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HERZOG, SOFIE DALIA

HERZOG, SOFIE DALIA (1846–1925). Sofie Dalia Herzog, pioneer physician and first woman to serve as head surgeon for a major American railroad, was born in Vienna, Austria, on February 4, 1846. Her father was a physician. At the age of fourteen she married another prominent Vienna physician, Dr. August Herzog. They had fifteen children, including three sets of twins. Eight of their children died in infancy. In 1886, August Herzog accepted a position at the United States Naval Hospital in New York City, and the family moved to the United States. Sofie Herzog began to study medicine in New York. She returned to Vienna for further study and earned a medical degree from the University of Graz. She opened an office in Hoboken, New Jersey, and had a successful practice there for nine years. Her husband died around 1895.

The Herzogs' youngest daughter, Elfriede Marie, met Randolph Prell, a merchant from Brazoria, Texas, in Philadelphia, where she was teaching school and he was visiting relatives. They were married in Hoboken on January 22, 1894. After visiting the couple in Brazoria, Sofie Herzog decided to move there to practice medicine. At first the natives were shocked at the idea of a woman doctor and by her unconventional behavior. Her hair was cut short and she wore a man's hat, and for ease in mobility she rode horseback astride, wearing a split skirt. Her medical skill and obvious dedication to her patients overcame the prejudice, however, and she became affectionately known to the people of Brazoria and of the county as "Dr. Sofie."

In the early 1900s, when railroads were proliferating in Texas, the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway began laying track in South Texas. The job was hazardous, and workers suffered frequent accidents and illnesses. Dr. Sofie was often called to construction sites to tend injured or ill men. She was willing to use any transportation available-train engines, boxcars, handcars-to outlying areas at any time of night or day. She became well known to officials of the railroad, and when the job of chief surgeon opened up, they readily endorsed her application. But when eastern officials of the railroad realized a woman had been appointed to the post, they asked her to resign. She refused, telling them that if she failed to give satisfaction, they could fire her, adding that she asked "no odds" because of her sex. She remained a highly valued employee of the railroad until her resignation a few months before her death.

Dr. Herzog operated a drugstore in connection with her medical practice and made many of her own medicines. She also built a hotel, the Southern, across the street from her office. It housed many prominent visitors to the area, such as Bernard Baruch, who came to South Texas looking for business opportunities. The hotel became the local center for social activities and remained in use for many years after Sofie's death. In addition, she invested heavily in choice real estate in the Brazoria area and became a wealthy woman. She was as famed for her forceful personality and eccentricities as she was for her skill as a physician and surgeon. Gunfights were common in the area, and she prided herself on her skill in removing bullets. Eventually she took twenty-four bullets she had extracted to a Houston jeweler to be strung between gold links for a necklace. She wore this necklace as a good luck charm for the rest of her life, and at her request it was placed in her coffin. The drugstore that fronted her office and the office itself became a museum filled with her collection. She had walking sticks, carved and painted in many shapes and colors, from all over the world. The walls and floors were filled with skins and numerous stuffed birds, animals, and reptiles. Especially noticeable were the many rattlesnake skins that she herself had skinned, dried, and mounted on wide, red-satin ribbons. Also eye-catching was her collection of medical specimens preserved over the years. Most of this collection was given to John Sealy Hospital in Galveston after her death.

Sofie Herzog grew up Catholic, but after a quarrel with the local Catholic priest she became an Episcopalian. She built and furnished an Episcopalian church in Brazoria that remained in use until it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1932. On August 21, 1913, she married Marion Huntington, a twice-widowed plantation owner. He was seventy and she was sixty-seven. They lived on his plantation, Ellerslyqv, seven miles from Brazoria, and she commuted to work each day in her Ford runabout, the first in the area. Dr. Sofie was active in her medical practice and in community affairs until she suffered a stroke at the age of seventy-nine. She died in a Houston hospital on July 21, 1925.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

James A. Creighton, A Narrative History of Brazoria County (Angleton, Texas: Brazoria County Historical Commission, 1975). Sylvia Van Voast Ferris and Eleanor Sellers Hoppe, Scalpels and Sabers (Austin: Eakin Press, 1985). George Plunkett [Mrs. S. C.] Red, The Medicine Man in Texas (Houston, 1930). Mary Beth Rogers et al., We Can Fly: Stories of Katherine Stinson and Other Gutsy Texas Women (Austin: Texas Foundation for Women's Resources, 1983).

Elizabeth Silverthorne

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Elizabeth Silverthorne, "HERZOG, SOFIE DALIA," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fheec), accessed September 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.