Dr. Mary Hill Fulstone
At a glance:
Mary Hill was born on August 3, 1892, in Eureka, Nevada, as the second child of John and Ella Riley Hill. Her older sister, Jennie, had been born in 1888. John Hill worked for Reinhold Sadler as manager of his large mercantile store in Eureka. After Sadler became governor of the state, he offered Mr. Hill a position as head of commissary at the Nevada State Prison. Hill moved his wife and two young daughters to Carson City in 1896.
Mary began her education at the North Ward School on North Carson Street. About two years later, John moved the family to the Arlington Hotel, which was closer to the Central School at the corner of Minnesota and Telegraph Streets.
While attending Carson High, Mary was captain of the girls' basketball team. They played in very burdensome heavy, pleated, blue serge bloomers with long black stockings and a middy blouse. The girls could not take showers or change their clothes after games, so they would walk home in the crisp air wearing their heavy, wet uniforms. Mary remembered her childhood upbringing as "most rigid, entirely under the control of the family, the church, and the school." In spite of the strict control, Mary said she was happy and kept too busy to complain.
She graduated from Carson High with the class of 1911 and enrolled that fall at the University of California, Berkeley, with the intention of becoming a school teacher of mathematics. While at Berkeley, Mary changed her career aspirations from math teacher to medical doctor. After earning a bachelor's degree in 1915, she enrolled in medical school and graduated from there in 1918. Mary served her residency period at San Francisco's County Hospital and Children's Hospital. The nationwide flu epidemic hit San Francisco hard that year. Mary remembered that period as "a dreadful time," one which she could never forget. Mothers and children would arrive in the morning and be dead before nightfall. In those days, there was little any doctor could do to help a person stricken with the flu.
In July, 1919, Mary married Fred Fulstone. His family had previously lived in the Carson Valley, but had since moved to Smith Valley. After finishing her final year of training, Mary moved out to the "sticks" on Fred's ranch. The six-hundred-plus acre ranch sat in the heart of the valley, and was the center of Fred's sheep ranching operation.
Mary was pregnant with her first child when she moved to Smith Valley. Fred Jr. was born in 1920 in the house where the family lived. Over the next nine years, four more children were born, all of them delivered in the Children's Hospital in San Francisco. A second son, David, was born in 1923, followed by Richard in 1927, and twin girls, Eleanor and Jeannie, in 1929. Mary's mother, sister, and the ranch cook all helped to care for the five young children.
Dr. Fulstone's career as a medical doctor began slowly, but grew steadily over the years. Conflicting accounts were given regarding her acceptance at the beginning of her career. One account stated that at first "none of the white people in the valley would have dreamed of seeking her services." In her oral history, Fulstone gave an opposite account, "on the whole, I think the people in Smith Valley started right in and came here." Before Mary arrived in the valley, the nearest doctor was twenty-five miles away in Yerington. Certainly some residents were very pleased to have a local doctor, male or female. There was no dispute over the fact that from her earliest years in practice, Mary was referred to simply as Doctor Mary-never Doctor Fulstone.
Doctor Mary had a government contract to care for the Indians. She was paid $90 per month to minister to the Indians in a wide-ranging area that took her out of the valley to Topaz, Coleville, Bridgeport, and Sweetwater. One major function was delivering their babies, but she also performed many other duties. Mary recalled one house call she made to a teepee near Bodie. The Indian man inside had stomach cancer, but his wife was sure that Mary could make him well. Mary could do nothing more than offer morphine for the man's pain. His wife's reaction had a long-term impact upon the doctor. She recalled, "I shall never forget the disappointment on her face, for her hopes had been high and her trust that something could be done was complete." Mary was never satisfied when her work could not produce a positive outcome.
As a doctor, Mary had to overcome many obstacles during the early years. Modern antibiotics had not been introduced and many died from illnesses which today could be easily treated. She had little more than morphine, chloroform and aspirin to relieve pain. Her house had no electric lights, and the nearest phone was several miles away in Wellington. Another early problem was transportation. Mary had one of the few cars in the valley, but the roads were poor and nearly impassable many times during the year. David Fulstone recalled how he would go out at night to drain the radiator of his mother's car, and then refill it with water the next morning to keep the radiator from freezing. According to one widely spread tale, Doctor Mary occasionally made house calls with the old reliable horse and buggy.
During the depression of the 1920s-30s, cash was scarce for the farmers in the valley. Patients who could not afford to pay would trade animals or other farm products for Fulstone's services. The family also traded her fees for goods from the local merchants. Mary never refused treatment to anybody based upon their inability to pay. According to David's memory, she did not even begin formal billing until sometime during the 1950s.
Beginning about 1938, Mary began traveling three days a week to Yerington. She maintained her office hours in the morning in Smith Valley, and then made the twenty-five mile trip in the afternoon. Yerington had a shortage of doctors, and she soon had many new patients. She later established a permanent office on Main Street in one part of the home belonging to David and his wife, Angie. During the early 1950s, Mary began a crusade to get a new hospital built in Yerington. The old hospital was dilapidated and poorly equipped, and Mary disliked it intensely. In 1954, the voters passed the bond issue that would build a new hospital. One wing of the Lyon Health Center was later named the "Doctor Mary" in honor of the woman who had worked so hard to turn her dream into reality.
In addition to her medical practice, Dr. Fulstone had a deep interest in education. She was elected to the county school board. Her first major project was to consolidate the several small schools in Smith Valley into one central school. At first, the residents did not care for the idea, but soon were persuaded to accept Mary's proposal. Doctor Mary considered that one of her major achievements. Later, she was elected to the Nevada State Board of Education to continue her interest in improving the education of children.
After a career spanning more than sixty years, Doctor Fulstone formally retired with the distinction of being the longest-practicing physician in the state. She was ninety-one years old at the time, but even then did not willingly quit. Glaucoma had been narrowing her vision for years, and finally made it impossible to continue. Some people refused to accept her retirement and continued seeking Mary's advice and care.
Dr. Mary's work has received wide recognition. She was Nevada's Mother of the Year in 1950, Nevada's Doctor of the Year in 1961, and was named a Distinguished Nevadan by the University of Nevada in 1964. She was a member of state and county medical societies, and active in civic and educational organizations of Smith Valley and Yerington.
Mary Hill Fulstone died at her home in December 1987, four months past her ninety-fifth birthday. In addition to her five children, she left behind eleven grandchildren who now have seven children of their own. David recalled two pieces of advice passed down by his mother. One was that only hard work brought reward. The second piece of advice was that a person should enjoy life throughout and not wait until retirement.
Mary Hill Fulstone was a true Nevada pioneer woman. She
broke down barriers, fought for causes, and remained dedicated
to her family and her profession.
Biographical sketch by Terry Bunkowski.
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