Monday, March 31, 2014

A Story in Stone: John Payne, M.D. [1860-1901]

Dr John PayneCemeteries are places crowded with fascinating stories, and the Pelham City Cemetery just off U.S. 31 at the corner of Industrial Park Road and Lee Street is no exception. There among many others with the same surname is the marker of John Payne, M.D.

Born in August 1860, Payne appears in the 1880 U.S. Census living in Shelby County with his father William H., a farmer, and mother Jane and his nine siblings. Somehow Payne managed to go to medical school, graduating from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1886. That school would have offered him one of the best medical educations available in the U.S. at the time. Members of the Shelby County medical board which tested him that same year for certification were apparently not impressed. The state medical association’s Transactions for 1887 noted, “This examination is not credible to the board. The papers are badly arranged, written on both sides, and some of the sheets evidently missing.”

Nevertheless, the board granted his certificate, since “The answers are usually correct.” After his examination, Payne moved to the Birmingham area and practiced there until his death. Sadly, he was shot by telegraph operator James P. Cook on May 30, 1901, and died the next day. A newspaper account of the murder declared that “The physician was a very popular young man.”

According to that press article, Cook shot Payne twice in the head from behind the doctor. Cook had recently separated from his wife, “said to be a very handsome woman,” and jealously was presumed to have fueled both the separation and the murder.

Payne apparently never practiced in Pelham, although during his lifetime several other physicians did. Based on the state medical society’s annual Transactions, at least four doctors were in Pelham at some point during those years: Eli F. Denson, Andrew W. Horton, and two Johnsons, Joseph M. and William R.K.

Payne is not the only physician buried in the City Cemetery who practiced elsewhere. William Betta Cross is known to have spent time in Helena and Columbiana before his death on Christmas Day 1884. That’s another story hidden in stone. An inventory of the cemetery done in 2002 is available.  

Dr John Payne

Dr John Payne

All photos are taken from the Find-A-Grave site for Dr. Payne.

A version of this article appeared in the Pelham City News Fall 2013 issue.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Birmingham Photo of the Day (2): Downtown, 1921

This 1921 photo by O.V. Hunt from the Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections shows 3rd Avenue North and 18th Street. The Lyric Theatre is in the foreground and Loew'sTheatre in the background. The large billboard over the Argeros & Company building advertises the coming semi-centennial of the city featuring a visit by President Warren G. Harding.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Birmingham Photo of the Day (1): Downtown, 1939

This 1939 photo from the Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections shows the corner of 19th Street North and 2nd Avenue North. Visible are J.J. Newberry's Department Store, the Fan Tan Women's Clothing Shop in the former Peerless Saloon building and the Grayson Clothing Company. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Alabama Medical Journal for 1907

Over the years several medical journals have been published in the state. One of those was the Alabama Medical and Surgical Age which in May 1900, in the midst of volume 12, changed its name to the Alabama Medical Journal. Under that title it lasted until June 1911. The change in name signaled the arrival of a new owner and editor, Dr. W.H. Bell.  In his book A History of Medicine in Alabama published in 1982 Howard L. Holley devotes a chapter to the history of Alabama's medical journals.

I recently came across volume 19, which begins in December 1906, on Google Books and will be exploring its contents in this and future posts. This copy of the journal volume digitized by Google has a bookplate noting "Boston Medical Library 8 The Fenway." In 1901 the BML had moved into its new location at that address. Their collections are now part of the Countway Library at Harvard Medical School.

Let's begin with the very first page of the volume. We see a masthead of the journal, telling us it's published in Birmingham, Alabama, with an office on North 20th Street. But before that information we are greeted by an advertisement for Phillips' Phospho-Muriate of Quinine. This product was manufactured by the Charles H. Phillips' Chemical Company, founded in 1819. Phillips invented his milk of magnesia formula in 1873. The company continued after his 1882 death under the leadership of his four sons. Sterling Products bought the company in 1923 and sold it in 1995 to Bayer HealthCare which maintains the brand today.

In its October 19, 1918, issue the Journal of the American Medical Association condemned this patent medicine's claims to treat physical and nervous exhaustion as "sheer nonsense". Phospho-Muriate of Quinine was a "complex and irrational mixture." But the fees the company paid medical journals to advertise the product no doubt helped the publications stay in business.

The next page of this journal contains two more advertisements from E. Fougera & Co., also of New York City. In 1849 Edmond Fougera opened a pharmacy in Brooklyn and from that start grew the company that still exists today. Salicylates originated from the bark of the willow tree and the pain relieving property has been known since ancient times. Aspirin is one modern product. Thus sufferers from gout and related conditions who took either of these two exotic-sounding preparations probably benefited from their use.

Here we are on the third page and confronted with yet another advertisement. [Don't worry--modern day medical journals often look like this as well!] What's up this time? Oh, Angier's' Petroleum Emulsion. Sounds like something that might be available after the BP oil spill. A photo of a bottle of the stuff from can be seen below the ad.

This cough medicine made from petroleum and hypophosphates went on the market around 1892. In its issue for September 12, 1914, the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that the company had been advertising this product as a "food-medicine" and an "ideal substitute for cod-liver oil." The journal noted that petroleum has no food value and gives a detailed analysis of the product's ingredients but seems not to condemn it too strongly.

Finally! We get to the first article in the first issue of this volume. The representative of a no-doubt important committee of the American Medical Association takes pages 1-23 of the issue to explain what people and doctors should know about each other. I wonder if anyone picked up on the irony of such a piece after the bombardment of patent medicine ads. Perhaps one day I'll explore this particular article in detail to see just what was going on in this time period according to this doctor. His piece was published in an Alabama medical journal because it was "an address delivered" to the Jefferson County Medical Society in Birmingham in December, 1906. I hope they ate dinner after the talk.

At random points in the future I'll be coming back to this volume of the Alabama Medical Journal to explore its contents in greater detail. They provide an interesting snapshot of American and Alabama medical practice just after 1900. After all, this volume alone has exciting articles like "The Ethical Physician," "Intubation," "Stovaine Spinal Anaesthesia" and one that's bound to be fascinating, "Degeneracy" by William D. Partlow, Assistant Physician, Bryce Insane Hospital.

Until next time!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Three Generations in One Library

Being a librarian with an interest in history, I guess I notice these kind of things. We seem to have an "interest in history gene" that runs in some of the family. My dad had it, my brother and I have it, my son and daughter have it, one of my nephews has it.

Although dad--Amos J. Wright, Jr.--worked for many years for the U.S. Army at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, mom tells me he once wanted to be a history professor. He ended up in civilian computer system work; he figured teaching college might not support a family the way he wanted. 

But he gave in to that history gene by many years of walking cotton rows in north Alabama and southern Tennessee looking for artifacts [often accompanied by mom, my brother Richard and I--a story for another day] and membership in the Alabama Archaeological Society. That participation led to a couple of terms as AAS President and long stints as assistant editor and editor of the society's Stones and Bones newsletter. 

He eventually started collecting material for a book on Alabama Indian towns, which was published by the University of Alabama Press in 2003 just prior to his death. In the process of gathering all that material he amassed information on other topics, including traders in the Southeast before the Native American removal on the Trail of Tears. A book on some of those traders was published in 2001 by New South Books in Montgomery.

The McGillivray and McIntosh traders on the old Southwest frontier, 1716-1815
New South Books, 2001

Historic Indian towns in Alabama, 1540-1838
University of Alabama Press, 2003

Recently I noticed that three generations--my dad, my son and I--are represented by materials in UAB's Sterne Library. My son Amos IV finished his M.A. in creative writing at UAB in 2011 and a copy of his thesis, a collection of three short stories, is held at Sterne along with all theses and dissertations done at the university. The library's catalog record for "Nobody Knows How It Got This Good" can be found here. Maybe one day Sterne will be able to buy a more formally published version.

Finally, we come to my contribution to Sterne's collections. In a previous life cycle I did a bit of research and writing on crime in Alabama and the Southeast before 1930. One result of that effort was a book published by Greenwood Press in 1989. 

Criminal activity in the deep South, 1700-1930 : an annotated bibliography
Greenwood Press, 1989

Perhaps I'll tap some of that material for future posts. Lots of fascinating--not to mention horrible--crime running around in Alabama's past. Train and post office robbers, ax murderers, counterfeiters, wife killers, husband killers--just the usual people stuff.  

Now about that library gene...I'm a librarian, one of my maternal aunts and another relative on that side in California are librarians, even my wife is a librarian...weird.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pelham in the 1880s

In May 1985 my wife Dianne, son Amos and I moved to Pelham, then a small suburban town south of Birmingham. The town was just beginning to grow rapidly as part of the population explosion in northern Shelby County underway at that time.

Although not incorporated until 1964, a town called Pelham had existed since the 1870s; a post office opened there in 1873. As Shelbyville a town had occupied the location since the creation of Shelby County in February 1818 in the Alabama Territory and served as county seat until it was moved to Columbiana in 1826. After the Civil War the name was changed to recognize Confederate hero John Pelham, who was a native of Calhoun County.

In the 2010 census Pelham had over 21,000 residents; at incorporation in 1964, there were 654 people in the town. But let's go further back, into the 1880s, when the newly-renamed town of Pelham was still very small. After all, in 1880 the city of Birmingham itself had only just over 3000 residents.

A fascinating snapshot of the area in the mid-1880s can be found via the magic of Google Books, the City Directory of Birmingham and Gazetteer of Surrounding Section for 1884-5.

Source: Google Books

On page 328 of Volume II of that publication, we can find a short listing for little Pelham:

Here we get some sense of what the town was like 130 years ago. The L&N Railroad came through Pelham, which we learn was some 20 miles south of Birmingham and the same north of Columbiana. The trains dropped off and picked up the mail and perhaps freight at Pelham, but there was no passenger service ["Postal facilities only"].  
At that time S.R. Oates was the postmaster and L&N agent. According to this listing, Pelham had three physicians and two Methodist ministers. Two of the physicians also farmed, which was not unusual at the time. Doctors in rural areas and small towns were seldom able to make a living from their practice alone. Even many physicians in cities also operated drug stores to make ends meet.
Businesses in Pelham at this time included the Oates & Richards cotton gin and a grist mill operated by another of the farmers, W.C. Denson. Also interesting to note is W.P. McKellar, a teacher and justice [of the peace?] and Miss Fanny Hall, a music teacher.
The two teachers may have given private lessons, but they may also have taught in Rutherford High School, Pelham's first school. Built in 1872, the facility lasted until a storm destroyed it in 1909. You can find out more about the history of Pelham schools in my article on page 36 of the Spring 2014 issue of the Pelham City News.
I'll be exploring the history of Pelham--and the entire area--in future posts. I would recommend a perusal of the City Directory discussed here to anyone who would enjoy such an historical snapshot. The ads for businesses long gone are alone worth the effort!
Oh, and one more thing. What's up with that Pelham on Highway 42 in northern Choctaw County??

Monday, March 24, 2014

Junior High School Way Back When

The past can be a scary place, no scarrier than when you are looking at yourself.

Exhibits A and B: these two photos from my days at Davis Hills Junior High School [now Middle School] on Mastin Lake Road in Huntsville, Alabama, as documented in one of the yearbooks:

There I am, "Jay Wright," hiding behind those cool glasses and apparently closed eyes in the Student Council picture. I was probably thinking about how my photo was going to look in 40+ years.

I would have finished at Davis in 1966 I think and moved on to Lee High School, graduating there in May 1970. Funny, I don't remember what office I held that entitled me to be in the Student Council portrait. Thank goodness I didn't ride that success into a political career. [I did run for city council while living in Auburn in the 1970s, but that's a story for another day.] I'll have to dig out that yearbook and do some research. I started writing poetry and stuff early on, so that led me to the Creative Writing Club. Later I would spend some of my high school sentence--er, years--on the yearbook and literary magazine staffs.

I hope none of these people sue me for this post.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Alabama Libraries in 1886 and 1897

Having spent my working career in Alabama libraries, the history of those institutions in this state has always interested me.

I've constructed the beginnings of a chronology of Alabama libraries up to about 1920. Maybe one day soon I'll start organizing those boxes of material I have on the subject and continue expanding that resource. Maybe.

At the moment I'd like to look at the Alabama libraries listed in two reports published late in the nineteenth century.

The 1886 report from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Education gathered information on “public” libraries holding over 300 volumes during 1884-5. A similar report by the same office in 1876 found 3,647 such libraries in the United States; ten years later 5,338 were found. The report does not define “public”, but the term seems to be applied to any library open to some subset of the public, whether free or by subscription, as opposed to purely personal libraries.

There are 41 libraries in Alabama included in this 1886 report, as noted in the table below. Only two are libraries with more than 10,000 volumes: the State and Supreme Court Library in Montgomery with over 17,000 volumes and Spring Hill College library in Mobile with over 12,000 volumes. Both of these libraries were also founded early in the state's history, 1828 and 1829 respectively.

A few libraries held between 3,000 and 10,000 volumes: 

Huntsville Female College Belles-Lettres Library, Howard
(Samford) College in its original Marion location, Judson Female Institute, Mobile Bar Library, Mobile Library-a “general” library with 5500 volumes although founded in 1879, the State Board of Health library,Young Ladies’ Academy of the Visitation library in Summerville, the Talladega College library, and the University of Alabama library in Tuscaloosa which was the third largest in the state with 6300 volumes.

Libraries between 1,000 and 3,000 volumes:

Southern University library in Greensborough, Howard College’s two society libraries, Marion Female Seminary, Spring Hill College’s Reading Room Association, YMCA in Selma, Talladega College’s Theological Department library, Institute for Training Colored Ministers in Tuscaloosa [now Stillman College], Pierson Library at the Alabama Insane Hospital [now Bryce]

Some libraries with under 1000 volumes:

18 libraries including those at several small schools, the Dallas Bar Library in Selma, a general “Library Association” in Opelika, a “Ladies Library” in Florence and “Book Club” libraries in Gainesville and Tuscaloosa.

Many of these libraries were designated as “free”, but some were subscription: the two law libraries in Mobile and Selma, the Mobile general library, and the book club libraries in Gainesville and Tuscaloosa.

The second table included in this post shows the 28 Alabama libraries over 1000 volumes in the 1897 report. Most were included in that group in the 1886 report, but several libraries have now joined it which were absent earlier.

These libraries include some not included at all in 1886: Birmingham Public Library, Zelosophian Academy library in Birmingham, St. Bernard Benedictine Society library, Jones College for Young Ladies library in Gadsden, Central Alabama Academy library in Huntsville, Academy of the Visitation library in Mobile, and the State Normal College library in Troy. Some, such as Birmingham Public, were new libraries; some of the others may have been newly discovered by the compilers of these reports.

These two publications give us an interesting snapshot of Alabama libraries as the nineteenth century is coming to an end. A number of libraries with significant collections have developed, including a few of what we now consider “public” libraries. Social groups in even small towns have started collections. Specialized law and medical libraries have appeared.


                       Table XVI from the 1884-5 Statistics of Public Libraries of the United States

From a table on page 370 of the Statistics of Libraries…1897

Here we go...into the past!