Susan Anderson(January 31, 1870 – April 16, 1960) was born in Nevada Mills, Indiana near the Michigan line, to William H. (Henry) Anderson (age 20), and Mary Pyle (age 22). She may have been a honeymoon baby since her parents were only married nine months before that.
For reasons unknown, her parents’ marriage didn’t last, and they divorced when Susan was five. Her brother John was born in 1872, and the children lived with their father and an aunt. By 1880, they moved to Steubenville, Indiana with Henry’s parents. Her father worked the family farm and encouraged Susan to get an education. Her early aspiration was to become a telegraph operator, but her father encouraged her to think of medical school, saying he would find a way to pay for it.
The family moved again, this time to Wichita, KS, Sedgewick County. Susie, as she liked to be called, excelled in school, and graduated from Wichita High School in 1891.
Reports of a gold strike in Cripple Creek, Colorado fired the imaginations of many a farmer, including Susie’s father. The family moved to Cripple Creek soon after her graduation. Henry didn’t find gold but established a successful business trading horses and other stock animals. Susie began the rounds of applying to medical schools but received several rejections despite her academic record because she was a woman. After two years of applications, she was accepted to the University of Michigan in 1893. U. Michigan still has many of her papers, photographs, and recordings.
Her father met with financial reversals, and quit paying for her school. Susie took a job at a nearby hospital as a nurse to finish, graduating in 1897. She contracted tuberculosis while working at the hospital, and struggled with it for the rest of her life, though the Colorado mountain climate of later years helped.
After medical school, she returned to Colorado, attempting to establish a practice in Denver. She met with little success, given the many male doctors available. Returning home to Cripple Creek, discouraged, she met a young man, and there was a whirlwind romance. The wedding was to take place in Cripple Creek, but when Susie came to the altar, she waited – and waited – and after several hours it became apparent her groom had skipped town with someone else. Shortly after, her brother John died. Enraged and grieving. Susie left for Greeley, vowing never to return.
She developed a practice that ranged from Eaton to Greeley, to Fraser, covering one hundred miles in the mountains on horseback. In rural Fraser, there was little medical care, and people slowly learned to trust Dr. Susie. Her friendly but no-nonsense approach and success in treatments won the people over. With help from neighbors, she moved her father’s old barn from Cripple Creek to Fraser and lived in it.
“In those days, when I came to Fraser, there weren’t many good roads in the northern Colorado mountains. I carried a cowbell and a revolver when I went on night calls, to keep the mountain lions away. Even now, the ranchers in those mountains get snowed in by storms, but doctors make it through. There’s some 20 below mornings when I bundle into my scarf and boots with my sheep’s wool coat, strapping on snow shoes, when I dream about retiring to Indiana.”Dr. Susan Anderson, Angola Herald 10 Dec 1952
It has been rumored that Dr. Susie’s life was the model for the television character Dr. Michaela Quinn, of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman – but the creator of the show and main writer for it, Beth Sullivan, has disavowed this, saying Dr. Quinn was from her imagination.
She returned to Cripple Creek at the request of a family. The father was a victim of a mine cave-in and had an arm broken in several places. The male doctor in Denver who had seen him quickly decided amputation was the only answer. When the family pleaded with her to examine him, Dr. Susie said she could save the arm, and the father, naturally to the consternation of the Denver doctor, to whom she was a “meddling woman”.
This incident spread her fame, and she ended by returning to her hometown. She had no end of lumberjacks, miners, and other unfortunates to treat. She was often paid in chickens or baked bread and remained in poverty most of her days.
During the 1918 Spanish Flu, Susie was everywhere, visiting hospitals, residences, and mines as her reputation for curing pneumonia preceded her.
In 1922, after a devastating flood, construction began on the Moffat Tunnel through the mountains from Rollinsville to Winter Park. Like many major construction projects, injuries were common, and Dr. Susie burned the midnight oil treating the many men who were hurt or in danger of death.
“In the late 1950’s, Dr. Anderson was featured in a newspaper article that was nationally distributed by the Associated Press. She also enjoyed the publicity of being featured in an occasional magazine story. Because of this publicity, Ethel Barrymore became aware of Doc Susie’s fascinating story and offered to make a movie about her life. Dr. Anderson declined. Nevertheless, as a professional, she inspired the young girls of Fraser to pursue goals loftier than the drudgery their mothers endured.“Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame
In her later years, Susie lectured, and would still occasionally practice. She died at the age of 90 on April 16, 1960, in Denver, and was buried in Mount Pisgah Cemetery in Cripple Creek, Co. There have been several biographies written of her life, one of the most notable being Doc Susie: The True Story of a Country Physician in the Colorado Rockies by Virginia Cornell
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