Doctors by the numbers: Youngstown at the turn of the 20th century

One of our visitors’ favorite exhibits, the office recreations, can now be seen in downtown Youngstown at the Tyler History Center!

detail of the 1930s exam room
detail of the 1930s exam room

In preparation for this exhibit, I did some additional research on the professional changes in the medical profession in Youngstown during the early 20th century. I knew, generally, about office hours and specialization, but I wondered what that changed looked like more specifically in our town. So I looked through the City Directories from that time period and gathered some data. City Directories are great resources and they’re available at most historical societies or even public libraries. They’re like phone books before there were phones. It would be interesting to see how Youngstown compares to other cities during this time period.

I started with the 1895 Directory. The population of Youngstown at that time was around 40,000. There were 60 doctors listed under the “Physicians and Surgeons” heading. Over half of them (35) had office addresses in the downtown area. There were 9 physicians who listed their home address the same as their office. Almost all of these were downtown apartments. So in Youngstown at this time, most doctors had offices separate from their homes and they were concentrated in the downtown area.

Dr. George Sherman Peck standing on a muddy street with his horse and buggy.
In 1895, Dr. G.S. Peck was a prominent physician in Youngstown. He had an office at 26 West Federal Street, near many of his colleagues. 

In 1905 Youngstown had grown to a population of about 70,000. There were now 101 names under the heading “Physicians and Surgeons” in the Directory. The ratio of doctors to the population was steady over these 10 years. Most of the doctors (70%) still had offices in the downtown area. Only 15 doctors had at the same home and office address. The big change in 1905 was that there were 4 doctors who listed themselves as eye/ear/nose/throat (EENT) specialists, and one  as an osteopath. There were no specialists listed in the 1895 Directory.

Interesting fact: I was surprised to find out that downtown Youngstown was not wired for electricity until 1915! As you can see, many doctors had offices in the downtown district, but they probably didn’t have much equipment that required electricity.

The next time period used in the recreation exhibit is 1929. At that time, the population of Youngstown was almost 170,000. There were 205 listings under the heading “Physicians and Surgeons”. In this year, it was interesting to note that there were 6 group practices listed, mostly in specialties. Although family members may have worked together in the past, these professional group practices of specialists were different. They were the beginning of a trend that is still strong today. In Youngstown, there were 3 EENT group practices, 1 dermatology, and 1 surgical.

Many offices were still located in the downtown area. In fact, some practitioners had two offices- one downtown and another perhaps closer to their home.

group of doctors from around 1920 casually sitting or standing in a park
These local doctors gathered for some fun around 1920.

As I expected, there were many more specialists listed in the 1929 directory. The largest speciality was EENT, with 6 practices listed (including the 3 group practices). Next, there were 4 surgeons, 3 pediatricians, 2 proctologists/gastro-entergologists, 1 optometrist, and 1 dermatology group practice. In total, there were 17 specialist practices in Youngstown, or about 8% of physicians.

This data is consistent with the general trends about 20th century changes in medical practice such as office hours, specialization, and group practices. I think the specific numbers for Youngstown bring it into focus for visitors.

5 thoughts on “Doctors by the numbers: Youngstown at the turn of the 20th century

  1. My grandfather Louis C. Breetz, 1878-1960, served 1903-1923, as foreman of night and then day electrical operations of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube. In 1923 he became assistant superintendent for the Electrical Dept., a post that he held until he retired about 1948. I heard when I was a boy, that my grandfather had pulled a man out of a vat or some kind of pool of molten steel. The worker had fallen there in an accident. I was told that the man died from his burns.

  2. My mother, Irma Breetz Brook, 1907-1993, grew up in Youngstown, where her father, Louis C. Breetz was on the city council circa 1912-1916. She remembered fondly a Dr. Bennett who cared for the family and who made home visits. Is there a register of Youngstown doctors of say the 1915-1925 era? I would like to learn the full identity of Dr. Bennett, who Mom wrote was “tall with blue eyes and a big smile.” In memoirs she described how he would take a little pen knife and scrap powdered medicine onto little papers, fold them, and leave the medicine to be used. Mom’s cousin, Charles Wagner, 1908-1959, was a medical doctor in Youngstown. Her cousin Dora Wagner (of whom I have a news clipping with her picture in a nurse’s cap) was a nurse, but died young in the 1930s. Kindly notify me of any comments or posts relating to Dr. Bennett or the Wagners. I live in Raleigh, NC. Mom was living with us when she passed away in 1993. Thanks.

    1. Hi David. Physicans were listed in the Youngstown City Directory that was published every year. The City Directory from 1924 lists Wendell H. Bennett as a physician and surgeon. He had an office and residence at 634 Market Street. His office hours were 1pm to 2pm and 7pm to 8pm- except Sundays.
      The 1924 Directory also lists Dora Wagner as a student nurse living at 1034 Rigby. Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital and Youngstown Hospital Association both operated nursing schools at that time. I didn’t see her listed in the YHA Nursing graduate directory, so she might have gone to St. Elizabeth’s.

      1. I found Charles F. Wagner in the 1947 City Directory. His job is listed as Assistant Surgeon Carnegie [Steel Corp probably]. He lived at 5532 Mahoning Avenue.

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