Flashback Friday: A 1930s Medical Romance

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Wedding photo, Dr. Alice Baker and Dr. Joe E. Holoubek, July 18, 1939. Author’s collection.

By: David Bristow

Medical student Joe Holoubek was dismayed the first time he saw a “hen medic” in a class at Mayo Clinic in 1937. But he got over his prejudice against women doctors and ended up marrying Alice Baker.

Much of the young couple’s courtship took place long-distance, with Holoubek at the Nebraska College of Medicine in Omaha, and Baker at Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans. Their correspondence reveals the risks and day-to-day triumphs of 1930s medicine. The story is told in “Courtship of Two Doctors: 1930s Letters Spotlight Nebraska Medical Training,” by Martha Fitzgerald, in the Summer 2011 issue of Nebraska History.

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Dr. Joe Holoubek’s medical equipment, used in the 1930s and 1940s. Dr. Joe E. Holoubek and Dr. Alice Baker Holoubek Collection, LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport Medical Library.

While Baker faced the challenges working in an overcrowded urban hospital, Holoubek’s training assumed that most Nebraska doctors would make rural house calls and handle a variety of situations without timely access to hospitals or colleagues. Fitzgerald writes:

During the first months of their courtship, Alice could only marvel at all the challenges of Joe’s training. That fall, he was student physician at Nebraska Children’s Home, handling colds, injuries, tonsillitis, and more for twenty-one orphaned children. He even set a broken arm in an emergency. As he wrote to Alice:

“One of the 13 yr. old boys broke both bones in the lower one-fifth of the forearm while sleigh riding. It happened rather late in the day and I could not get him into the University Hospital so I had to set it there. He wants to be a G-man so while he was “shooting gangsters” I did the manipulation. A peach box furnished the splints. This happened to be the first arm that I ever set and was I surprised when the X-ray showed the bones in place.”

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University Hospital, Omaha. NSHS RG2341-328

The couple eventually settled in Shreveport, Louisiana, where they practiced medicine for thirty years and were known as “Dr. Alice” and “Dr. Joe.” They died two years apart, Alice in 2005 and Joe in 2007.

 

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