The first time I heard about Elizabeth Fleischman was my first day of school to become a radiological technologist. The only thing said about her was that she was one of the first women in x-ray and the first women to die from the effects of x-ray. This intrigued me, but since school was about teaching us to be good technologists and not about doing a deep dive into the history of x-ray, this was something I was going to have to find out on my own.
Elizabeth Fleischman had a short career in radiography, starting in mid-1896 and ending with her death in 1905. She worked in the medical office of her sister’s husband, Dr. Woolf, and it was here that she learned of Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of x-rays in 1895. She was mostly self-taught, learning from the few books, studied electrical science, and attended a lecture and presentation on x-ray. Her father helped her purchase her first x-ray equipment and fluoroscope and she opened her “x-ray laboratory” in 1896 San Francisco. She was the only x-ray operator in the state of California.
Elizabeth helped the military at the Presido base during the Spanish-American war, x-raying soldiers returning from the Philippines. She was able to locate bullets, shrapnel and splinters aiding the surgeons attempting to remove them. During this time, she was praised by the Surgeon General, George Sternberg for the quality of her images. She was admitted to the Roentgen Ray Society, a group that is “dedicated to the advancement of medicine through the science of radiology and its allied science.”
In 1904 she was one of the first people to introduce the idea of protection for x-ray operators, promoting the use of double plate and gas and the possibility of using metals, iron, lead, or aluminum, to “resist” x-rays. Sadly, due to this lack of protection, she died at an early age. In 1905 her right arm was amputated due to radiation burns and she died from radiation poisoning on August 3, 1905. Her death and achievements were noted in both the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner.
Her gravestone states “I think I did some good in this world”
Written by Erica Pratt (she/her) from Suwanee, Georgia, USA. This project, Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land, is a series of stories written by Frank Turner fans, inspired by his new album No Man’s Land.
- I read an article by Mary Brown on FoundSF.org, a website for some San Francisco’s history
- An article on the Purdue University site, about women in photography
- An article under the history of “American Matyrs to Radiology” by Percy Brown