Book recounts Schenectady medical history

The deeper Dr. James Strosberg dug into the medical history of Schenectady County, the more treasure

The deeper Dr. James Strosberg dug into the medical history of Schenectady County, the more treasure he found.

“It was pretty exciting to see how health-conscious we were back in the 19th century,” said Strosberg, whose book, “Two Centuries: Caring for a Community,” explores the history of medicine in the county.

“The physicians and the laymen really did a lot to improve sanitation and address other health concerns. We had smallpox vaccination in 1812. That’s very early, and the citizens of Schenectady took up a collection to help pay for vaccinations for poor people.”

Strosberg will talk about his book at 6 tonight at the Schenectady County Historical Society. His talk will be accompanied by a short presentation on Dr. Daniel Toll by former Schenectady County Historical Society president Frank Taormina. Toll was an original member of the Schenectady County Medical Society and its second president. The group was formed in 1810.

‘Two Centuries: Caring for a Community’

WHAT: A presentation and book signing by Dr. James Strosberg

WHEN: 6 tonight

WHERE: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Ave., Schenectady


MORE INFO: 374-0263,

Collaborative effort

“We had our bicentennial in 2010 and that’s when I started working on the book,” said Strosberg. “I had a lot of help, with other physicians writing portions of the book, and Dr. Louis Snitkoff was the editor. I wrote most of the historic part and doing the research was very interesting. I even had the minutes of our first meeting to work with back in 1810.”

There were 40 doctors at that first meeting in 1810, and these days the society has around 300 members. The first female member of the group was Dr. Janet Murray in 1891. Murray had attended Women’s Medical College in Kingston, Ontario, and on her way to an internship in Boston, her train stopped in Schenectady.

“She thought Schenectady was a beautiful town, and while she got back on the train and went to Boston, something happened there, we don’t know what, and she came back to Schenectady and opened up an office above a tailor’s shop on Jay Street,” said Strosberg.

“She got her license from the Board of Regents, but at her first medical society meeting the men were embarrassed to discuss cases in front of a lady. But she was very charming and friendly, and kind of broke the ice. After a few meetings, everything was fine.”

Strosberg’s book covers the story of Murray as well as Schenectady’s second female physician, Elizabeth Gillette, one of the first women elected to the state Legislature and one of the first women to drive an automobile in Schenectady.

There are also stories about Schenectady’s regular bouts with cholera, typhoid fever, tuberculosis and bad milk.

“Schenectady had a book for public health complaints at the mayor’s office, and anyone could come in and write down their complaint about some public health menace and the mayor would send a physician to check it out,” said Strosberg. “They really did a lot to improve the health of Schenectadians.”

Early research

Physicians in Schenectady were trying to improve their profession even before the medical society was formed in 1810.

“We know that in 1795 the sexton at the Dutch church was arrested for digging up a skull and delivering it to doctors for dissection,” said Strosberg. “So we know they were studying, even way back then.”

Strosberg, a Troy native and Niskayuna resident, went to Union College and then the University of Buffalo School of Medicine. He is retired from his private practice, but spends one day a week working at the Schenectady Free Clinic and the Hometown Health Clinic.

Proceeds from Strosberg’s book will go to the Schenectady Free Clinic and the medical society’s Philanthropic Fund, which provides scholarships for those attending medical school.

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