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DR. BACON SAUNDERS


(Extension of remarks made at the unveiling of an historical marker at the Flatiron Building on February 13, 1971, by Bennett Smith).

When Fort Worthians of 1906 heard, read, and talked about the exciting news that Dr. Bacon Saunders would erect at Ninth and Houston Streets the tallest building in the Southwest, they had yet another reason to be proud of their distinguished surgeon and civic leader. When local citizens in 1907 admired the new triangular Flatiron Building, they knew again that Dr. Bacon Saunders was a man of achievement.

Dr. Bacon Saunders was well known to Fort Worthians in 1906 and 1907, although he had lived in the city a scant thirteen years. Our new generation who never knew Dr. Saunders will ask: "Who was Dr. Bacon Saunders and from whence did he come?" We learn that he came from good Kentucky stock. His father was Dr. John Smith Saunders, a native of Barren County, Kentucky. His mother was Sarah Jane Claypool, a native of Warren County, Kentucky. Both parents came from the Pennyrile area of west-central Kentucky.

Bacon Saunders was born at Bowling Green, Warren County, Kentucky, on January 5, 1855.

Dr. John Smith Saunders moved his family to Dallas in 1857. He was a frontier doctor at Dallas until the outbreak of the Was Between the States. His professional trips by horseback and buggy took him as far away as Tarrant County and Fort Worth.

Although opposed in principle to secession, he served as a brigade surgeon in the Confederate Army from 1862 to the end of the war.

Dr. John Smith Saunders had little formal schooling, but he was learned in classical literature. He committed much of Shakespeare's plays to memory, and regaled his fellow Confederate officers with readings and quotations from the Bard of Avon.

Dr. John Smith Saunders returned to Dallas after the War Between the States. He decided to forsake the hard life of a pioneer physician for a business career. During that era, he built the first steam mill in North Texas. He thus showed an aptitude for commercial and industrial affairs, an aptitude that was to be repeated in his son Bacon Saunders.

In order to secure better educational opportunities for his children, the elder Saunders moved to Bonham, Fannin County, in 1869. It may seem strange to us in 1971 that Bonham Schools ever surpassed those of Dallas, but such must have been the case a hundred years ago.

Dr. John Smith Saunders resumed the practice of medicine when he moved to Bonham and continued an active practice until his death in 1891.

Bacon Saunders, the son, graduated from Carlton College at Bonham with a B.A. degree in 1873, when he was eighteen years old. He then taught school and worked as a medical apprentice in his father's office for a period of two or three years. He next entered the medical department of the University of Louisville (Kentucky), from which he graduated in March 1877 as the top man in the class of 190.

After graduation from medical school, Dr. Bacon Saunders returned to Bonham and began the practice of medicine with his father. This fruitful association of father and son continued without interruption until the death of his father in 1891.

Dr. Bacon Saunders married Ida Jane Caldwell the daughter of Reverend Tillman Caldwell of Bonham, on October 30, 1877, the year of his graduation from medical school. Some written accounts give October 31, 1877, as the marriage date, but his granddaughter, Mrs. Jane Saunders. Jary states that October 30, 1877, is correct. Ida Jane Saunders was a native of Tennessee.

Two children were born to the marriage of Bacon and Ida Jane Caldwell Saunders: Roy Farra, later a Fort Worth Physician, and Linda Ray, later Mrs. Charles D. Reimers.

Dr. Bacon Saunders first made medical history as a young doctor of twenty-two years, just two years out of medical school, when he performed the first or next to the first appendicitis operation in the United States. This event took place in 1879.

Dr. Bacon Saunders had read in a medical journal an account of an appendectomy in Europe, probably in Germany. The news of that operation was fresh in his mind as Dr. Bacon Saunders visited a Fannin County man ill with abdominal pain. Dr. Saunders returned to Bonham, reread the account of the operation in Europe, and decided that his patient had acute appendicitis. He went back to the patient and proposed the operation. The ill man was in such pain that he consented readily to the operation.

On a kitchen table in a farmhouse, with boiling water as the disinfectant, with his father as the anesthesiologist, Dr. Bacon Saunders performed a successful removal of an infected appendix. The patient recovered and lived many years.

A New York surgeon, friend of Bacon Saunders, had read the same article about the first European operation for appendicitis, and he performed a similar operation about the same time in New York. Because of slowness of communication in 1879, it was never determined whether the operation in Texas was earlier or later than the operation in New York. This account of the Fannin County operation is supported by Mrs. Jane Saunders Jary, of Fort Worth, a granddaughter of Dr. Bacon Saunders.

Some published-biographies of Dr. Bacon Saunders state that this operation probably took place in 1884 or 1885; but the correct year was 1879, when Dr. Saunders was two years out of medical school, according to his descendants in 1971.

Dr. Bacon Saunders moved to Fort Worth in 1893. He was attracted to Fort Worth because of its preeminence as a railroad center. His choice was a wise one because he became the surgeon for many railroad companies. Fort Worth was even then a dynamic, growing city well suited to one of Dr. Saunders' talents and industry. The population of the city spurted from about 36,000 in 1900 to about 73,000 residents in 1910. The Armour and the Swift packing plants, which came about 1902, attracted new inhabitants.

In Fort Worth, Dr. Bacon Saunders formed a partnership with Dr. W. A. Adams and Or. F. D. Thompson. The demand for the services of Dr. Saunders soon caused him to limit his practice to surgery. He must have been one of the first of his profession in the Southwest to specialize in surgery.

Throughout his career of over thirty years in Fort Worth, Dr. Saunders expanded the field of his professional activity by connections with many educational and commercial institutions. He was the founder or a co-founder of hospitals and medical and nursing schools.

He was instrumental in carrying through arrangements for the building of the first joint city and county hospital, later called Peter Smith.

He was for twenty years before his death the chief of staff and chief surgeon at St. Joseph's Hospital. In 1896 he was the prime mover behind construction of a new St. Joseph Hospital.
Dr. Bacon Saunders and his son, Dr. Roy Farra Saunders, performed all their operations in a six-room suite at St. Joseph's. This well-equipped surgical space had for years a very long mirror suspended above the operating table. Other doctors who wanted to learn operating techniques could observe operations while they sat in a circle of elevated chairs about the room.

Dr. Bacon Saunders was founder of the School of Nursing, probably the first of its kind at St. Joseph's Hospital. Shortly after the death of Dr. Roy Saunders, on March 30, 1957, the Mother Superior at St. Joseph's stated to his daughter, Mrs. Jane Saunders Jary, that they were still using books Dr. Bacon Saunders had written for student nurses. So many of his concepts for the training of nurses were that lasting.
Dr. Bacon Saunders established the Fort Worth MedicalFort Worth Medical College College in 1894, and served as its dean. This school was taken over by Texas Christian University in 1911-1912. Dr. 8acon Saunders then became professor of surgery and clinical surgery and president of the faculty. This medical department of T.C.U. was transferred to Baylor University in 1914, and Dr. Saunders continued there as teacher of surgery until his death in 1925.

Dr. Bacon Saunders had professional ties to most of the companies which operated railroads through Fort Worth. He was Chief Surgeon of the Fort Worth and Denver for twenty-five years. He was also Chief Surgeon for the Wichita Valley and the Trinity and Brazos Valley railroads. He was division and local surgeon for the Texas and Pacific, International and Great Northern, St. Louis and Southwestern and the Santa Fe railroads. The professional position of Dr. Bacon Saunders with so many railroads did more than anything else to promote St. Joseph's Hospital, which became a hospital center for railroads.

He was consulting director of the Fort Worth Life Insurance Company.

The professional activity of Dr. Saunders included memberships and offices in many associations. He helped organize the North Texas Medical Association and became its first president. He served as president of .the Texas Medical Association; was vice president of the International Surgical Association; was founder and vice president of the Texas Surgical Association; and was a member of the American Medical Association. He was one of the first to be made a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

One of the greatest honors came when he became president of the Southern Surgical and Gynecological Association of the United States, an association limited to 200 leading surgeons in the United States. His elevation to the presidency of this Association brought so much publicity and prestige to Fort Worth that a banquet was given in his honor. Men from all over the Southwest attended the banquet and congratulatory telegrams came from all over the world.

The services of Dr. Bacon Saunders with many railroads and his memberships in and official positions with numerous professional associations necessitated frequent travel. While on trips to New York he admired the Flatiron Building in that city. So the New York structure became the model for the Flatiron Building, which he constructed in 1907 on a triangular lot he had acquired adjacent to Hyde Park. The Jennings and the Daggett surveys come together in such a way as to cause the triangle of land.

Dr. Bacon Saunders was able to combine business activity with a busy professional life. At one time he had an interest in a drug business. He was a director of Farmers and Mechanics Bank, predecessor of The Fort Worth National Bank. He built the Exline-Reimers plant, a forerunner of Stafford-Lowdon Company. Thus he had the business ability and experience to construct the Flatiron Building for his office and his tenants.

Dr. Bacon Saunders was active also in the religious life of Fort Worth. He was an elder in the First Christian Church and helped lay the cornerstone of that Church at Sixth and Throckmorton Streets. He served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of Brite College of the Bible at Texas Christian University. He was a trustee of and on the Executive Board of T. C. U.

Several honorary degrees were conferred on Dr. Bacon Saunders. He received degrees of L.L.D. from Arkansas Industrial University and from State Normal University in Virginia. Baylor University bestowed an L.L.B. degree on him during its Golden Anniversary in 1919.

As physician, surgeon, educator, church layman, civic worker and business man, Dr. Bacon Saunders achieved distinction during a professional career of forty-eight years out of a lifetime of seventy years. His work spanned the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century. The record proves that he was a man of great ability, versatility and industry.

That he was a good family man is attested by his long association with his father in medical practice and later with his son. Such a span of three generations of physicians of the same family and in partnership must be rare indeed. When his granddaughter Jane Saunders Jary became six years of age, he began taking her to the meetings of various medical associations to which he belonged. Mrs. Jary has present memories of those trips and of the famous men she met.
It is an honor to represent the Tarrant County Historical Society and to participate in the unveiling of this Texas State Historical Marker and Medallion for the Flatiron Building as an historical structure.

In commemorating this fine building we honor also its great builder, Dr. Bacon Saunders.

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REFERENCES

HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHICAL RECORD OF WEST TEXAS, edited by Capt. B. B. Paddock, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
 
FORT WORTH AND THE TEXAS NORTHWEST, edited by Capt. B. B. Paddock, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1922.

MAKERS OF FORT WORTH, published by Fort Worth Newspaper Artists' Association, 1914.

THE HANDBOOK OF TEXAS, published by the Texas State Historical Association, The University of Texas Press, 1952.

Notes on the Flatiron Building and on Dr. Bacon Saunders by Mrs. Jane Saunders Jary in 1971.
 

 

 
 

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