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How doctors operated 100 years ago

The recent celebration of Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center’s 50th anniversary in San Luis Obispo challenged the Vault to turn the clock back an additional 50 years.

Be glad we live in this medical era. If you ever want a good cringe, check out medical museums from 1900 or earlier. Most of the equipment looks like something from a horror film.

Around the dawn of the 20th century, medical practice was taking solid steps out of the dark ages and into science. You can still find plenty of crazy quack remedies advertised at this time, but in some cases the cure was turning out better than the disease.

One of the most visible practitioners in the San Luis Obispo medical community around 1900 was Dr. William Stover. His name shows up often in advertising or in news articles when he responded to disasters.

Stover grew his practice to the point where he founded what may be the town’s first private hospital. The San Luis Sanitarium, sometimes called Stover Sanitarium, was located at more than one address in town over the years. The 1180 Marsh St. address would in later years provide an early location for French Hospital Medical Center.

Looking at ads from 1903, it seems as if doctors who specialized in women’s and children’s issues were the growth specialty. Unless it was broken, guys must have just rubbed a little dirt on it and kept going.

Another interesting note is that many doctors published their home address for emergency contact in addition to their office address.

The copy in a 1907 ad in the Telegram made it clear that the surgeon in charge was picky about who he admitted — no crazy or sick people.

They could go down the road to the county’s General Hospital. Don’t believe me? Here is how the ad read:“A private Hospital furnished throughout with all the modern appliances used in any first class institution for the proper care of Medical, Surgical and Obstetrical cases. Also an X-Ray for the examination of those suffering from injuries. Trained nurses always in attendance. No contagious or mental diseases admitted.

“For further information address, 1180 Marsh St. San Luis Obispo, Cal. W.M. Stover, M.D. Surgeon in Charge.”

Hey! He forgot to include a phone number or Web address.

Stover’s name has surfaced in Photos from the Vault before. In 1905, he gave medical aid when a fire destroyed an entire block of San Luis Obispo. Again the name appears at the Lark train wreck of 1916.

The Southern Pacific had a roster of authorized doctors in various towns along the line. Stover may have been one of them, though I haven’t found documentation on that point.

Wilmar Tognazzini, historian and former 100 Years Ago columnist for The Tribune, found the Stover name more than once.

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