The Frontier Doctor
by Susan Stafford
Kansas has been blessed with a number of innovative inventors, entrepreneurs, and problem-solvers. For example, Kansas has been home to:
- William Purvis and Charlie Wilson: first patented the helicopter in 1909
- Almon Stauger: first working model of the dial telephone in 1889
- David D. Blanton: invented the autopilot in 1954
- Jack Kilby: created the microchip in 1958
But one of the most impressive members of this group must be Samuel Jay Crumbine, an extraordinary problem-solver in the area of public health. His accomplishments of the last century still impact us today.
Dr. Crumbine was born in Emleton, Pennsylvania, in 1862 but emigrated to Dodge City, Kansas, when he graduated from medical school in 1888. Dr. Crumbine began his medical career in this rough frontier town, joining residents in other professions such as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Bill Tilghman. Dr. Crumbine became known as "the frontier doctor." Some even claimed he was the model for the character Doc Adams in the "Gunsmoke" TV series!
In 1899, Kansas Governor W. E. Stanley appointed Dr. Crumbine to the Kansas State Board of Health. From 1911 to 1915, the Frontier Doctor served as dean of the University of Kansas Medical College. Then, in 1914, he became the Secretary and Executive Officer of the Kansas State Board of Health. All during this time, Dr. Crumbine dedicated himself to solving public health problems.
His concern about flies spreading typhus led him to popularize Frank Rose's invention of the fly-swatter, encouraging people to use this tool to "Swat the Fly!" Another effective campaign to limit infections was Dr. Crumbine's "Don't Spit on the Sidewalk!" He even persuaded brick manufacturers to create sidewalk paving bricks embossed with "Don't Spit on the Sidewalk."
Dr. Crumbine was also very concerned about the spread of tuberculosis. He banned the common drinking cup and urged people to use the disposable paper drinking cups that he'd heard about from Hugh Moore. Initially called "health cups," the paper containers became known nation-wide as Dixie Cups. The reusable rolling towel often found in restrooms was also a barrier to limiting tuberculosis. So Dr. Crumbine encouraged people to use easily discarded paper towels instead.
Another public health concern was the health and safety of babies and their mothers. Dr. Crumbine started a "Save the Baby!" campaign. The goals of the campaign were to provide safe milk, visiting nurses, and child protective services. The Division of Child Welfare that he created was an idea that spread across the nation.
Dr. Crumbine called for improvements in sewage and wastewater plants. As a result, by 1914, Kansas ranked fourth in the country among the number of towns with sewage treatment plants.
He also established the first postgraduate course in the United States for county health officials. He fought against misleading and false food and drug labels. And Dr. Crumbine was even able to require hotels to change the sheets on their beds on a regular basis.
In all these ways and more, a Kansas frontier doctor was able to make changes that improved public health across the nation and, it could be argued, across the globe. Dr. Samuel Jay Crumbine's relentless problem-solving made life better, and safer, for all of us.
"The Frontier Doctor" Copyright © 2020, Susan Stafford