Friday, February 09, 2024
Obscurity of the Day: Dr. Peach and her Modern Methods
I really relish old strips that comment on social changes, and so a strip about a female doctor from 1908 is the sort of thing that gets me all a-twitter. And as social commentary regarding the liberation of women, Dr. Peach And Her Modern Methods is interesting, but boy oh boy, the gags are awfully lazy. Hy Gage, who could do better, seemed to think that his gags were of secondary importance, and that the beauty of this lady doctor, her tight dresses and her frequently uncovered legs, were entertainment enough.
In its short life the strip went through three distinct phases. The first has the gags revolve around men going ga-ga over being attended to by a gorgeous lady doctor. The second has a very athletic Dr. Peach running a sort of sanatorium for weak and overweight men, and focuses often on a Mr. Butterfat, who as you can see above, eventually shares billing on the strip. This second phase of the strip allows Gage to dress Dr. Peach in revealing athletic wear as she leads her patients in various workouts. Perhaps this was all a bit too racy, because phase three sent the strip back to its original milieu.
To his great credit, Hy Gage did not seem to have any inclination toward making fun of the concept of a lady doctor. Dr. Peach is always professional in the strip, never the butt of the joke. And that is pretty impressive. The very first American woman doctor, Elizabeth Blackwell, graduated medical school just over a half-century earlier, in 1849, and she treated only women and children in her practice. It wasn't until a few decades later that women began to take on other specialties, and by 1908 they were still a rarity. In fact, I find a statistic that in 1914 only 4% of medical students were women, and you can bet most of them specialized in women's health.
The home paper of Dr. Peach and her Modern Methods was the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph. The Telegraph had a long string of interesting weekday strips in the 1900s, some obtained through syndication and others apparently homegrown. At this time Hy Gage was in the bullpen that produced the Philadelphia Press's colour sections for Sundays, but I can find no documentation that the two papers were linked. On the other hand, you'll note that the above strips are copyrighted to one J.W. Lang; he is known to have been the head of the North American's syndication service in this era, so there may be some sort of tangled web between all these papers that I frankly do not understand. Oddly, I have seen Mr. Lang's copyright only on this and one other strip, certainly not the entire output of either paper.
In my book I cited start and end dates for Dr. Peach based on my spotty collection of Evening Telegraph bound volumes (I offered them as May 25 to September 24 1908). However, I was evidently missing important source material in this regard, because I can find the strip starting in syndication as early as April 21 in the Pittsburgh Press. Unfortunately it turns our that the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph for these interesting years does not seem to exist on microfilm, so there is a sad research dead end there. If I had known that fact many years ago when I was clipping strips out of my Telegraph bound volumes and then reselling them to other collectors, I certainly would have instead preserved them intact. Of course this all transpired before you could just check the interwebs and easily know who had what on microfilm.
Syndication dates for weekday strips of this era are not to be trusted, so at best we can confidently say that the strip began on or before April 21. Since in syndication I see the strip petering out in early October, I'm fairly confident that my September 24 end date, however, is sound.