1868–1898 The Origins of the University of California and Affiiated Colleges
Prelude: The California Gold RushAny history of the health professions involving a boomtown like San Francisco would have to take into account the unique geographical and social environment created by the Gold Rush. In 1846 San Francisco was a colony of around 200 people called Yerba Buena. A year later the population had grown to 457, and most of these were men under forty, including one minister, three doctors, three lawyers, and one schoolteacher.
A City of Transients
Coming To CaliforniaFrom the beginning, physicians, pharmacists, and dentists were as enthusiastic about seeking their fortunes as most other prospectors. California’s early dentists provided their services to the throngs of gold miners. Dr J. Foster Flagg, one of the early forty-niners, studied dentistry in the eastern US and arrived in San Francisco in late 1849. He described his outdoor workspace in a mining community, “my chair is a barrel cut in this wise, with a stick with head rest attached. The lower half of the barrel stuffed firmly with pine needles and covered with a strong potato sack, over which I had an elegant cover of striped calico. A tin cup of water sufficed to rinse the mouth, and the patient, from force of habit, spit on the floor of the office— which was the ground.”
Dr. Hans Herman Behr, a German-educated physician-naturalist and student of Alexander von Humboldt, came to San Francisco in 1851. He found his intellectual treasure in studying the flora and fauna of California. Preferring botany to medical practice, he served on the faculty of the California College of Pharmacy for its first two decades.
Dr. Hugh H. Toland joined a wagon train heading west in search of gold and a healthier climate for his ailing wife, who died just days after their arrival in California. After a few discouraging months as a miner, Dr. Toland realized that his medical knowledge was potentially more profitable than his mill, so he sold his claim and headed to the coast to establish a surgical practice in booming San Francisco.
Toland located his office near the waterfront at Montgomery and Merchant Streets and within months became the city's foremost surgeon, managing what was reportedly the largest practice on the West Coast. His interest in pharmacy and his experience in the mining camps prompted him to devise packaged medicines which he shipped to the mines by Wells Fargo messengers.
Dr. R. Beverly Cole, a Philadelphia-trained physician who also came to California in search of gold. In 1856 Dr. Toland was called to attend a wounded newspaper editor, and medical judgment and vigilante justice became entwined in the famous Sponge Case. As the Sponge Case demonstrated, the medical milieu in San Francisco at mid-century was a mix best described by the state medical society president, who wrote in 1858, "We are a heterogeneous mass, an army of incompatibles. No country in the world is supplied with physicians so diverse in character. We have all the peculiarities of all the schools in the world, coupled with all the peculiarities of all the nations in the world."
>> San Francisco’s First Medical Institutions: Hospitals and Pesthouses