Dr. Spiro Sargentich featured in The Morning Call, San Francisco, 1894
Old Town Emergency Hospital
Spiro Sargentich was a remarkable man. He spoke numerous languages, was a soldier and teacher in his homeland Serbia, and later became a doctor and served as a health official in Tacoma. He first arrived in Tacoma in 1893. He lived with his brother, Mico (a steward for the Union Club), until he decided to go to San Francisco and work his way through university at Berkeley. He had next to nothing, but was able to support himself by caring for a professor’s cow and giving flute lessons; he lived on $6 a month and learned English even as he studied to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy in 1898, then graduated in 1902 from Medical School. In 1905, Dr. Sargentich returned to Tacoma, beginning his career here as an intern at Fannie Paddock Hospital (The Morning Call, 3/24/1895).
Tacoma was a bustling town in the new century, with many doctors serving and available to help its residents. Fannie Paddock Hospital was a highly-respected medical facility, with modern buildings for the time and a new school of nursing. St. Joseph Hospital, which was founded in 1891, was also providing healthcare to Tacoma’s residents. These institutions rose to the demand for accessible care that came with an ever-growing population (According to HistoryLink.org, Tacoma’s population in 1900 was 37,714).
However, the mills and factories of Old Town were dangerous. Gargantuan machines could take a man’s leg (or life) too easily. Sailors often arrived in port suffering from injury or illness. Having a health facility nearby was very desirable, allowing a quicker response to their needs. In 1905, Dr. Sargentich opened the Emergency Hospital in the old Cosmopolitan Hotel building on McCarver Street. An account in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine in 1906, written by Dr. C.E. Case of Tacoma, credited Sargentich with having pioneered a new form of anesthesia that was in the testing phase while performing surgery at this hospital. The success of this analgesic led others in Tacoma to try the new product.
In 1908, the Dr. Sargentich was appointed to be Tacoma’s Health Officer by then Mayor John Linck. He took his appointment quite seriously. He vowed to arrest “citizens who expectorate on the sidewalk, in streetcars and in other public places.” He called for barber shops to sterilize their equipment and proposed a “Cleaner Tacoma” campaign – affecting the sanitary habits of “grocers, butchers, bakers, confectioners and other dealers in edibles.”
He only served in the position for about one year, as he ran into opposition by Tacoma’s political leadership to efforts to control the spread of smallpox by requiring the population to be vaccinated. This turn of events was noted in the January 1908 edition of the Medical Sentinal, stating that he “was annoyed by what he considered the parsimonious conduct of the city council.
Newspaper article from The Oregonian, April 29, 1908
Perhaps Sargentich’s greatest accomplishment was the first “Pacific Coast Plague Conference,” which was held in Tacoma on October 14, 1908. Representatives of Tacoma, Spokane and Seattle (with Health Officers from throughout Oregon and California communicating from afar) met to discuss the importance of adopting uniform health codes, especially where the eradication of rats was concerned. The conference was the first of what became an annual conference of State, County and Municipal Health Officers… and it all started IN TACOMA!
This account of Dr. Sargentich in Tacoma is but a short chapter in a very fascinating – and influential – life. Much of the story took place very far from Tacoma – in the Balkans. Both before and after his time here, his life took turns that could have been the stuff of Hollywood movies. He fled his homeland under suspicion of being a revolutionary, was pardoned by the King of Montenegro years later.
Dr Sargentich returned to Serbia as a Red Cross doctor when WWI was raging and typhus was rampant in the region. He was rumored to have died, but he didn’t. At one point, he was the only healthcare-provider to survive the epidemic and kept treating patients as he was able.
He returned to the States where he became a medical officer in the Enlisted Reserve Corps in Portland, and eventually returned to Tacoma as a Captain with the unit, when they established the hospital at American Lake. Dr. Sargentich retired in 1943 and passed away in San Francisco in 1957.
Dr. Spiro Sargentich
..., "Making His Way," San Francisco Call, Volume 76, Number 91, 30 August 1894.
...,"The Paddock Memorial Hospital," The Churchman, Diocese of Olympia, Seattle WA; March 25, 1882.
Bates, Mildred, A House of Mercy: The History of Tacoma General Hospital, the Fannie C Paddock Memorial, Warren's Printing & Graphics; Olympia WA, 1977.
Paddock, The Rt. Rev. John A., "Appeal," newspaper publisher unkown.
Paddock, The Rt. Rev. John A., The Fannie C. Paddock Memorial Hospital, Tacoma, Washington Terr.; July 1885.
Sargent, Carl, Dr. Spiro Sargentich: A Man of Honor, Distinction & Dedication, self-published, 2013.
Whitney, Marci; Notable Women, Tacoma News Tribune, Tacoma, WA, 1977.