Dr. Lillian Heath Nelson, West’s First Licensed Female Doctor

Dr. Lillian Evelyn Heath Nelson (1865-1962) shattered glass ceilings in the Wild West as its first licensed female doctor. Born on December 29, 1865, Lillian’s passion for medicine ignited early. Her father, a Union Pacific Railroad worker and friend to UP Doctor Thomas Maghee, allowed Lillian to shadow Maghee at just 16. She even witnessed outlaw Big Nose George’s infamous dissection (which later led to him becoming macabre souvenirs).

Encouraged by her father, Lillian defied norms, graduating medical school in 1895 and attending the American Medical Association Conference held in Denver as the sole woman. After returning to Rawlins, she opened her own practice, facing the harsh realities of frontier medicine. Wearing men’s clothes and carrying a gun, she rode horseback for miles, treating patients with skill and compassion for 15 years.

Lillian’s pioneering spirit paved the way for future generations of female doctors. Though she passed away in 1962, her legacy lives on, whispering through the Wyoming wind, a testament to her courage and dedication to serving her community.

Dr. Lillian Evelyn Heath Nelson (1865-1962) shattered glass ceilings in the Wild West, becoming the West’s first licensed female doctor and paving the way for future generations. Photo courtesy of the Carbon County Museum

For more information on Carbon County, visit WyomingCarbonCounty.com.