Medical Practice

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Coming Home

Three months of hands-on experience at Hull House were not enough for Klehm: she decided to hone her surgical skills in Europe, specifically in Berlin and Vienna, where women doctors were more accepted.

By the time she went into family practice in her hometown, A. Louise Klehm, M.D., was a highly-educated and poised woman in her mid- thirties. Her confidence was fully justified, buttressed as it was by knowledge of the latest techniques, and underlined by her two constant companions: the first, a case full of necessities for any needy families she might encounter; the second, a capacious black doctor's bag stocked with medications such as calomel (useful against for intestinal parasites), quinine, the emetic called ipecac, and aspirin, the latest wonder-drug. Sharing the bag were her instruments: stethoscope, thermometer, opthalmoscope and sphygmograph, plus scissors, needles and catgut for stitching, various scalpels and other tools for surgical use, and, of course, obstetrical forceps in case of difficult deliveries.

Everything came in handy, for she never knew what she might find once she arrived at a patient's bedside. Sometimes there was a well-lit bedroom, clean and conveniently close to St. Francis Hospital in neighboring Evanston, where she was on staff. More often she found herself delivering a baby, or setting a broken bone in a lonely farmhouse lit by guttering oil lamps, with only a trembling member of the patient's family to assist. Despite the hours of travel and the long nights at a patient's bedside, however, the fees suggested by the American Medical Association Bluebook of 1892 do not suggest that Klehm ever became wealthy: Fairly standard fee for a delivery, fifteen dollars; emergency housecall, five to twenty-five dollars; fine dressing of superficial wounds e.g. sprains, five to twenty-five dollars.

Hometown Evolution

By 1918, Niles Center (soon to be renamed Skokie) was becoming more suburban than rural. Peaceful and productive, the little town boasted an auto dealership, a painter, and a photographer, as well as a butchery, a dairy, and even an insurance office run by Dr. Klehm's brother, George. There were also paved roads, so the doctor was able to see her homebound patients far faster than she had ever done before.

In 1905, the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company started producing silent movies in Niles Center, a venue they would use until 1918Railroad service started in 1907, and the first telephone company exchange was installed by 1910, probably easing Dr. Klehm’s life considerably. Niles Center became the proud posessor of its first paved street at the end of 1913, after which progress speeded up.

Just two years later, the town was large enough to support an auto dealership belonging to Henry Heinz, an insurance office owned by Dr. Klehm’s brother George, something called the Niles Center Electric Shoe Repair Shop, and even an ice cream cum candy store, courtesy of E.E. Cleland and Son.

Influenza Epidemic of 1918

In old age Dr. Klehm surely looked back fondly on each of these milestones in the development of Niles Center. However, her most vivid memory of the century’s teen years must have been the tragic influenza epidemic of 1918. Documents show that this sinister illness claimed more than 8,000 lives in Chicago alone, though no record exists today of Niles Center deaths. Nevertheless, we know that calls had Dr. Klehm running so frantically that she once saw 51 patients in one day. “She was so exhausted that she couldn’t drive the car, and I had to drive her around,” sister Alma recalled, years later.

More from the Archives

Dr. Louise Klehm's professional pins (Illinois Digital Archives)

Dr. Louise Klehm's medical supplies (Illinois Digital Archives)