• Black-and-white portrait of young Florence Scott in graduation cap and gown is paired with medical symbol and text: Wells Fargo's first company doctor

She couldn’t vote, but she could heal

Posted on February 7, 2020

When Florence Scott graduated in 1896, she couldn’t vote, but she could practice medicine. And so she did. She also made history as Wells Fargo’s first company doctor.

When Florence Scott graduated from the Medical Department of the University of California on May 13, 1896, she was one of only eight women in the class of 52 physicians.

She couldn’t vote, but she could practice general medicine. And so she did. Dr. Scott saw patients in her office, prescribed medications, made house calls, and delivered babies. She attended cases at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco and maintained offices both in the city and in her hometown of Belvedere, a small town on the northern shore of San Francisco Bay.

Black-and-white photo of woman in long skirt standing in grassy yard playing with two dogs.

Dr. Florence Scott at home in Belvedere, California. Photo Credit: Scott family collection.

In Belvedere, her practice included every malady and illness a family doctor in a small town faced. One former resident remembered Scott as a keystone of the community and “the doctor for the whole peninsula. When we needed her we just got in the wagon and went over and picked her up. … She delivered all my mother’s children. In fact, three of them were down with typhoid pneumonia, and she stayed all night with them one night.” Scott also helped organize medical relief efforts following the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.

During the great Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, another former patient remembered Scott turning her medical office above the Belvedere town post office into a makeshift hospital and working all day and night tending to her neighbors in Belvedere and Tiburon.

Around 1920 — the same year the 19th amendment was ratified, guaranteeing American women the right to vote nationwide — Wells Fargo set out to hire its first company physician, someone who could provide physicals for new hires and attend to other health needs. Scott, already a proven and revered physician, became Wells Fargo’s first company doctor.

Dirt street with pedestrians, horse-drawn wagons, automobiles, and delivery trucks parked in front of various wooden commercial buildings.

Bustling Main Street of Tiburon, California, in 1919. Scott was one of the only physicians in town. Photo Credit: Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society Archives.

At first, the bank’s new hires reported for their required physicals at Scott’s medical office in San Francisco’s Union Square, but soon Wells Fargo provided her with an office on the sixth floor of its headquarters building at Market and Montgomery streets. One employee remembered Scott’s examination rooms in the bank included an old vault space converted into a dressing room. Scott provided on-site medical care for Wells Fargo’s 300 employees for two hours every workday. She also tended to employees of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and Shell Oil Company.

In 1921, Scott made local news by her fast action to save one of her Tiburon patients from a fast-moving fire. The flames started in a pool hall in the town’s business district in the early morning hours of April 4 and quickly burned through the wooden buildings on Main Street. The patient, Mr. Powers, was trapped in his home directly across the street from the burning buildings, and unable to walk. Scott came to his rescue by enlisting the help of the town marshal and a local mechanic and his automobile. According to the Marin Journal newspaper, the doctor and the two men dodged flames, smoke, burning telephone poles, and a tangle of downed wires to reach Powers. They loaded him in the car, then retraced their route through the burn zone to safety. The fire proved too fierce for the town’s small volunteer fire department, and it destroyed 11 commercial buildings and six homes before being extinguished with the help of equipment and firefighters ferried over from San Francisco.

Photo of town of Tiburon 1921 showing Main Street after fire of April 4. All buildings on south side of street burned to the ground. Several wooden buildings on opposite of dirt Main Street still stand opposite the ruins.

Aftermath of the April 4, 1921, fire on Main Street in Tiburon, California. Photo Credit: Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society Archives.

Scott remained Wells Fargo’s company physician for a decade, until her death at age 55 on June 20, 1930. In Belvedere, her home still overlooks San Francisco Bay and the communities she tended to, where a whole generation came into the world in the capable, caring hands of Florence Scott, M.D.


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