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(1859?-1905) THIS BOOKKEEPER WAS TOO POOR TO FINISH HIGH SCHOOL. BUT IN 1896 SHE DEVELOPED HER OWN X-RAY EQUIPMENT. NINE YEARS LATER SHE WAS THE FINEST RADIOGRAPHER IN THE WORLD.
By 1900 transports full of wounded soldiers returning from the Spanish American War headed for Presidio Army Hospital. Many still had bullets and shrapnel lodged in their bodies. They found their way through San Francisco's hills - to Sutter Street - and the very unlikely X-ray office belonging to Elizabeth Fleischmann. The daughter of Austrian Jewish immigrants, Fleischmann was born in California. When her family fell on hard times, Elizabeth quit high school in her senior year, and worked as a bookkeeper.
Halfway around the world German scientist Conrad Roentgen discovered the X-ray. Within 6 months, the news seeped into the popular press. That's how it reached Elizabeth Fleischmann. She enrolled in a course on electrical science. Within a year Elizabeth engineered an X-ray system of her own, borrowed money from a brother-in-law, and opened the first radiographic office in San Francisco. While others used radiography for novelty amusements Fleischmann used the X-ray for diagnostic purposes. She calibrated tissue densities, and made precise calculations to help surgeons cut at exactly the right depth and angle. The Surgeon General of the Army was so impressed that he traveled to meet her. He was stunned to find that the world's finest radiographic work was being done by a working class Jewish woman.
But Elizabeth Fleischmann didn't realize just how dangerous her good work could be. X-rays took as long as 20 minutes to an hour. Elizabeth always used her left hand to test for proper exposure, a standard procedure in that day. By the winter of 1905, the arm developed a cancer and was amputated. She died the following August, 9 years after opening California's only radiographic office. Her obituary hailed her as one of the most ardent workers in the interest of afflicted humanity.