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Texas history: Dr. Sofie Herzog

Source: https://www.chron.com/news/article/Gunshot-victims-in-Brazoria-knew-to-call-Dr-12813520.php

I'm not sure if this is visible to anyone else (possible paywall), so I'm posting the text under the cut. Great women's history of a lady doctor in 19th century Texas.

Gunshot victims in Brazoria knew to call ‘Dr. Sofie’

By Joe Holley Updated 7:23 pm, Friday, April 6, 2018

BRAZORIA - This little coastal-bend town between two rivers calls itself “the cradle of Texas,” with good reason. Jane Long, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, James Fannin, Mirabeau B. Lamar, Dr. Anson Jones and William Barret Travis all spent time in the area during the early decades of the 19th century. If you were a “war dog” or a “crazeorian,” as agitators for Texas independence were labeled, chances are you did your plotting in Brazoria.

I was poking around Brazoria County a few days ago, looking for information about Mary Austin Holley, Austin’s favorite cousin, when I came across an early Brazorian barely known beyond the county, even though she certainly deserves to be. I found her - found a life-sized mannequin of her, that is - at the Brazoria Historical Museum.

Dr. Sofie Herzog practiced medicine in Brazoria from the 1890s into the early years of the 20th century. A general practitioner and the first woman to serve as head surgeon for a major American railroad, she wore a necklace of 24 bullets she had extracted from Brazoria-area gunshot victims. The necklace was her good-luck charm, she said.

Her bullet-extracting technique was unique. Instead of probing the wound with a finger, potentially causing further injury and infection, she positioned the victim in such a way that gravity “would bring the bullet to her” within 24 hours. For an abdominal wound, for example, she would suspend her patient a couple of inches above the bed. She reported to a medical conference that every one of her first 17 patients were up and about by the 12th day, “ready to shoot or be shot at any time.”

This fascinating woman was born Sofia Deligath, the daughter of a physician, in Vienna, Austria, in 1846. At age 14, she married another prominent Vienna physician, Dr. Moritz Herzog, and the couple had 15 children, including three sets of twins. Eight died in infancy.

In 1886, Moritz Herzog accepted a position at the United States Naval Hospital in New York City, and his wife, between the many births and deaths, somehow found time to study medicine in New York. She returned to Vienna for further study and earned a medical degree from the University of Graz. She practice medicine for nine years in Hoboken, N.J. Her husband died in about 1895.

The Herzogs' youngest daughter, Elfriede Marie, met a Brazoria merchant named Randolph Prell, who was visiting relatives in Philadelphia, where she was teaching school. The two were married in Hoboken in 1894. Sofie Herzog decided to join them in Brazoria, where, at 49, she resumed her medical practice. Three years after coming to Texas, she became the first female member of the South Texas Medical Association and in 1903 was elected vice-president of the organization.

“She was a character, almost a caricature,” says Dortha Pekar, a local historian and retired Brazoria librarian. Pekar has researched Herzog’s life for more than 30 years and keeps her memory alive by impersonating the good doctor for school groups, civic organizations and Texas history enthusiasts. Pekar says she knows Dr. Sofie so well her presentations are stream-of-consciousness monologues.

It took a while for the locals to grow accustomed to the newcomer. They weren’t used to women doctors, particularly women doctors who cut their hair short, wore a mannish, wide-brimmed hat and favored a tailor-made split skirt when she made house calls astride a horse. One of three physicians in town, she eventually became known, affectionately, as “Dr. Sofie.”

She saw patients from all walks of life, regardless of skin color. “She wasn’t just a good doctor; she was a good person,” a 106-year-old black man who had known her told Pekar some years back.

With railroads knitting the state together in the early 1900s, Dr. Sofie began treating workers laying track in South Texas for the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway. Their work was hard and dangerous, and Dr. Sofie frequently got called out to repair broken legs, smashed limbs and other hazards of the trade. Local railroad officials relied on her, and when the position of chief surgeon opened up, they readily endorsed her application. She got the job - until bigwigs in the St. Louis home office ruled it was no job for a lady. They insisted she resign.

She refused. When Pekar channels Herzog, she has her saying: “I was a woman when you hired me, and nothing has changed in that respect since.” The officials backed down, and she remained chief railroad surgeon until a few months before her death at age 79.

During her 30 years in Brazoria, Dr. Herzog operated a drugstore in connection with her medical practice, concocting many of her own medicines. She built a hotel, the Southern, which became Brazoria’s social center. She bought and sold real estate. After getting into a dispute with a priest over the neglected Catholic cemetery, she built Brazoria’s Episcopal Church.

“She had her own way of doing things,” Pekar told me, the homemade Herzog mannequin sitting at her desk and perhaps listening in on our conversation.

Her 24 bullets, strung between gold links by a Houston jeweler, wasn’t her only eccentricity. The drugstore that fronted her office and the office itself became a museum filled with her various collections. She collected walking sticks, carved and painted in many shapes and colors, from around the world. She was an avid hunter, and on the walls were stuffed birds, a javelina head and antlers. Animal-hide rugs covered the floors. She skinned, dried and mounted rattlesnake skins on wide, red-satin ribbons, and her doctor’s kit rested on alligator feet.

She also collected malformed fetuses from miscarriages she attended and kept them in bottles on her office shelves. Her collection, including a new-born with two heads and three arms, went to John Sealy Hospital in Galveston after her death.

In 1913, Herzog married Col. Marion Huntington, a twice-widowed plantation owner. He was 70, she 67. They lived on his plantation, Ellersly, 7 miles from Brazoria, and she commuted to work each day in her Ford runabout, the first in the area. She also was one of the first Brazorians to own a telephone.

Following a paralytic stroke, Dr. Sofie died in a Houston hospital on July 21, 1925. She was laid to rest wearing her bullet necklace.

djholley10@gmail.com

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