Kitchen table surgery in 1897

Helena Wink was a graduate of the University of Michigan medical school where she was the only woman in a graduating class of 117.

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig
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The medical term “inflammation of bowels” is not commonly used in the modern age.

In the 1800s it was usually a death sentence.

Now known as appendicitis, it is commonly treated by surgery. That form of treatment was first utilized in England in the 1700s and was being performed in big-city American hospitals in the 1880s.

It came to Jamestown on Sept. 9, 1897, when Dr. Helena Wink performed the first such operation on her kitchen table.

This surgery was performed on Lizzie Stuff, a 9-year-old girl who lived with her family north of Bloom. Wink was called to the farm home when the girl became ill and made a house call.


After making a diagnosis, Wink loaded the girl, her sister and father into her horse-drawn carriage and made a very quick trip to Jamestown. With the aid of two other community doctors, Wink performed what was reported as the first appendectomy in Jamestown and one of the first in the region.

Wink was legendary for driving her teams of horses, and later her automobiles, fast with a bit of a reckless abandon when there was a medical emergency.

One of the legends of Jamestown was that people were warned never to loiter around the end of Wink’s driveway because they could get struck by whatever vehicle the lady doctor was driving when she left on a call.

In this case, a sister of the patient reported that Wink also handled the postoperative care noting that Wink never removed her clothes or slept for three days.

“Today the little girl was reported resting well,” reported The Jamestown Alert in a news brief noting the first appendectomy performed in Jamestown.

A few weeks later, on Oct. 27, 1897, Wink performed another appendectomy on Philip Mason. It appears Mason was a construction worker and fireman in Jamestown and worked a full day before going to Wink, who diagnosed appendicitis.

Wink was a graduate of the University of Michigan medical school where she was the only woman in a graduating class of 117.

She opened a practice in Jamestown in 1883 and was considered the only woman doctor in the Dakota Territory at the time, according to State Historical Society of North Dakota.


Wink died in 1936 at the age of 81 after receiving burns from a home dry cleaning mixture.

She is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Jamestown.

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