Dr. Joseph Schneider practiced medicine in Milwaukee for 45 years and enjoyed an international reputation as a specialist in ophthalmology and otology. Born in Weigelsdorf, Silesia, Germany in 1845, he came to America in the early 1880s, not intending on relocating, but settled in Milwaukee. Before starting his practice in Milwaukee, Dr. Schneider had practiced for 10 years in Wuerzburg, Germany and attended clinics in Paris, London, and Vienna.
It has been estimated that Dr. Schneider saw no less than one hundred eighty thousand patients in his 45-year career. He enjoyed an international reputation and clients came to his office on Water Street from throughout the United States and even from as far away as China.
He was often described as a man who did not seek fame or fortune for himself, but was dedicated to serving humanity. He possessed a notable attitude for democracy, as it has been documented, that he made no appointments. Rather, his patients all awaited their turn, whether they were rich or poor. One newspaper article published in 1945, related a story revealing that the good doctor was a romantic. He kept the date when he received his first patient – October 12, 1881 – in memory. When he reached the milestone of 50,000 patients, he sent this first patient, a gift of a silver vase. This same article stated that Dr. Schneider treated patients who could pay and those who had no means to do so. Money collected each day went into a wastebasket to be counted at the close of day.
This was the money that bought the land that would become Doctors Park and provided the significant endowment for an eye hospital in Wuerzburg, Germany. This free clinic in Germany, was established to provide eye care for women, as he stated: “the widows and daughters who are left without means of support and who earn their living by doing fine needlework.”
He and his wife Louise (Preusser) lived at 311 Knapp Street. This would be 1107 East Knapp today, where the Empire Apartments stand, just west of the Peltz Gallery. The Schneiders summered on their property in Fox Point.
The Schneiders were the parents of two daughters, of whom Louise was born in 1894. She became the wife of William H. Marshall, whose grandfather was the founder of Marshall & Illsley Bank. Josephine, born in 1901, later became the wife of Frank Gordon McGeoch.
Dr. Schneider was given an honorary degree from Marquette in 1926 and the citation read:
Joseph Schneider, M.D. Doctor of Medicine of the University of Wurzburg, post-graduate student at Wurzburg, Vienna, and Halle, in the special practice of medicine for over fifty years, generous in his services to the poor and fair to all his patients, who, by virtue of his pioneering service in the scientific treatment of eye diseases in Milwaukee, his promotion of scientific research in medicine and his writings, particularly in sympathetic ophthalmia, his consulting service to physicians from many sections of the country, his long recognized standing as an authority in the fields of ophthalmology and otology, is entitled to the degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa).
Dr. Schneider outlived Louise and passed away in Milwaukee in 1927. In his will he gifted a tract of 65 acres (or 63 acres by some accounts) to the city of Milwaukee, to be known as Doctor’s Park. Note the apostrophe. That was lost through time and we happily operate apostrophe-less today.
In 1937 Doctors Park was transferred, under the administration of Mayor Daniel Hoan, to what is now our Milwaukee County Parks. At this time, several parks in the city of Milwaukee were transferred into what residents recognize today as the Milwaukee County Parks System. As stated in the deed: “The above described premises are sold and conveyed upon the express condition that the same shall be used forever solely and exclusively as a public park, amusement and recreation grounds and shall bear the name, to wit, Doctor’s Park.”
Dr. Schneider enjoyed gardening and nature and apparently wanted to ensure that others could enjoy the property that gave him and his family so much enjoyment.
Given the family history, we hope that descendents of both families may share photos or other history they have about the family with us. The park is a fabulous gift. All those who enjoy the park today would be most interested to learn how the Schneider family spent their time on the property before the transfer. Contact us!
Much thanks to the staff at the Milwaukee County Historical Society, specifically the Harry H. Anderson Research Library for providing information for this history.