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History of Medicine in Mecklenburg County

Boggs, Lawrence
Date of Interview: 
medicine, Mecklenburg County
In a speech to the Mecklenburg Historical Association, Dr. Boggs tells the history of medicine in Mecklenberg County.
Mecklenburg County, 1800-1950
Oral History Collection
Collection Description: 
This is a recording of a speech presented to members of the Mecklenburg Historical Association
(Unknown Speaker): We are also very fortunate to have a very new historical subject. A subject history brought to us tonight we had various ( ) history of Mecklenburg but tonight for the first time we will have, we will hear the history of Medicine in Mecklenburg . Our speaker is a graduate of Davidson College , Duke University and Jefferson Medical College . Now I made some preliminary investigations, and before I might be said about this man and his accomplishment, and I have a list so I'm going to read it very quickly. Because I think everybody will be interested in these things, which I mention. His, his interests and professional experience have led him into membership in the American Medical Association , American College of Surgeons , American Urol Association , Society of Radioactive Urology , The Royal Society of Medicine in London, England . He has served and is past, [pause] yes. He has served and is past president of the Health and Hospital Council . Presbyterian Hospital () Medical Staff , Charlotte Mecklenburg and Medical Society , ( ) Charlotte Rotary Club . And he's distinguished also in the field of music and arts and holds membership in the Charlotte Music Orchestra as, he's a violinist. He is an elder in this church, Covenant Presbyterian . His has ()here and the community relations committee, ( ) Charlotte, Mecklenburg; member of North Carolina division of Archive and History ; member of Historical Association, Mecklenburg Historical Association ; and he's the director of () Incorporated , chairman of the architectural committee. Quite naturally this gifted and dedicated man is listed in Who's Who in the South and the South East . I found out today that I couldn't have a list of all the musical accomplishments because he does play at least three other instruments. But he said I could just go on and not mention that. Now I'd like to make another introduction, and I believe this will please him. Ladies and gentlemen our speaker, the husband of Jean Boggs , President of the (), Dr. Lawrence K. Boggs .
LB: If I had known such an impressive person was going to speak to you tonight, I would have invited my other friend here. I'm sorry that my wife is here as recording secretary because she knows that most of that stuff isn't true, especially the part about the violin playing. She has said and I quote "If what you do is called violin playing, then I'm the favorite concubine of Eben Saud ." [Laugher] I'm proud and pleased to be here tonight. I'm pleased because it only cost me three dollars to come to talk to you for supper. [Laughter] And I'm proud to belong to an organization that has as its recording secretary the favorite combine, concubine of Eben Saud . This is a tape recorder and this is being recorded as part of the oral history by the UNCC department of history, and its going to be in their department of Mythology I think. Anyway I've got to keep this up here. John () has asked if these tapes be sent to him tomorrow. Madam parliamentarian, can I start? Thank you. History is a fascinating subject, and history is but the elongated shadow of all of us and what today to us are, insoluble, vital burning problems, yesterday did not exist and tomorrow will produce only yawns and chuckles and sighs. But to the people involved in the making of history, it is alive and exciting. Some of us are interested in the history of guano mining in Peru , and others are interested in the growth and development of Rachel Welch ; and others are interested in the historical significance of the Pi square factor in the statistical analysis. I'm interested in the history of medicine, from those early trepanners who bored holes in patient's head to let the evil spirits out, through the long, slow, anguished years of slow progress, to the last astounding fifty years. And up until this present time in which skilled, well trained, conscientious neurosurgeons bore holes in peoples heads to let the evil spirits out. It is interesting to know some of the figures in ancient medicine and who did what to whom. That Hippocrates oriented medicine and to the careful observation of a patient rather than to wandering off and gaze at signs of the zodiac. And that Alexandria Egypt , the crossroads of the world at that was its most significant medical center. And in the little town of Salerno, Italy , the renaissance, the medical renaissance began, and it at one time was the medical center of the world. And to know that in the dark ages, the bubonic plague, the Black Death, was the worst medical catastrophe ever to hit the world, and it so disrupted the fabric of life at that time that the renaissance was later possible. As you know, the Bubonic plague began as a swelling under the arm and then spread all over Europe . It is true to know what happened in former times, and but is difficult to relate ourselves to some of those ancient people. Not many of us can relate ourselves to Aurelius Phillipus Theofrastus Bombastus VonHohenheim . [laughter] But to many of us the names of Alexander and Miller and Nalle and Gibbon are names that we have heard repeatedly in Charlotte medicine and at times quite personally. Only one renowned, world-renowned surgeon, has emanated from Charlotte , and we will mention his name later. But first, I'd like to mention a brief history of how Mecklenburg County itself started. Mecklenburg County and the adjoining counties, were part of an original group created by what was known as the Lord Granville Grant, from the English crown in 1762 . This included part of North Carolina and Tennessee , and was under British rule at the time. Out of the Granville Grant, Mecklenburg County was created and at that time it included Lincoln County , and Union County and Cabarrus . Later in 1776-1792 , these others were split off and finally in finally 1846 these counties were fixed as they are right now. There is no record of a qualified physician in this area prior to 1746 , but we do find references of so called nurses and witch crafters. These latter applied their trade up until the late 1800's , and we find them still with us today. These witch crafters are now called psychiatrists. [Laughter] A John Newman Oglethorpe was the first physician recorded as practicing in the upper part of Mecklenburg County in 1746 . The first record of treatment to be given was by a Dr. Corzen , in Lincoln County , who received two shillings from a Mr. Dellinger for services rendered to a slave. It seems quite damning historically that neither the patient's name, nor his disease, nor the treatment were recorded, but only what the fee was and who paid the bill. [Laughter] May 20th, 1775 was the date of the famed, Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and Dr. Ephriam Brevard was one of its leading spirits. As a physician there is no record of anything he ever did except the show that when he died all of his effects were sold at auction, but he did gain renown only as a mover of this Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. The name of other physicians in those early periods in the 1700's were Kennedy's , Alexander's and Henderson's . There were many, many types of Alexander's , and we have one Dr. Alexander with us tonight. A Dr. Joseph Alexander in 1792 practiced about ten miles north of Charlotte . He had a very extensive practice, and he had stopping points about every ten miles along the upper part of the county where he would see patients and answer calls much like the circuit judges and the late preachers would do. Dr. another Dr. Alexander was the first female physician practicing in the South East, south of Washington , and she was the first female president of the Mecklenburg County Medical Society . A Dr. W. L. Alexander , was elected governor in 1815 . And his home was now where the world 600 is run in North Mecklenburg . He is buried in the old Presbyterian Burial Ground . At the present time, there are four Dr. Alexander's in Charlotte , and their all first name is James and while they all may be bright physicians, they're pretty dull when it comes to choosing first names. [Laughter] In SIC [1815] 1915 , a Dr. McKenzie was Charlotte leading physician, and he developed a partnership with a Dr. Caldwell . This was the first embryo clinic in this area. And they agreed to divide Charlotte down Trade Street so they would not encroach on each, each others time and this kept their practice going easily without competition. At the present time, there is an overage of urologists in Charlotte . And an attempt was made to divide Mecklenburg County recently among us all to see who would get what parts so there would be no patient stealing as is so prevalent now. I was not on that committee that divided the county, but I should have been because my area was 15 acres of pastureland, two tenant farms and Piedmont Courts . [Laughter] John Mason Strong was a physician here who practiced for 50 years in the Steele Creek section. And to demonstrate the difficulty in getting an education in those days, when he wanted a medical education, he bought a horse in Mecklenburg County , and rode it to Philadelphia , sold his horse, got his education. Bought another horse and rode home again. And so you see its different today, then I mean when somebody went off for an education, they didn't run home on weekends like they do now. Dr.Wilson was a very versatile man in the early 1830's in the Rocky River section. He had a large medical practice, but in addition to that, he was justice of the peace and a lay preacher. So he had a strangle hold on his patients, he would bring them into the world as a physician, marry them as justice of the peace, and kill them as a physician and then bury them as a lay preacher. [Laughter] He was also a good turkey shooter they say. Dr.Watson practiced here for 67 years. He was a horse doctor and was not the most modern doctor in his time. He resisted every possible advance in medicine. He says that a thermometer was the devil's toothpick and a syringe was the devil's squirt gun. We still have a few of those around. A Dr. Gregory practiced in Charlotte in the early 1860's he had a pseudo-medical stunt of looking at his patients through a Ferguson's speculum. This was just to hold up and look the patient up and down like we do in fluoroscopy now. And this impressed his practice enormously because he had a huge practice in town. It didn't do any good but psychologically thought they had beautiful diagnostic of acumen. A new man came into town and asked him the secret of his success and he said," When I started practicing here if I didn't have cows and chickens, I would have longed ago starved to death. If you have these two come set up your practice." The esprit de corps among the physicians here was quite strong, and they would welcome all newcomers. They would be invited to ride out of town to give an anesthetic for charity case in the country, and maybe to pick up a good meal as payment for their services. Occasionally there was a warning of maybe overcrowding, but this was not to discourage them, but just to let them know that practice building at that time was a slow, slow process, and they just had to hang on. At first the new men were invited to give an anesthetic at Good Samaritan Hospital , which was a charity, black hospital at that time or to answer a night call, down on Brick Row . Brick Row was a type of a housing, company housing project that was in the western part of town, set up when the first textile mills here. And the textile workers at that time were all white, and they were all of the lower classes. And this was a pretty rowdy rough neighborhood. So you had to be either one dedicated or hungry to go make a house call in Brick Row at that time. Next door to this was a very, relatively high class black neighborhood, and Dr. Elmer Garinger and Otho Ross were talking about this at one time, and they stated that the blacks in that neighborhood were afraid that the whites would be sent to their schools and ruin it. [Laughter] They mentioned once a tale of a young physician who came to town, and he was invited to go down into Anson County to help with an operation. He, it was an all day trip get up in the morning take Seaboard to Anson County work all day, give the anesthetic, ride home and his pay for the entire day was $15.00. Every doctor in those days was a physician and a surgeon according to his letterhead and prescription blank. To admit that you could not operate was to lose all face with the laity. Operations in vogue at that time were amputations and circumcisions, hemorrhoidectomies, repairs of strangulated hernias, D's and C's, and tonsillectomies. Occasionally, there was a rare abdominal operation for tumor, an appendectomy was unheard of, and the thyroid gland in the neck had never been hinted at by most physicians yet. But the benefits of a tonsillectomy were recognized by everybody. They were easy to do; everybody could do them; so everybody got one. They could be done in a rocking chair in front of the fireplace, if necessary. There's a tale of Good Samaritan Hospital in the early days, where an amputation was to be done on a hot July afternoon. And the orderly was there to stir up the air and keep the flies out of the wound, and he was fanning the area with a peach limb. The leg was sub-sized, the bone was exposed the orderly fainted fell into the wound. He was pushed aside; the operation was completed; the patient got well; and the orderly disappeared. [Laughter] The usual anesthetic at that time was in this part of the country was chloroform. Some of the doctors in Asheville were using ether but most, in most Southern states, the use of ether was considered disloyal to the southern cause because chloroform had been developed by the British, who had sided with the South during the late unpleasantness. With the opening of the hospital, so they were the specialists in surgery who arrived. First they were the stomach doctors, the urologists, the general surgeons, the gynecologists and then the internist. Following this, the trained nurses came then the development of x-ray and pretty soon the entire gamut of hospital facilities was available. The first x-rays taken in, in this area was done by a group of sort of non-doctors from Davidson College . In 1899 the automobile was being used here, and it was not unusual even after the onset of automobile transportation that horses and buggies were still used. Dr. Gibbon was indicted for reckless driving his horse across Trade and Tryon Street . And this was formalized in the legal action of the State of North Carolina vs. Dr. Gibbon . [Laughter] How many lives the automobile has saved in making rapid house calls I don't know, but they're killing folks at about fifty thousand a year now. Mecklenburg County was organized in Charlotte courthouse in 1903 . During these first meetings, the recurrent discussion was the poor conditions of the Good Samaritan Hospital and that was only solved about 65 years later. Also it was decided that a good obstetrical fee was $7.00. I think that has been raised a little bit since then, but the method of delivery is about the same. [Laughter] Other problems discussed at those early meetings of the county medical society was epidemics of typhoid fever, attempts to control hookworm, pellagra, syphilis, and the ethics of writing a prescription for whiskey during the prohibition days. To demonstrate how things have changed, though I have never seen a case of typhoid fever or pellagra, and almost none of my friends have syphilis anymore. [Laughter] The beginning of hospital development here can be traced to a Mrs. Jane R. Wilkes , who was a New Yorker who moved to Charlotte and adopted this city as her own. During the Civil War, she was instrumental in founding an army, Confederate Army Hospital here for taking care of soldiers. And following that, she was very instrumental in the founding of St. Peters Hospital , a white hospital, and Good Samaritan Hospital which was the first private black hospital in this country. St. Peter's Hospital grew into Charlotte Memorial Hospital , and so this one woman who is now the progenitor, progenitoress of Charlotte Memorial Hospital . St. Peters Hospital was founded in 1876 and lasted till 1940 . It was started in two rented rooms at 7th Street , January 20th, 1876 . And it was first called the Charlotte Home and Hospital and was established for the care of the sick poor of Charlotte . Nine years after it began, the city of Charlotte made its first contribution, $200, to this hospital, which will pay about a day and a half's care in a private hospital today. Several years later, 1896 , a lot was purchased and the first real hospital in Charlotte was established and the name was then changed to St. Peter's Hospital . And with the change in location and the change in name came a change in attitude. Because it then was changed from a, a poor home and to the real scientific institution, which later developed into the later St. Peter's and to the Charlotte Memorial . Several additions were made and finally when Memorial was built St. Peter's was closed. During the 20's and 30's and the 40's hospital conditions here got more and more crowded and during the depression and the war, there was precious little building anywhere. People were put in corridors, put in sun porches, class rooms, nursing stations. Finally, became intolerable and the citizens of this town realized, that a new hospital had to be built. The two hospitals functioning then, big hospitals, were St. Peter's and Presbyterian . The boards of directors of these two hospitals had a meeting to decide whether they should pool resources and build one big institution or what to do. Presbyterian Hospital board of directors decided that they would rather keep themselves identified as a Church related Presbyterian institution, and did not agree to go into the master plan. But the board of St. Peter's did decide to build another hospital. They had already bought a wooded knoll outside of the city at that time. And when it was decided that the city needed a new hospital, the board of directors sold that land to the city and many, many organizations, churches, individuals, the city government, federal government, all contributed money and on that wooded knoll Memorial Hospital was built. All the patients, all the staff from St. Peter's was immediately switched to Memorial and St. Peter's was closed. The first patient that was admitted to Memorial Hospital was Sarah Clarkson , the daughter of Judge Clarkson , on October 10, 1940 , and she underwent an app- an appendectomy. Another institution was the C Charlotte Sanatorium , which was begun, in the early 1900's by a Mr. D.A. Tompkins. And you ought to read the history of this man. He was one of the Charlotte --early Charlotte industrialists or southern industrialists, who realized that the south and the wake of the disaster of the Civil War had to do something other than grow cotton. And his entire life was dedicated to building up of the Industrial South mainly the textile industry. And he also saw the need of good hospital care, and so he was instrumental in founding the Charlotte Sanatorium on the corner of Seventh and Church Street . It lasted also until opening of Memorial Hospital , and it likewise was closed. In 1903 Presbyterian Hospital was started, again a small room at the back of nowhere where Selwyn Hotel used to be at Trade and Church Street . Shortly after it was founded, the total assets of the hospital, $2,000, was bought by 10 physicians in Charlotte and given to the Presbyterian Church . Initially, the church accepted the gift, but then decided that hospitals were where doctors went to make money, make money so they rapidly lost interest in it. The church had a dreadful, I mean the hospital had a dreadful time. And struggled mightily until 1925 at which in a brief span of six months these things happen. The hospital was: (1) Sued by all hospital supply houses; (2) The student nurses went on strike; (3) The administrator was pursued by lawyers, J. J Wake being one of them, demanding money, payment for their clients; (4) The dietician resigned; (5) The buildings and grounds were advertised for sale to satisfy their mortgages and (6) The superintendent of nurses quit. [Laughter] As you can see it could only get better after that, and it has gotten quite a bit better. They now have under construction a huge building over the length of a football field which will include an outpatient department, inpatient and outpatient surgery, intensive care and coronary care. The board of directors of Presbyterian Hospital is still chosen from various churches in this town. In 1906 , Mercy Hospital was started by the Sisters of Mercy of Belmont . It was started in Charlotte . And it was started behind the St. Peter's Catholic hospital downtown. In 1916 , it moved to its present site and, as you know it is, has just finished a major enlargement and still renovating much of the old hospital. The Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital was started in 1918 by doctors Peeler and Dr. Matheson. And it has become one of the landmarks and one of the outstanding institutions of this town catering to that organ system. At one time as all the old residents know. The center of medicine in Charlotte was at Seventh Street and Church and Tryon Street . In that place, they had the Charlotte Sanatorium , the professional building , the Nalle Clinic , the Miller Clinic and the Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital . That entire area has now been vacated as a medical center. Many of you may not know but at one time Charlotte had a medical school. It was called the North Carolina Medical College , and it was the first medical school chartered in this state. It operated for 30 years, from 1883 to 1913 , and graduated over 340 doctors. Many medical schools in the country started as this one did. It began when the ladies of the First Presbyterian Church and Charlotte outfitted an infirmary at Davidson College . And a Dr. Paul Barringer was hired by the college to take care of the students and to manage this infirmary. In his spare time, he would teach anatomy and physiology and gradually gathered around him students who were interested in medicine and with that and the preceptorship method of the medical school was started. Later it was under the direction of Dr. John Munroe , who was related to Dr. John Munroe Douglas , who practices internal medicine in Charlotte now. He would hold classes in Davidson , come to Charlotte to see patients, and finally in 1907 , the whole thing was moved to Charlotte because that's where most of the patients were and a building was built here. Unfortunately, in 1909 the Carnegie Foundation , under the directorship of Mr. Abraham Flexnor , investigated all the medical schools in this country. Many of the medical schools at that had become diploma mills for a certain amount of money for a certain length of time, you could become a physician. And this was intolerable for excellent medical care, and so Dr. Flexnor or Mr. Flexnor , who was out of work at the time, offered to, to review all the medical schools in the country. There were three classifications: 1a) The Medical School was good and should continue; B) it was good but needed improvement; and C) it was no good and should be closed. The school here in North Carolina was investigated in 1909 and received a "C" rating in that it should be closed. This caused a great deal of ill will here because the people here thought that they were not treated correctly. It was done, in the summer, the investigation was done in the summer time without prior warning when there was no students here, no faculty and every all the facilities were closed. But nevertheless the report went out and was immediately accepted as a truthful accurate report by the Forsyth Medical County, Medical Society , and this school was essentially dead at that time. They made an attempt to interest the legislature in making this the medical arm of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill . But their decision then was that they did not want anything associated with the University outside of Chapel Hill . Attempts were made to infuse large amounts of money into the school, all of which failed, and the school closed and all of its students were transferred to the Medical College of Virginia , at Richmond . The thing that the Flexnor report did bring out which still holds is that 1) That the hos- medical school had to have a large endowed hospital under the control of the medical school; 2) There were prerequisites at that time that's been changed of at least two years of college. Now it is a B. A. degree; 3) And a fulltime teaching faculty. So finally the school closed in 1913 , and all of its students were transferred. From time to time there have been numerous associations of physicians here of where a clinic would be born; it would thrive; it would break up through personal disagreements or the founder would die. Some clinics have been formed and continued to thrive. The most influential clinics in Charlotte today are the Crowell Clinic , the Miller Clinic , the Nalle Clinic and the Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital . Of these four, probably the Crowell Clinic has been the most influential as far as its influence on the total aspects of medicine. It was founded in 1919 by Dr. A. J. Crowell , who by the way, was a member of, of Second Church , which was the progenitor of this church. The most interesting thing about the Crowell Clinic was even though Dr. Crowell was not outstanding as a physician, he had this dream that if you bring together good men of diverse specialty that they could have an enormous influence on Charlotte medicine. And this is what he did. He brought the first radiologist to town, Dr. James Squires , who was killed in WWI. He brought Dr. Claude Squires who practiced for many years here as a urologist and who continued in the Crowell Clinic . Dr. James Elliot was brought here as the first dermatologist, and he later brought in his son and later Dr. Welton . Dr.Lester Todd was brought here as a laboratory man and later went into allergy and with him came Dr. Andrew Taylor . Dr. Hamilton McKay started here with Dr. A. J Crowell and later split off and formed his own group, which is still going on. Dr. Raymond Thompson came as a urologist. And he split off later and his group is still going. Dr. Robert Lafferty first came here, and the X-ray group that he started now does the X-ray work at Presbyterian Hospital . So through the influence of this-- TAPE 1, SIDE 2 Is due to him. There are about 18 urologists practicing in Charlotte , and I'm one of them. And, and almost all of us are directly due to the influence of Dr. Crowell setting up this clinic. Dr. Crowell was a rather vigorous not selfish man, but he knew that his clinic was important, and he was the most important man in the clinic, which made him the most important man in Charlotte . And when Dr. Preston Nowlin , who was a young urologist came coming to town and was making his professional calls, something we don't do anymore, he went to see Dr. Crowell and presented himself. And Dr. Crowell said, "Young man you will starve in this town." And Dr. Nowlin didn't miss a meal I don't think. [Laughter] Dr. Matheson started the Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital . It was a first in this area and through his dedication it rapidly grew. He was rather peeved with any physician especially his friend Dr. Gibbon , who would not dedicate his entire life to his practice. Dr. Gibbon would go off to play golf, and this would irritate Dr. Matheson no end. They say his argument was weakened a little bit by the fact that Dr. Matheson had calluses and couldn't play golf. Dr. Lucius Gage was the one that started the Nalle Clinic . It's true that the original hunk of patients were with the Duke Power Company . Dr. Brodie Nalle was brought here by the Duke Power Company to be there company doctor and later began a private practice in obstetrics and brought Dr. Gage here as his second partner. But it was Dr. Gage who actually built up what we see now as the Nalle Clinic . A group of well trained men in diverse specialty may now have 34 people in that group. The last founder of a significant group was Dr. Oscar Miller . He was hired by the hospital in Gastonia , the Cripples' Children Hospital in Gastonia there, and he would come to Charlotte and do some orthopedics here. Gradually he shifted his entire work to Charlotte , and now has built this excellent orthopedic group there of 6 or 7 doctors. And he was probably the first internationally known doctor that Charlotte produced. The hold that a doctor has on the memory of man is quite brief. If he is limited solely to the taking care of the individually ill, because no matter how brilliant his professional skills as soon as he retires from active practice, he is soon bypassed and forgotten. However if there remains a group or a structure that bears his name or personality, then his memory lives a little longer. And these diverse groups are growing all over the country. But many physicians do not have the temperament, nor the energy, nor the personality to build and coordinate these large groups. But nevertheless this is the trend. The primary possibility of physicians whether practicing by himself or in large groups is to the patient. And if his responsibility is ever cast off by the physician or assumed by someone else, then medicine as we know it will cease to exist. And so its incumbent upon, upon all physicians to assume this responsibility, and it becomes so involved in the welfare of their patients that there will be little demand and little need for any other party to assume this responsibility. This obligation is taken from us and the fault is our own for the government bodies do not encroach were there is absolutely no need for them so to do. In the medical profession in which in this sense here and now includes all doctors and nurses and all hospital first personnel, if they can deliver conscientious medical care to the people of this country at a price that they can afford to pay, then medicine as we now it will survive. If, however, the medical profession becomes blind to this obligation or neglects it then medicine as we know it today of course will decline and die. So I'd like to quote from a letter of Dr. William Mayo , who was quoting his father the founder of the Mayo Clinic , he said, "My father recognized certain definite social obligations. He believed that any man, who had a better opportunity than others, and the greater strength of mind, body, or character, owed something to those who had not been so provided. That is that the important thing in his life is not to accomplish for oneself alone, but for each to carry his share of collective responsibility." And so anyone who performs a service, assumes a moral obligation that cannot be bent, cannot be twisted or broken and, should this feeling of responsibility be lost from our profession, then we all become a squabbling parties, haggling over taxes and status, and we've our effectiveness. So the future of Charlotte medicine does not depend on how many thousand of tonsils are removed, or how many broken bones are set or kidneys are taken out. It depends on the ability and the willingness of the patient to say, "When I was sick, he took care of me. He was honest and conscientious." If the patient cannot say that, then medicine as we know it deserves to perish. But, if the patient can say that, then we can be proud that we have served our purpose and the profession well.