Tuesday, September 10, 2019


post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

I want to introduce you to two women who were practicing medicine in Denver before 1900. Both were named Mary Bates. Although I'm still learning about these doctors, their stories so far are still the stuff of legends and can and will  lead to so much more.

To help put their story in context let’s start with Colorado, which became a state in 1876. From the early days, Colorado was filled with people who were adventurers, the people who go where others may fear to tread. When gold and other minerals were found in the high mountains the state population began to explode. Those not searching for gold, remember the1859 slogan  “Pikes Peak or Bust”, they were providing services and goods for the searchers. 

Additionally, there was an influx of people who found the Colorado climate beneficial for their health. This combination led many women to brave this new territory to practice their medical skills. Into this mix, Mary Elizabeth Bates and Mary Helen Barker Bates arrive.

an early image of Leadville from Wikipedia
Mary Helen Barker Bates (b.1845-d.1934) was the daughter of Dr. Ezra Barker who practiced in New York. She graduated from the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia. In her early career, she practiced in Salt Lake City, Utah. Family history says she was the physician for Mormon leader Brigham Young. In reality, she probably was the doctor for members of his family. It was in Utah she met and married George Bates in 1876. In 1878. at the age of 33, she moved to the mining town of Leadville, Colorado. Leadville for those who don’t know sits at 10,152 feet above sea level in the Colorado Rockies. While there she was part of the group who tried to create the Ladies Relief Hospital. In 1881 she moved to Denver for her husband’s health. She was also one of the early women licensed by the State when the state began licensing physicians in 1881. (Her license #271). She took a special interest in Women's Suffrage, children and education. She introduced the Colorado bill for the Law for the Examination and Care of Public School Children which went into effect in 1910.

Image result for images of 1880 Denver colorado
Denver, CO 1887
Library of Congress
Mary Elizabeth Bates (b.1851 d.1954) arrived in Denver in 1891. Before arriving in Colorado, she was the first woman intern (1882-1883) at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois after a grueling exam in which she beat out several male candidates. She studied in Vienna from 1883-1884. Upon her return, she was a professor of anatomy at the Woman’s Medical College in Chicago from 1884-1889. In Colorado, she also was involved in the Woman’s Suffrage movement and was part of the group that affected the passage of the 1893 referendum which gave Colorado women the right to vote. Dr. Bates also was a champion of the strict adherence to the liquor and gambling laws of the state. Dr. Bates other passion was animal rights and before her death in 1954 she created the Mary Elizabeth Bates Foundation for animal care.

Both women were and are strong role models for following a dream and not giving up on what you believe in. As I continue to research and learn about these early women pioneer doctors I find their stories are something I do not want future generations to lose. The gift these women have left us are the nuggets of gold that far outweigh the stuff that was torn from the earth during the time they were practicing their careers. 

Photo property of the author
In the novel "Josie's Dream", Josephine Forrester dreams of creating a medical practice of her own. She gets the chance in the town of Kiowa Wells, CO.  Below is a short excerpt where Josies is treating Will Murphy, the man who is the one who ... 

The early summer heatwave of the past week drove Will’s patience past all control. He was sitting in Josie’s office, his hands moving under the bandage on his head.
Fussing with your bandages won’t make your wound heal any faster,” Josie said grinning.
A lot you know, lady doctor,” Will shot back.
Insulting me will not help either,” Josie laughed. The look of frustration on Will’s face was too ludicrous to keep the laugh inside.
I’ll show you,” Will snarled as he began unwinding the bandage on his head. Almost as quickly, the kitten, seeing movement pounced on the flying ends.
It was too much, Josie laughed so hard tears were falling, as she held her ribs, gasping for breath.
Sheepishly, Will grinned, reaching over to pet the kitten. “Perhaps you could…”
Still gasping, Josie could only nod her head in assent, her green eyes sparkling at Will’s discomfort. She knew she should be professional, but between the kitten and Will’s discomfort, she just couldn’t keep a straight face.
In the meantime, the kitten reverted to its ancestral self, attacking the bandage with a vengeance. The way the kitten pounced, attacking the ends, then pulling, it appeared she might manage to topple Will over.
Jumping up, Josie picked up and moved the kitten away. Taking a pair of scissors, Josie began cutting the bandage from around Will’s head. Once she’d removed the bandage, she gently examined the wound from the bullet. “Well, you’re healing nicely, but that wound is still looking like a piece of rare meat.”
Are you saying you could place my head between two pieces of bread?” Will grinned.
I doubt it would be very good, too tough,” Josie retorted.
What, you don’t like it tough?”
Josie wasn’t comfortable with the way the conversation was heading. Will was her patient, but…
What, the cat got your tongue?” Will quipped.

purchase ebook from Amazon

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History


Licha said...

This sounds like a very good and fun book, I love the cover also. Wow, thank you for the history lesson on the Drs., they sure were brave and they sure do let us know to not give up and to believe we can do anything if we apply ourselves to doing it. Thank you so much for sharing this story and making history fun! :) Have a Great rest of the week. God Bless you.

Renaissance Women said...

Thank you, my friend. Once I started researching these women doctors in Colorado they grabbed me and haven't let go. I am glad you enjoy their stories, for they are inspiring.