in focus

Photography by George Mendel

Cyrus Schreiner came to the South Hills in 1877. Although he was not the only doctor in the area, he was one of a very few. With no local hospitals, Schreiner treated the flu, set broken bones, delivered babies and performed amputations. He served the South Hills until his death in 1900.

In 2010, the doctor’s great-grandchildren donated boxfuls of Schreiner family documents and photos to the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon. Among the items were the doctor’s ledgers, which contain the names of many families who lived in the South Hills during the latter half of the 19th century. The society’s collection committee was amazed that the ledgers had survived for more than a century.

But, as the society would find out, the Schreiners are keepers. In late 2011, the doctor’s great-granddaughter Christine Lee, a Cleveland, Ohio resident, donated Dr. Schreiner’s leather satchel—still filled with forceps, syringes and other instruments—a velvet lined box of scalpels and saws and stacks of letters and photographs.

Those items joined the ledgers as a special display in the society’s 2012 exhibit, Mt. Lebanon: The First 100 Years. On opening day, Mt. Lebanon resident Jim Baird, a great-grandson of Dr. Schreiner, loaned the society the doctor’s measuring scale and a handwritten journal of treatments that may have belonged to Dr. Schreiner’s father, who was also a physician.

Dr. Lorelei Stein of Point Park University
Dr. Lorelei Stein of Point Park University

The historical society’s board was thrilled to have a “special collection,” but did not expect what came next… a request by Dr. Lorelei Stein of Point Park University to use the items for research.

“One of the purposes of the historical society is to interpret the history of Mt. Lebanon,” says society President Jim Wojcik. “It was such a pleasure to watch Dr. Stein working with some of our volunteers to further that purpose.”

Stein, a Sleepy Hollow Road resident, became interested in the history of medicine during her nurse anesthetist clinical education, where the history of medicine and anesthesia were areas of focus. “It was science meeting medicine,” she says of anesthesia, adding that its discovery allowed doctors to begin performing truly exceptional surgical techniques.

While working on her doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh, Stein’s interest evolved to the education of physicians, and she began reviewing the accreditation standards of doctors. She completed her Ph. D. dissertation, titled Development of Accreditation Standards for Graduate Medical Education in 1991 and was hired at Point Park, where she teaches classes in quantitative methods, history of medicine and health systems management.

Last year, Stein was lunching with Lisa White, another Point Park instructor and a Historical Society of Mount Lebanon board member, who mentioned the donation of Schreiner’s medical instruments. Stein could not believe her ears. That night, she called her friend Dr. Jonathon Erlen, a faculty librarian at Pitt’s Falk Library of the Health Sciences, to tell him about the collection. “He fell silent for a moment,” Stein recalls, “and then said, ‘You hit the mother lode.’”

Stein spent hours at the history center poring over the doctor’s ledgers and papers. One of her biggest surprises was Dr. Schreiner’s level of schooling. “He was exceptionally well educated,” she says. Although Schreiner was orphaned as a teen, he managed to attend Washington & Jefferson College, Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and to complete his medical training at Bellevue Hospital in New York. “Philadelphia was the place to be for medical school at the time,” Stein says.

Although the ledger entries are far from detailed, they list the reason for the visit and any medicine that was prescribed. Schreiner frequently prescribed whiskey, and his hand-written pharmacopeia contains recipes for powders, tinctures, elixirs, cough syrup and poultices. He had a recipe for laudanum, which, if he used, means he had access to opium. He administered small pox vaccinations and consulted other physicians on cases. Stein is fairly sure he used leeches.

The ledgers indicate Schreiner saw about 150 patients annually within a 100-mile radius of his home on Washington Road. He charged 50 cents to $2 for a house call.

“He loved his practice and served humbly with no ostentation,” Stein says, adding that patients with serious problems could expect to see him daily for two to three weeks at a time.

A major focus for Stein was how this well-educated doctor worked in what was primarily a farming community. “The years Schreiner worked in the South Hills cover the period when Pittsburgh was becoming a powerhouse in the steel and coal industries and commerce was increasing rapidly,” she says. “Yet, just south of the city—over Mt. Washington—you were in the country. I want to know what, if any, cutting-edge methods he used and how receptive his patients may have been to the new advances in medicine.”

Last month, Stein presented her paper— which focuses on the daily practice of medicine by physicians such as Dr. Schreiner and how the medical and scientific discoveries of the 19th century impacted their practices—at the Southern Association for the History of Medicine and Science conference in Charleston, South Carolina. In April, she will present the paper at the American Osler Society in Tucson, Arizona. “It’s exciting.” says Wojcik, “because this is something that the historical society has never been part of before. I think it shows we are a true community asset.”  —M.A. Jackson

The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon welcomes Dr. Stein for “Medicine in the Late 1800s,” 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 15, at Mt. Lebanon Public Library