One thing you find looking at the history of San Diego County is that some of those most well-remembered people are the doctors. In the days when the county consisted of small, isolated rural villages and towns, the local doctor had a real impact, treating the sick and injured and bringing new generations into the world.
One such was Dr. Sophronia Nichols, the first woman doctor in the town of Alpine. A native of Massachusetts, she was a schoolteacher and mother of two children who decided, in her late thirties, to study medicine. She received her medical degree in 1874 from Boston University, the only woman in her class, according to a profile compiled by the Alpine Historical Society.
First practicing medicine in Pennsylvania, where male chauvinism limited her ability to get patients, she was encouraged by two brothers living in California to head west, where more doctors were needed. She received her California medical license in June, 1876, becoming only “the 26th licensed doctor in the state,” according to the historical society account.
She had practices in northern California, Riverside, Otay and the city of San Diego before settling in Alpine, where she had a sister and extended family, in 1894.
In another remembrance on the historical society’s website from the late local resident and journalist Blanch McCall, the doctor was described as “a strong, husky woman, who kept her hair cut very short in a mannish style and let nothing stop her when called upon to attend a sick person.”
Dr. Nichols delivered her first baby in Alpine on January 6, 1897, at the home of the Walkers, a couple who owned a local resort. The doctor drove her horse and buggy through rainy darkness over a rutted, muddy road eight miles to the Walker house.
After delivering the baby, Nichols stayed for three days to make sure mother and daughter were okay. This, the Walkers later recounted, was typical of the doctor.
“She answered calls from miles around,” stated the historical society’s profile, “driving her horse and buggy over any kind of road, any time of the day or night. Sometimes she was paid for her services, but many times she was not. She was said to have accepted this as a fact of life for a country doctor.”
Find out more about Dr. Nichols and other Alpine pioneers at the Alpine Historical Society’s website: http://www.alpinehistory.org/index.html .
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