Doctors of Folsom
If there is one profession that is largely appreciated (especially right now) it is doctors. They work long hours without sleep or seeing their families and expose themselves to illness just so we can stay happy and healthy. In the past, doctors worked just as hard and were often the only practice in town or had to travel. I would like to dedicate this week to several of Folsom’s past doctors whose hard work protected many of the people I have mentioned in past blogs.
As the daughter of a doctor, Lydia Etta Smith caught the medical bug early. Her father, Dr. Hiram Watson Smith practiced in their home state of Wisconsin before her birth and when she was young, the family moved to Placerville where Smith set up his practice before moving on to Folsom in the late 1880s. Etta, as she was more commonly called, went to medical school, graduating in 1893. She moved back to Folsom and helped with her father’s practice as a fully certified physician at the age of 20. She married John James Duffy that same year but the two later divorced and she continued to go by Dr. Duffy until she remarried Edward Farmer in 1902. She was then known by either Dr. Farmer or just Dr. Etta. Her father retired in the early 1900s and Etta took over his practice. She made house calls throughout Folsom and other local areas and was largely accepted despite being a female doctor, although a newspaper article in 1902 assuring people that she had not quit and was still practicing despite rumors stating otherwise hints that there were some who were not as progressive. During World War I, Dr. Etta started the Red Cross chapter in Folsom which was renowned in the area and in 1918, she went to France to care for war refugees and helped start a women’s hospital.
She retired in the 1930s after developing cancer and spent a lot of time in Tahoe at her and her husband’s second home until her death in 1937 at the age of 64.
Dr. Kentucky John Slaughter, or “K.J.” as it stood for, started his practice in Folsom in the late 1800s at a pharmacy on the 700 block of Sutter street in 1900, working at the same time as Etta Farmer. He specialized in children and women’s health and also worked as a doctor for the Chinese community. At first, I could not believe that his name was actually Kentucky John but census records list that as his given name as do physician directories of the time. He married Alice McKinney in 1895 at the age of 51 and the couple was childless at the time of her death 8 years later. He was very close with the Jeffs family, Mrs. Jeffs worked as his office nurse and he gave a silver service set he had received at his own wedding to Mrs. Jeffs daughter, Emily, when she married. He retired in the 1920s and moved in with the Jeffs family, who cared for him before he decided to move to Lassen County and start a pharmacy there, going between Lassen County and Folsom to visit the Jeffs and Emily, now Mrs. Fraizer. In 1926, at the age of 82, a Lassen county judge ordered Dr. Slaughter to be taken by the Stockton Asylum for the Insane, California’s oldest psychiatric hospital, and he remained there until his death later that year. Today, Dr. Slaughter would not have been taken to an insane asylum, but a care facility as it is now believed that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s, not insanity.
The last doctor I will cover this week is Dr. Proctor Wilson Day. He worked for San Quentin Prison as a doctor and then was transferred to Folsom Prison in 1927. Shortly after his arrival, a riot took place and Dr. Day worked for 24 hours straight afterwards to care for wounded guards and inmates, which endeared him to the community. In 1932, he married Mabel Taylor, who was from Dr. Day’s home state of Texas. Together they had daughters Joan, Nancy, Diane, and Sandra, and lived at Represa, which was on prison grounds. When he was not working at the prison, he made house visits in Folsom and during the Depression, he was known to not charge families who were struggling. He served on Folsom High School’s board with his wife and was particularly interested in the school’s sports programs and was an advocate of caring for the wives and children of prisoners. He retired in 1957 after 30 years of work at Folsom prison and an athletic field at the high school was named in his honor. He and his family moved to Texas to be closer to their extended family and he passed away in 1966 at the age of 68.