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.

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