Who Was Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine?

Content provided by students of the Frontier Program at Kansas State University: 
Clara Wicoff, Danny Unruh and Sarah Jones,
under the direction of Justin Kastner, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology
Faculty member, School of Applied and Interdisciplinary Studies

 

The state of Kansas, small in population and sometimes overlooked, has produced the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, John Brown, and Amelia Earhart. Another prominent figure is Dr. Samuel Crumbine, a public health advocate whose work had tremendous impact. Born in a log cabin in Pennsylvania on September 17, 1862, Samuel Crumbine became one of America’s noteworthy pioneers in public health1. Crumbine’s parents were Jacob Krumbine and Sarah Mull. Jacob Krumbine, a blacksmith, “died in Libby Prison at Richmond, Virginia, after being captured by the Confederate Army during the Civil War,” according to Samuel Crumbine’s autobiography. This meant that Samuel Crumbine’s mother, Sarah, was left to raise two children on her own. As a result, Crumbine lived with his maternal grandmother until he was eight years old2, when he was sent to the Mercer, Pennsylvania, Soldiers Orphan School (a boarding school)3. Crumbine graduated at the age of sixteen, and began working at a drug store in Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania.

It was at this drug store—owned by a pharmacist and physician—that Crumbine truly began to learn about human medicine. After working at the store for some time, Crumbine was offered a job in Cincinnati where he could officially begin studying medicine. Crumbine learned under the tutelage of Dr. W. E. Lewis, a professor of anatomy at the Cincinnati College of Medicine4. After graduating at the head of his class, Crumbine moved west and opened up his own medical practice in Dodge City, Kansas5.  

Dodge City, one of Kansas’s most storied cowtowns, soon became the first home base for a number of storied public health initiatives led by Crumbine. In Frontier Doctor: The Autobiography of a Pioneer on the Frontier of Public Health, Crumbine describes his work in Dodge City as follows: “The daily life of the frontier doctor was usually interesting, sometimes difficult and occasionally hazardous.”6 During this period of time, Crumbine also served two terms as the county coroner.7 In 1890, Crumbine married Katherine Zuercher, whom he had previously met while studying in Cincinnati. They married on Crumbine’s birthday, September 17th, and went on to have two children, Warren and Violet.8

In 1899, Crumbine was appointed to the Kansas State Board of Health9 after being recommended by “a judge whose baby he had brought through a critical illness.”10 He moved to Topeka in 1904 to begin working as the Secretary and Executive Officer of the State Board of Health.

1. S.J. Crumbine, Frontier Doctor (Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1948)., p. 11.
2. Ibid., p. 12.
3. Ibid., p. 13.
4. Ibid., pp. 13-18.
5. Kansas Historical Society, "Samuel J. Crumbine,"  https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/samuel-j-crumbine/12025.
6. Crumbine, Frontier Doctor., p. 29.
7. Ibid., p. 68.
8. Ibid., pp. 75-76.
9. Society, "Samuel J. Crumbine".
10. Robert Lewis Taylor, "Swat the Fly! - II," The New Yorker, 24 July 1948., p. 28.