Henry Bergstein, Father of Nevada Professional Medicine

From his arrival in Pioche in 1872, Dr. Henry Bergstein played a pivotal role in the development of Nevada's medical regulations and organization of the medical profession.

Born in Virginia in 1847 to German-speaking Jewish parents, Bergstein graduated in 1872 from the Medical College of the Pacific—forerunner of Stanford Medical School—and began his practice in Pioche, Nevada. He commented on the town's wild reputation by noting that of the 108 persons buried in the local cemetery, only three had died natural deaths. Bergstein was elected Democratic assemblyman from Lincoln County in 1874 and brokered passage of the state's first statute regulating medicine in 1875. In the same year, he and nineteen other physicians formed the Nevada State Medical Society. Bergstein became attending surgeon at Virginia City's hospital and was appointed Storey County physician.

He married Pauline Michelson of Virginia City in a traditional Jewish ceremony in San Francisco. The two moved to Reno and had three sons. Henry was active in the Silver Party with C.C. Powning, newspaper editor, local entrepreneur, and founder of the Nevada Insane Asylum. Bergstein received an appointment to superintendent, a position he held from 1895 to 1898, during which time he changed its name to the Nevada Hospital for Mental Diseases. He immediately stopped the practice of allowing weekend curiosity seekers to gawk at the patients. Bergstein also recommended legislation that would discourage sending to the hospital paupers who were not mentally ill.

The Bergstein marriage deteriorated, C.C. Powning died suddenly, and Henry married Powning's widow in 1900. Over the next decade, he struggled to practice medicine, maintain alimony and child support payments, and defeat what was described by his ex-wife as a gambling problem. His life stabilized by 1910 when he was appointed Reno's health officer. Bergstein continued to practice medicine and serve on the staff of Saint Mary's Hospital in Reno. He was a vocal proponent of better health practices in restaurants and public places. Sam P. Davis called on him to write a lengthy essay on the state's medical history for the editor's two-volume History of Nevada.

Bergstein died in 1930, after service to Nevada medicine for a half century.

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