Dr. Kenney’s Surgical Suite

by Alethea Drexler, archives assistant

mcgovern@exch.library.tmc.edu

Dr. Kenney's Surgical Suite

(Click on image for a larger version.)

This image seems to have been a fairly recent acquisition for us: Phil’s predecessor got it on eBay, where it was described as a “patient’s room” at Dr. Kenney’s Sanitarium in San Antonio, from around 1920.  It’s obviously not a patient’s, room, though–it’s a surgical suite.

I don’t know if this was taken when the hospital was brand-new or if it was cleaned up specifically for the picture, but it’s obviously not in use.  I’m not sure, but the tank with the thin, flexible, hose, mounted near the window-frame, might be an eyewash station.  The table on the far right has large, stoppered, jugs and what appear to be pedals for foot-pumps underneath.  The enamel mugs underneath the glass jars say “ounces” on them, although how many ounces is not clear because the original photograph wasn’t quite in sharp enough focus.  I wonder if this was a handwashing station, so that the surgeon would not have to touch water controls with his hands, and the cleaner–purified water, perhaps, and carbolic acid or another aseptic–would be protected from outside air, which might contain contaminants.

All the furniture is enameled metal and glass, so it will clean easily.  The surgical table is adjustable, but I’m not sure what kind of brace that is at the near end of it; it almost looks as though it would go over the patient’s shoulders.  The floor appears to be the same speckled material that was used in the floors of my college dormitory (built circa 1915), but I’m not sure what it’s called; it apparently could be poured seamlessly, was durable, and cleaned up easily.

I haven’t been able to find much about Dr. Kenney other than he ran a sanatorium in San Antonio in the early 20th century.  The building looked like this[1].  The UT Health Science Center at San Antonio also has a good image[2]: If you click on in, you can zoom in on it.

The surgical suite was evidently in the attic of one of the buildings.  You can see the arch at the top of the window, which only appears in the attic windows.  I would think this would make them very hot in the summer, but perhaps they had a better cross-breeze that way, and better lighting.

It appears that the Kenney family had already been established in the area for quite a while, and that Dr. Kenney was not the first doctor among them.  Frontier Times Magazine, April 1940[3], published an article about a Dr. Thomas Kenney, who came from Kentucky in 1833.  Alas, the article is not available in full online but apparently it does mention the Kenney Sanatorium.  Our Dr. John Kenney was likely a grandson: The website for the Tobin Hill neighborhood[4] puts his establishment originally at 209 Ogden (the entry is just below the photograph of the Temple Beth-El), and notes that he is Dr. John W. Kenney, Jr.

We usually think of a “sanatorium” (sanitarium, sanitorium) as a facility for treating tuberculosis patients, but, in a more general sense, it was a facility for nursing patients back to health.  This entry[5] (right-hand column, a little more than half-way down the page) in the Texas State Journal of Medicine (March 1911) suggests that Dr. Kenney may have treated alcoholics.

His daughter married a man named Hallock.  According to the history of their neighborhood[6], the sanatorium was demolished in the early 1960’s.  There is also a Nat Mitchell Kenney[7], born in 1890, listed as “care of Kenney Sanatorium” in this Official List of Officers of the Officers’ Reserve Corps (yes, that really is what it’s called).

[1] – John P. McGovern Historical Collections and Research Center, Houston Academy of Medicine-Texas Medical Center Library.  Institutional Collection #90, Texas hospital postcards.

[2] –  UT Health Science Center at San Antonio Library.

[3] – Frontier Times Magazine, April 1940.

[4] -City of San Antonio website, Office of Historic Preservation page.

[5] – Texas State Journal of Medicine, Volume 6 Number [?], March 1911.

[6] – Bel Meade Neighborhood history website.

[7] – Official List of Officers of the Officers’ Reserve Corps of the army, August 31, 1919.

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