by Mike Cox
Dr. Sofie Herzog
Female Surgeon in Texas
and Elfriede Prell lived in a modest frame house on a quiet street in Brazoria,
not far from the Brazos River. But one day the tranquility of the neighborhood
quickly dissolved when a man with red spots all over his face shot out their front
Startled residents and passersby heard raised voices coming from
the house. The confrontation involved Randolph Prell and his mother-in-law, Dr.
Sofie Herzog. Vigorously shaking his finger, he remonstrated with her for allowing
a smallpox patient in his home. Dr. Herzog, wagging back, told Prell that how
she handled her patients was her business, not his.
The argument ran its
course and Prell and his mother-in-law eventually resumed speaking, but the incident
convinced the doctor that she needed her own house. Two rooms would be for her
medical practice, the other would serve as her residence.
noisy spat with her son-in-law did nothing to detract from her local image as
an eccentric. Not only was she the first female doctor in Brazoria County, she
was the first female surgeon in Texas.
in Vienna, Austria on Feb. 4, 1846, Sofie Dalia was the daughter of a doctor,
and became the teenage bride of Dr. August Herzog, a respected Vienna physician.
The couple went on to have 15 children, but eight died as infants.
the family moved to New York, where Dr. Herzog took a staff position at the U.S.
Naval Hospital. With her children grown, Sofie decided that she, too, wanted to
practice medicine. Returning to Vienna, she earned a medical degree from the University
of Graz, and received more medical instruction in New York before opening a practice
in Hoboken, N.J.
In 1894, the couple’s youngest daughter, Elfriede Marie,
married a Texan, Randolph Prell, and moved to Brazoria. Soon after the birth of
their first child, Sofie’s husband died and she decided to join her daughter in
Texas. She lived with Elfriede and Prell until the row over the smallpox patient.
lady doctor’s arrival in the small coastal community created quite a stir. Though
not Texas’ first woman doctor, in 1895 she was a pioneer in a male-dominated field
the Victorian era.
The fact that she wore her hair cropped short and rode
a horse like a man, disdaining a sidesaddle, was the talk of the town. But the
doctor had obvious medical skill and little competition, so when someone needed
a doctor, they weren’t too picky about the gender. Soon folks were calling her
simply Doctor Sofie.
Eight years after Dr. Sofie moved to Texas, Uriah
Lott founded the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexican Railway. Even though he never
connected St. Louis to Mexico, his line brought the first rail service to much
of South Texas via Brazoria County.
Construction accidents and assaults
involving track layers kept the doctor busy. Word of her medical skills and pleasing
bedside manner soon spread.
She made calls in her buggy or traveled astride
a horse. Often, she rode on handcars or trains to get to someone along the line
who needed a doctor.
In 1906, the railroad formalized its relationship
with Dr. Sophie, appointing her chief surgeon of the S.L.B.. & M. When the railroad’s
headquarters learned that a female doctor had been hired, Dr. Sofie received a
polite letter asking her to relinquish her position.
“I’ll keep this job
so long as I give satisfaction,” she replied. “If I fail, then you can free me.”
Dr. Sofie remained on the line’s payroll the rest of her life.
continued her thriving private practice and dabbled in real estate. In association
with a Houston developer, Dr. Sofie built a two-and-a-half story frame hotel across
the street from her home and office. The Southern Hotel became the town’s social
Dr. Sofie became particularly adept at removing bullets from gunshot
victims. One of her techniques was elevating a gunshot patient so that gravity
could help get the lead out, so to speak. Only twice in her career was she unsuccessful
in recovering a bullet. When she had accumulated more than a score extracted pieces
of lead, she had a jeweler fashion a necklace with a gold bead threaded between
each slug. She wore it as a good luck piece the rest of her life.
Sofie accumulated more than bullets. She collected carved walking sticks and stuffed
animals, birds and snakes. She did her taxidermy work herself. Shelves in her
office were laden with jars of malformed fetuses and deformed newborns, including
one with two heads and three arms.
In 1913 the 65-year-old doctor married
Marion Huntington -- a 70-year-old widower -- and moved to his plantation seven
miles outside Brazoria. Having reached an age when many would have retired, Dr.
Sofie continued her practice, commuting each day from the plantation to town in
a new Ford–the first automobile in the county.
Fourteen years later, Dr.
Sofie died of a stroke at a Houston hospital on July 21, 1925. At her request,
they buried her with her lucky necklace, tangible evidence of her surgical skills
and charming eccentricity.