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Sacramento Pioneer Surgeon Dr. Junius Harris By F. James Rybka, MD

Comments or letters, which may be published in a future issue, should be sent to the author’s email or to e.LetterSSV Medicine@gmail. com.

JUNIUS1 BRAINERD HARRIS WAS born in Sacramento in 1882 where he lived at 3rd and S Streets. His father, Junius Brutus Harris, was a writer for The Sacramento Bee who later advanced to become the senior editor. Young Junius’ first connection with medicine came when he was chosen to be a houseboy by Dr. George White, a well-known physician. At this time, there were no medical offices; the doctor made all his house calls using a horse and buggy. They needed a boy to live with them who would, among other chores, take care of the horses in the stable at the back of White’s house. While in high school, their mutual trust grew to where Junius would assist Dr. White with some surgical procedures that were done in the home. Dr. White was a scholar who collected many medical books that Junius avidly read. And when it came time for college, Dr. White suggested that, rather than go to college, Junius should just read these books carefully, and then take the California medical test. At this time, if you passed this test, you could go directly to medical school and skip college. Junius did very well, scoring the 16th highest in the state. In 1904, he entered Cooper Medical College, located at Clay and Webster Streets, in San Francisco. To earn some pin money, he taught other students Greek and Latin terms that were required at this time. While there as a student, he became actively recruited to help in the care for the many burn victims from the 1906 earthquake. In 1908, Cooper Medical College became Stanford Medical School, so it was from that university that Junius graduated. He then returned to Sacramento where Dr. White and

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Sierra Sacramento Valley Medicine

his son, Dr. John White, had established the White Hospital. Dr. John White, who helped Junius to become the Deputy Director of the Sacramento County Hospital, died suddenly in his prime. Junius named a son after him who today is Dr. John White Harris. This county post paid Junius $172 a month that occurred at a time when many doctors were just scraping by. At that time, it was “more than enough money to live on.”

Surgical Training Junius Harris wanted to become a surgeon, but there were no surgical residencies, as such, at the time. So, for his training, he undertook a series of two week “vacations” to go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, recognized as the font of modern surgery in the US. He became known to Dr. Charles H. Mayo (“Charlie” 1865-1939) who immediately liked him and made him his first assistant, so he was allowed to participate in whichever operations he wished and the experience was invaluable. Junius was an imposing 6’-4’’ outgoing redhead. In 1915, “June” Harris, as his colleagues called him, was elected President of the Sacramento Society for Medical Improvement, later the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society. Today, his portrait greets visitors entering the SSV Museum of Medical History. In Sacramento, there were no fully trained surgeons then. Some general practitioners did surgery, not only in town, but at outlying hospitals in Chico, Placerville, Auburn and other communities. Once his reputation spread, it was not infrequent that June was called up to these towns where he might have to re-operate

May/June 2013  

Sierra Sacramento Valley Medicine is the official journal of the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society (SSVMS) and promotes the history,...

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