve and expel tumors from the uterus in an early stage of development. The tendency to cancerous humors there is checked very speedily by its use.
The claims went on and on. The Vegetable Compound was an alcoholic beverage — 20.6% alcohol according to a Massachusetts Board of Health analyst — that contained five herbs: pleurisy root, life root, fenugreek, unicorn root, and black cohosh. The company founded by Lydia Estes Pinkham (1819-1883) of Lynn, Massachusetts, was still profitable fifty years after her death.


1877 — Colorado State Board of Health

In March 1877, Colorado's first General Assembly appropriated $500 annually for a weak Colorado State Board of Health — originally established as a Territorial Board of Health by the General Assembly on February 10, 1876 — that was to collect and study vital statistics and advise on matters including water supply and sewage disposal.

The members of that first State Board of Health:
  • Charles Ambrook, MD, of Boulder, secretary
  • Frederick J. Bancroft, MD, of Denver, president
  • David H. Dougan, MD, of Leadville
  • William Edmundson, MD, of Central City
  • Harrison A. Lemen, MD, of Denver
  • A.V. Small, MD, of Trinidad
  • William H. Williams, MD, of Denver, treasurer
Frederick J. Bancroft, MD, the first president of the State Board of Health, said the board would also try:
to ascertain in what localities and at what altitude the growing child may gain the best physical and mental development. If high altitude increased the breathing capacity and strength of the heart, and the plains produce tall, athletic men, it is not improbable that places may be found in Colorado where growing children may attain the best possible health and longevity. (Annual Report)
Board of Health members gradually resigned in frustration because of their severely restricted role, and by 1885, only two board members remained. When their terms expired on June 1, 1886, the Colorado State Board of Health no longer existed.

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