Thursday, February 12, 2015

Elizabeth Davock Dickson and the Douglas Hospital

Elizabeth Davock Dickson1 was the sister of my second great-grandmother, Anne Amelia Dickson. She was born in 1868 in Point Edward, Ontario, Canada.

As a young woman, Elizabeth studied nursing in Detroit.  My grandmother told me that Elizabeth also went to New York to obtain specialty training as a surgical nurse.  When Elizabeth's parents, George and Mary Bellangee Dickson, moved from the Detroit area to Douglas, Wyoming in the early 1900s, Elizabeth went with them.  In Douglas, she founded the community hospital.

Elizabeth never married, and devoted her life to working in medicine.  She was known fondly to my grandmother as "Auntie" and was close with her family until she died in Los Angeles in 1952.

Elizabeth Dickson, at left, with her sister Annie.

Among my grandmother's papers, I discovered a newspaper article that describes the origins of the hospital in Douglas and the role that Elizabeth played in its founding.

The Douglas Budget
Wednesday, July 15, 1992

Memoirs of the Old Douglas Hospital
by David Johnstone

The old hospital was located on South Sixth Street.  It faced east toward what was then the only school in Douglas.  It was a combination of Elementary and High School.

Close by was a small building that housed one of the grades and was nicknamed "Chicken Coup" by the children.  Across the street and a little north was the home of Tom Rowley and across the street on the corner stood the fine brick home of John T. Williams, a stockman and banker.

The hospital has been a very nice residence for the day and age.  The living room, dining room and two bedrooms had been remodeled some but not enough to destroy the original home-like atmosphere.  A four-bed ward on the first floor and two rooms for nurses on the lower floor had been added.

The original operating room was small but adequate at that time.  Some of the staff slept on the second floor.  Facing the east on the front was a very fine porch where convalescing patients could enjoy the good old Wyoming air and sunshine.

In the evenings, the off-duty nurses could entertain their boyfriends.  The hospital staff worked and ate together so much that they were like a big family.  Miss Elizabeth Dickson, a registered nurse, owned and supervised the hospital for several years.  Her brother George Dickson was agent at the Chicago and Northwestern station and was later interested in the hardware business.

In 1908, in order to take a vacation to California, Miss Dickson had a registered nurse from Chicago come to relieve her and to supervise in her absences.  Janet Adams2 was her name. She was one of three girls, all of whom were born in Ontario, Canada, and who trained and graduated in the class of 1902 at the Presbyterian and Cook County Hospitals in Chicago.  Mary Brown and Grace Galbraith were the other two classmates.

When Miss Dickson and her father returned from California, Miss Dickson had decided to sell the hospital and retire in California.  In short time Miss Brown and Miss Galbraith came from Chicago to investigate buying the hospital.  A few days later a deal was closed and the new owners took over.

The old Douglas hospital is famous as the spot where the cattle rustler and gambler George Pike died in 1908.  He was a notorious figure in the area, having established a ranch near Douglas where he corralled his ill-gotten animals.  Elizabeth Dickson was running the Douglas hospital when George Pike was brought to the hospital with a abdominal ailment, and her nephew George Roscoe Oliver Rutherfurd remembered peeking into the windows of the hospital to see the commotion inside.  George Pike did not survive, but his legend lives on in Douglas.

The hospital that Elizabeth Dickson founded and ran is now a private residence.  A larger and more modern hospital is located elsewhere in Douglas. 

1 I have often wondered about the origins of Elizabeth's middle name, Davock.  It's not a family surname to the best of my knowledge.  I recently found a clue while reviewing the 1865 Census for New York.  It shows young George Dickson and his bride Mary Bellangee Dickson living in the same household with a widow by the name of Maria Davock and her five children.  I still haven't determined the relationship between the Davock and Dickson families, but it seems to have been a close one.

2 According to a note handwritten on this article by the daughter of this nurse, her actual name was Janet Adamson.  She was almost certainly the same Janet Adamson who married Elizabeth Dickson's brother, George William Dickson, Jr.

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