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Gimme Shelter: One Hundred Years of Jeffersonians and Disaster Relief

Dr. L.W. Spriggs (JMC 1900)

So began a letter from Lem Walter Spriggs, a very recent graduate of Jefferson Medical College (1904) to a fellow alumnus five weeks after the devastating San Francisco earthquake (April 18, 1906) and fire which followed.

Spriggs reported that he was “down but not out and now…we are commencing life again without even a change of clothing…” He asked that the “Jefferson Alumni Assn. lend not give me a few books and few Common instruments” for which he would, in a reasonable time period, repay them. His plea for assistance echoed another alumnus, Oswald H. Beckmann, who said, “I have felt like a woodchopper who has to cut wood for a living with a hunting knife.” This professional frustration was partially mitigated by a fundraising effort put forth by their alma mater. A month later, an initial $1,000 was raised and was distributed to needy San Francisco Jeffersonians who were on the front line of public health.

(click to enlarge)
Refugees camp, Jefferson Square, San Francisco. April 20, 1906

[] Photos from the Earth Science Photographs from the U.S. Geological Survey Library, by Joseph K. McGregor and Carl Abston, U.S. Geological Survey Digital Data Series DDS-21, 1995.

The eyewitness accounts (held in the TJU Archives) by these practitioners who stayed in their beleaguered city to tend the injured, sick, and homeless in what was, until recently, the largest natural disaster in U.S. history sounds familiar in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina (August 29, 2005) and Rita. The public health issues and distribution problems exacerbated by the destroyed Gulf Coast infrastructure, parallel the case of San Francisco, a century earlier.

Besides the Jefferson graduates currently practicing in New Orleans and other hard-hit areas, volunteers like Dr. Leonard A. Rubinstein, who was a Resident in Otorhinolaryngology / Head and Neck Surgery at TJU in 1984, have actively involved themselves in relief efforts. Dr. Rubinstein recently returned to his private practice in Sarasota, Florida after a brief stint at New Orleans Metro Airport where he served as a Federal Medical Officer and member of the FL3 DMAT team. The team was deployed there to establish a field hospital facility.

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Hurricane Katrina making landfall.

His responsibilities included attending to patients (over 3000 patients were treated), coordinating triage services and directing volunteer physician and nursing staff in the evacuation of patients from the airport facility for further medical care.

Dr. Lem Spriggs died of a heart attack in 1923 at the age of 51. He remained and flourished in his hometown where he practiced and served for a time as Dean and Professor of Abdominal Surgery and Gynecology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, San Francisco.

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