The Medical Historical Library recently acquired a collection of letters by John J. Cushing, one of the first homeopathic physicians in California. Cushing wrote in the 1850s to his family in Providence, Rhode Island from San Francisco, where he set up practice. The collection contains colorful anecdotes about Gold Rush era San Francisco, including some on his experiences as a doctor there.
In his letters, Cushing tells how he got barred as a homeopath from the newly formed local Medical Society on account that “the board could not regard my diploma as evidence of my medical education.” The correspondence also chronicles his efforts to maintain a practice against the fierce competition that he describes on January 31, 1855 as there were “four doctors to one patient.” Cushing eventually prospers despite difficulties in collecting his fees during money shortages, recounting gifts of gratitude and payments in kind from his patients. He reports on cases such as a 4-month convalescence from typhoid fever in 1857, and a difficult delivery of an 11lb. baby, in a letter dated January 15, 1855. His correspondence also illustrates customs and social norms of his time: for instance, he comments that people frowned upon bachelor doctors attending ladies of class.
by Judit Balassa