As I write in my air-conditioned office, it’s a mere 95 degrees outside. Dog walks end with tongues hanging out, theirs and mine. Back inside we go to bask in the cool air that still seems like a bit of Heaven on Earth each time that first blast hits my face, dripping with sweat. And, summer has only just begun.
For the few times the air conditioning has failed, or we’ve lost power, and our beloved conditioned air quickly succumbs to the Texas heat, dare I admit to how whiney and intolerant I become. Pretty sure that my temper tantrums as an adult are far worse than when I was two. Must work on that.
Did you know that in the late 1800s babies in El Paso would suffer and some die from the heat? Some babies were transported via train to the mountains in Cloudcroft, New Mexico until they were old enough to withstand the heat.
Let’s go back when El Paso was actually named Franklin. The little town of under 800 people first encountered an 18-year-old woman by the name of Olga Kohlberg in 1875. Mrs. Kohlberg stepped away from Germany where she was a university student from a family with some means to step into “the Badlands of Texas” to be with her husband, Ernst. Can you imagine the shock she must have had as dust blew in her face?
Olga’s husband became a successful businessman in El Paso, after arriving indebted to the man who paid for his passage from Germany. Ernst Kohlberg founded the first cigar factory in the Southwest, owned a hotel and was one of the founders of the El Paso Electric Railway Company. Quite some accomplishments! Ernst met his match in Olga. They both made quite a mark in west Texas.
Olga knew how to solve problems and quickly took on big challenges. She was part of a study circle that started promoting education in 1889. They employed a teacher from St Louis and purchased materials necessary to educate young children. By 1892 Olga and her friends were instrumental in El Paso becoming the first Texas city to have free public kindergarten.
Olga was far from finished. She led a group, the Ladies’ Benevolent Association, to open the town’s first hospital. She supported Mary Stanton’s efforts to start El Paso’s first free public library. Olga’s group ran and financed the library until it became tax-supported.
That’s about the time Olga established Cloudcroft Baby Sanitorium where her son-in-law served as the physician-director.
“A unique part of Cloudcroft’s history was the Baby Sanatorium, which operated during the summer months from 1911-1934. More than 500 babies were treated for dehydration from nearby desert communities of El Paso, Alamogordo, & Las Cruces. After the original Lodge burned down in June 1909, several meetings were called to convince the El Paso & Southwestern Railroads to rebuild. Dr. Stevenson, whose young son died of dehydration while enroute to a cooler climate in CA, attended the meetings & asked for the rebuilding of the Lodge, as well as a Baby Sanatorium. The Railroad Board of Directors agreed to rebuilding the Lodge & also donated land near the Lodge for the construction of a Baby Sanatorium. The Baby San opened on June 14, 1911. Donations totaling $10,428 enabled charity cases to be set up & sick babies born to rich & poor alike were treated.” History of Cloudcroft
Before air conditioning, there was Olga!
So next time your air conditioning system isn’t working, think about Olga and Ernst Kohlberg in west Texas.
This story was documented in Pioneer Jewish Texans by Natalie Ornish. Go get yourself a copy. It’s the next best thing to air conditioning and owning a producing oil well!