Public Health in Early San Antonio

1852 was the year that the State of Texas empowered San Antonio and other incorporated cities to enforce ordinances necessary for the protection of its citizens.  It was during this time San Antonio employed a city physician.

Dr. Henry P. Howard was the first City physician serving in 1854 and again in 1858. He was born in Washington D.C. in 1829.  He came to San Antonio in 1846 at the young age of 17 and took part in the battle of Buena Vista and was singled out for his outstanding bravery on the battlefield.   At the end of the war he returned to Washington where he enrolled as a medical student at Columbia University in 1853.  Upon graduating in 1853 he returned to San Antonio and became a Charter member of the Bexar County Medical Society which was organized on September 22 of that year.  It was 1854 when he served as the first City Physician of San Antonio; in this capacity one of his first official duties was to pronounce dead eleven outlaws who were executed by hanging by Asa Mitchell who was a member of the San Antonio Vigilance Committee.

Dr. Rudolph Menger was appointed City Physician in 1879 and he served in this capacity until 1883. Dr. Menger was born in San Antonio in 1851.  He attended the old German English School located on South South Alamo street.  Dr. Menger worked as a clerk in Kalteyers Drug Store from 1866 to 1869.  In 1869 Dr. Menger went to Germany and studied medicine at the University of Leipsic.  He graduated in 1874. He returned to the United States and served as a physician in the United State Army until he became the city physician in 1879.After his run as City Physician, Dr. Menger practiced Medicine in San Antonio for several years.  He is remembered for his nature observations and writings on natural history.  Dr. Menger donated a unique scrapbook of nature’s unique objects to the Bexar County Medical Society in the early 1900s.  This precious scrapbook now lives on the shelves at the P. I . Nixon library and is in the process of being digitized so anyone with internet access can enjoy its distinctive micro pictographs,

San Antonio’s first Board of Health was organized in 1883.  The Board of Health was composed of the Mayor of San Antonio, the City Physician, and three other physicians appointed by the Mayor and approved by the council.  The members of the first board were:  J. H. French, Mayor; Dr. Julius Braunnagel, City Physician; Drs. F. Herff, T. J. Tyner and Amos Graves.  The Board of Health was responsible for sanitary conditions, hospitals, and reporting and keeping of vital statistics.  Reports of communicable diseases were reported to the Board of Health by physicians, school personnel and homeowners.  With the knowledge available at the time health officials worked bravely to isolate people with communicable diseases.  Smallpox and Cholera were diseases that were problematic during this time.

Dr. Julius Braunnaugel was City Physician from 1883 to 1892.  He graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at St. Louis, Missouri in 1883.  He practiced medicine for forty years in San Antonio.

Later, from 1897 to 1903 Dr. Berthold E. Hadra served as City Physician.  Dr. Hadra was a one of a group of German physicians to come to Texas after the Civil War.  He was educated in Europe and served in the German Army before moving to San Antonio in 1870.  He was considered one of the notable surgeons in Texas and later worked as professor of surgery at the Medical School in Galveston.  He was President of the Texas State Medical Association for the years 1899-1900.

The faces of Public Health officials have changed over the years.  As we continue to move forward and face new challenges let’s not forget our past and the brave men and women who work tirelessly to keep us safe.

If you have any questions about this post, please contact Mellisa DeThorne @ 210 567-2470 or dethorne@uthscsa.edu

Keeper of all things old and precious, Mellisa D.