During the coronavirus pandemic, stories of heroism and sacrifice among doctors, nurses, or other health care workers were plentiful. The hard work and dedication of hundreds of years have paid off in the area hospitals and the healthcare providers who work there. At one time, the state of medical education in St. Louis was so shocking that riots broke out. A medical doctor’s training in the Gateway City took only three months. Partly due to Dr. Adam Hammer, a better humanist than a brewer, and his fellow German doctors added science to medicine for the first time in St. Louis’ history. Women in religious orders were dedicated to caring for the sick. These are only a few of the many medical pioneers in our city.
Dr. W.A.’s memory is a precious one. Lawrence, a woman may have been almost forgotten except for an advertisement in a St. Louis book published a few years before the Civil War. I couldn’t find anything else about her, not even her first name. All I know about her is what she told us. Dr. Lawrence was originally from Martinsburg in West Virginia and “most respectfully tender[ed]] her services to the LADIES OF St. Louis.” She also stated that she felt confident that the ladies of St. Louis would prefer Dr. Lawrence to provide their sex during sickness …”. Was Dr. Lawrence the first woman to practice medicine in St. Louis? It is not clear if records can show this. The building in which her offices were located at 206 N. 7th Street has been long gone.
A group of remarkable women from the German Empire arrived in St. Louis to treat smallpox. They were similar to the Civil War’s survivors. The Servants of God’s Heart, Bavarian-born women, arrived in St. Louis in November 1872. They took up residence in an unheated structure next to St. Mary of Victories (the second-oldest church in the city). They became the Sisters of St. Mary because of their new home. Although there were originally only five Sisters and their Mother Odilia at the time, their skills in treating smallpox victims (which has a death rate of 30%) became urgently needed after their arrival.
In addition to the smallpox outbreak, cholera struck the city again, creating hardships for the Sisters as well as their patients. They were not immune to the diseases they were treating. One story says that the Sisters had a balcony in St. Mary of Victories reserved for them so they could attend Mass in the church without having to come into contact with the congregation. To warn people passing by of their presence, they also wore bells on the collars of their clothes as they walked through St. Louis. St. Louis would still be threatened by smallpox, and in 1883 the city granted the Sisters permission to treat the victims. The Sisters eventually built St. Mary’s Infirmary at Papin Street. Unfortunately, it was demolished many years ago. However, their legacy and their order still serve the St. Louis community.
St. Louis was still threatened by smallpox into the 20th century. It even threatened the 1904 World’s Fair. However, a quick-thinking doctor saved the day. In 1962, Dr. Martin E. Sheets told a story about how he stopped smallpox from spreading from Chesterfield, where he had lived for half a century. With his wife Doodles at his side, he also shared the story with a reporter. After a heated exchange, workers closed the doors of the exhibition hall that housed the worker in question. They finally agreed to transport the man to Lafayette Square’s City Hospital. A second smallpox case occurred later in the Fair. Dr. Sheets quickly prevented it from spreading. The doctor immediately recognized the symptoms and ordered the patient to be transferred from Fair’s hospital to the City Hospital. There was also a quarantine area for smallpox victims. The World’s Fair was not affected by any major disease outbreaks.