Monday, September 29, 2014

Alice McNeal, M.D.: Alabama's First Female Anesthesiologist

          On May 8, 2010, in a ceremony in Montgomery, Alice McNeal, M.D., was inducted into the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame along with other members of the 2010 class of honorees. Dr. McNeal became the second anesthesiologist inducted; Robert A. Hingson, M.D., in 1999, was the first. 

       The Hall of Fame was established in 1997 “to recognize those persons, living or deceased, who have made outstanding contributions to, or rendered exemplary service for healthcare in the State of Alabama.” Past honorees have included such well-known medical figures as Peter Bryce, William Crawford Gorgas, James D. Hardy,  Seale Harris, Tinsley R. Harrison, Sr., Luther Leonidas Hill, Basil I. Hirschowitz, John W. Kirklin, Josiah C. Nott, Lloyd Noland, David Satcher, and J. Marion Sims. 

In September 1945, the first class of students began their studies at the Medical College of Alabama in Birmingham. This four-year school had replaced a two-year program in Tuscaloosa, and thus students no longer needed to leave Alabama to obtain a medical degree. The demands of creating this school quickly and almost from scratch led DeanRoy Kracke to open a few opportunities for female physicians. When the school opened, Dr. Melson Barfield-Carter, an Alabama native who had practiced radiology in the city since 1929, was named Professor and Chair of the school's Radiology Department. Three years later, Dr. Alice McNeal became the second female department chair at the Medical College.

            Alice McNeal was born in 1897 in Hinsdale, Illinois. She graduated from Rush Medical College in Chicago in 1921, and during the next two years completed internships at Women's Hospital in Philadelphia and Durand Hospital in Chicago. In 1925 she began a stretch of twenty-one years as Anesthesiologist and Instructor in Anesthesia at Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago. During this period she completed a residency in anesthesia under Huberta Livingstone in 1926 and a second residency under Ralph Tovell in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1938 and 1939. Dr. McNeal was certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology in 1941.

McNeal in 1921, at the time she received her Rush MC certificate

She received her M.D. the following year, one of 5 women among 129 total graduates

Source: Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center Archives [Chicago]


            During World War II McNeal was active in the effort to bring female physicians into the U.S. armed forces. Women doctors had not been allowed to enlist in World War I; they could not yet vote and thus were not "citizens". A few were allowed to be "contract" physcians during that conflict. McNeal and Dr. Virginia Apgar led the effort in World War II; in April 1943 the Sparkman-Johnson Bill passed Congress, and women were allowed to enlist. 

            By early 1946, Dean Roy Kracke needed a Chief of Anesthesia for the hospital of the new medical school. Apparently John Adriani, a prominent anesthesiologist at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, was offered the position but declined. By May of that year Dean Kracke had persuaded Dr. McNeal to accept the post, and she arrived in Birmingham to become an Assistant Professor of Surgery and Chief of the Surgery Department's Anesthesia Division. In August 1948, Dr. McNeal was named Chair of the newly created Department of Anesthesiology and remained in that position until stepping  down in 1961. She retired the following year. Dr. McNeal died on December 31, 1964.

            In October 1946 Dr. McNeal began organizing a School of Nurse Anesthetists at the hospital. In the spring of 1948 she was one of four founding members--and the only female--of the Alabama State Society of Anesthesiologists. As a result of her efforts, the department's residency program was certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology in February 1949. In that same year, under the auspices of the International Refugee Organization, Dr. McNeal made a nine-week trip to Munich, Germany, and lectured to some 150 local physicians on modern medical practices. She served as President of the Southern Society of Anesthesiologists for 1956-57.

            Dr. McNeal’s professional career had two phases. At Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago, she worked under Dr. Isabella Herb and two other female anesthesiologists, Drs. Nora Brandenburgh and Mary Lyons. By the time she arrived in Alabama, she already had 21 years experience in anesthesia. In her new home, she found herself to be not only one of the few female physicians but one of the few physician-anesthesiologists in the state. In the early years, she coordinated anesthesia administration at the university's busy hospital (formerly the county hospital in the state's most populous county) with help from a few nurse anesthetists, an occasional resident, and sometimes a dental student doing an anesthesia rotation. By 1950 her department coordinated 9700 anesthetics a year at the hospital.

Dr. McNeal presents the Chief Resident’s Chair to Patricia F. Norman, M.D. in 1959. This tradition continued in the department into the early 1990s. 

Source: UAB Archives

She is remembered fondly by those who knew her; former UAB President Dr. Charles McCallum's comment that she was "a great teacher, well-liked, and worked hard" is typical. Dr. McCallum also said “She loved to dance.”  [Source: my interview with Dr. McCallum in 1992] Jim Jones, M.D., a faculty member in her department from 1958 until 1960, remarked that “She dearly loved fine conversation, classical music and well-written books…and good scotch!” Dr. Jones also noted, "Alice in an interview shortly before her demise, denied being a pioneer but did admit to being perhaps a veteran in the field of anesthesiology." [Sources: written tribute by Dr. Jones, December 1971 and my interview with him in March 1996] 

          Former UAB President S. Richardson Hill, Jr., told me in a letter in June 1993 that "I liked her very much and thoroughly enjoyed her wife was also very fond of her, and occasionally on special occasions they exchanged presents. At one time Alice gave my wife a beautiful pocketbook which she had made."

           Unfortunately, Dr. McNeal committed suicide on New Year's Eve 1964. She had stepped down as Chair of the department in 1961, although she remained on the faculty for a year or so after that. McNeal was an only child; her parents were long dead, and apparently she had no reason to return to Illinois. Her body was cremated, but a gravestone for her can be found in Birmingham's Elmwood Cemetery. There the spirit of this stranger in a strange land rests along with many other individuals prominent in Alabama history.

Although she published only two research papers, Dr. McNeal created the foundation for academic anesthesia in the state by chairing the first department for so long, providing excellent patient care and many clinical improvements, and training so many anesthesiologists, dentists, and nurses. Dr. McNeal is thus an important figure both in the history of the state's medical education and its female physicians as well. She was the first female anesthesiologist in Alabama, and one of the first females to chair of an academic anesthesia department in the United States. In 1998 the University of Alabama Board of Trustees established the Alice McNeal, M.D., Endowed Chair in Anesthesiology in her honor.

Dr. McNeal and others in the Hill Heart Suite, Medical College of Alabama, Birmingham in the early 1960s.
Source: Alvin Bearman, M.D. [one of her last residents]

Two photos of Dr. McNeal during her time at UAB. 

•Ca. 1922

•Graduated MC Phi Beta Kappa and AOA
•Woman on right may be her mother
•Photo taken in back yard of family home?

Source: Fran Watkins, long-time CRNA at UASOM

Anesthesia Staff, Presbyterian Hospital, 1936

Nora Brandenburgh, M.D.
•Alice McNeal, M.D.
•Mary Lyons, M.D.
•Isabella Herb, M.D.
•Spring 1936

      Source: Bulletin, Presbyterian Hospital, April 1936

Anesthesiology 11: 96, 1950 [Department’s first publication]

Julie Cole Miller has written a very nice profile of Dr. McNeal with some additional photos that is available here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Birmingham Photos of the Day (21): Two Glen Iris Park Homes in 1908

Two of these photographs continue our series from the 1908 publication Views of Birmingham. Among the impressive homes included in the book are a pair from Glen Iris Park.

In 1901 Robert Jemison, Sr., began development of the park, which included 20 two-acre residential lots around a central area of trails and green space. Most of the homes had been built by 1940, although one was built in 1998 in the 37-acre park.

The two homes shown here from the 1908 book were built initially by Jemison and William Harding. Born in Tuscaloosa, Jemison [1853-1926] became a leader in early Birmingham. He served as first president of the city's consolidated railway, light and power firm and as a director of Southern Railway and the First National Bank. Glen Iris Park was the first subdivision in Birmingham to be designed by a professional landscape architect. Jemison also developed the East Lake residential area.

Harding was also an Alabama native. An 1881 UA graduate, Harding achieved first success in Birmingham as president of the First National Bank and of the Alabama Banker's Association. In 1914 he was appointed to the U.S. Federal Reserve Board and served as it's second Chairman from 1916 until 1922. The following year he became president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, where he died in 1930.

In 1984 the area was named a national historic site by the U.S. National Park Service. Recent photos of the Glenn Iris Park historical marker and the Harding and Jemison homes can be found at the Historical Marker Database.

William P.G. Harding [1864-1930]
Source: Wikipedia

Here's a postcard from 1910 featuring the Jemison House:

Source: Alabama Department of Archives & History Digital Collections

Monday, September 22, 2014

USS Alabama Charter Member: "Good for FREE Admission"

Sunday, September 13, 2014, marked 50 years since the battleship USS Alabama's arrived in Mobile Bay. That World War II ship is the fifth to be named after the state. Decommissioned in 1947, the Alabama and three sister ships were scheduled to be scrapped in 1962. In September 1963 the state established a committee to save the vessel and by spring 1964 over $800,000 had been raised to tow the ship to Mobile from Bremerton, Washington, refurbish it and create the park. That final voyage took almost three months. 

Today the USS Alabama and the country's oldest submarine and first opened to the public, the USS Drum, make up a memorial park that's a great place to visit and learn something about the service of so many Alabamians in the U.S. Armed Forces. Some years ago my brother and I took my son and his older son to explore the labyrinthine interiors of both ships and wonder how men could actually live and work in such close quarters. 

Over a million school children in Alabama contributed about $100,000 in small change during that fund raising campaign in the 1963-64 school year. We received the card below in return for those donations, and I recently rediscovered mine. Perhaps I can use it soon and revisit the park. Each year over 50 of these passes are redeemed.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What's Local, Online & Free? History, of Course!

The Birmingham area includes several counties and many cities with remarkable histories. Three local efforts are bringing much of that rich web of the past to screens near you.

Birmingham Public Library offers access to collections of images and texts of the African American Experience in Birmingham, the Alabama Theatre, some early newspapers, city buildings, old homes, businessmen and business districts. Also available are scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and local school yearbooks. The Birmingham Memory collection features submissions by the public.
Each BPL collection may have several subdivisions.  For instance, the African American Experience collection features a number of subjects, including churches, civil rights, and A.G. Gaston. Various groups such as inventors, lawyers, mayors, musicians and nurses; and schools such as the Industrial High School [now Parker High School] and the Tuggle Institute are also included.
In 1903 local social worker and educator Carrie Tuggle opened her Institute for the housing and education of African-American orphans in the area. Within a decade the facility had almost 150 students, most boarding at the school. The Institute became a part of the Birmingham public school system in 1926, and the current Tuggle Elementary School carries on the name. Alumni of the public school have included businessman A.G. Gaston and musicians Erskine Hawkins, Jo Jones and Fess Whatley.

 Research Club at Tuggle Institute in 1911
Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

Tuggle Institute c. 1906
Source: BhamWiki

Carrie A. Tuggle [1858-1924]
Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

Besides material about the history of the university, UAB’s digital offerings include oral histories related to the city and Alabama, pellagra in Alabama and Mervyn H. Sterne, a local businessman for whom one of UAB’s libraries is named. Pellagra is a nutritional deficiency disease that was rampant in the South in the first decades of the 20th century.

Also available from UAB is the Birmingham Medical College collection, material related to the school that operated in the city from 1894 until 1915. The college was one of many proprietary schools in the U.S. before World War I. As state legislatures and the American Medical Association began stricter regulation of medical schools, these small for-profit businesses like Birmingham Medical College began to close. The city remained without a medical school until the Medical College of Alabama moved here from Tuscaloosa in 1945.

A third resource devoted to Birmingham history and culture is the BhamWiki project. A private Wiki project that covers all topics related to the city and the surrounding area, BhamWiki currently has over 10,400 articles and 2400 illustrations available for the interested public. Contributions from anyone are encouraged.

Alabama Mosaic is another catalog of online print and image resources from the collections of numerous libraries, museums, archives and government agencies in the state. Many Birmingham area materials including those from BPL and UAB are linked in this database. All of the resources mentioned here are free to use for personal study and research.

This piece originally appeared on the site on July 25, 2013.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pelham Heights Hotel

For a few years early in the 20th century Pelham had its very own resort hotel. The structure with 60 rooms was built in the summer of 1912 as a place for the annual encampment of Alabama Baptists. The grounds also featured a dining hall, auditorium, swimming pool and tennis courts. The religious affiliation did not last, however; and the complex soon became a resort for the general public.
The buildings were located off what is now County Road 52 on the mountain dividing Pelham and Helena. According to one source, Helena, Alabama, by Ken Penhale and Martin Everse, the structures were dismantled in the 1920s and moved to Cook’s Springs in St. Clair county. In his book Historic Alabama Hotels & Resorts James Sulzby includes a chapter on Cook’s Springs, but that hotel and resort were already operating very early in the 20th century. He makes no mention of the hotel in Pelham.
Today the site of Pelham’s short-lived resort is marked by a Pelham water tower.

Pelham Heights Hotel
[Photo courtesy of the Shelby County Historical Society/President Bobby Joe Seales]
This item originally appeared in the Pelham City News September 2014.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pondering an Alabama Map (3): Pelham in 1928

This map is the third one I've discussed that shows the tiny community of Pelham. The previous maps were issued in 1917 and 1926. All three full maps can be seen in UA's wonderful Historical Maps of Alabama collection.

Now we come to an Alabama highway map issued by the state highway department. Issued in the fall of 1928, the map was created and published by the General Drafting Company of New York City. Founded in 1909, the company operated for many decades.

On the portion of the map shown below, we can see many familiar towns, from Brighton and Bessemer to Brierfield and Childersburg. U.S. Highway 31 already provides a north-south artery. 

The most current state map shows highway 25, but no highway 62. I could not find state highways 3 or 5 either. No doubt renaming of roads has occurred often in the decades since 1928.

You can still find Simmsville on the current map, east of Indian Springs Village which of course did not exist in 1928. Calcis, a former mining town, is also shown. But Newala, Shannon and Underwood have all disappeared from the state's latest highway map. Shannon was a mining town named after John Shannon who operated a mine there before World War I, according to Virginia Foscue's book Place Names in Alabama. Foscue notes that Underwood was named for a family that settled there in the 1830s. She has no entry for Newala. 

This post concludes the series on Pelham's appearance on three maps early in the twentieth century. Next time I'll take a look more generally at state highway maps.

 A fascinating history of the early "good roads" movement in Alabama is Martin Olliff's "Getting on the Map: Alabama's Good Roads Pathfinding Campaigns, 1911-1912" in the Alabama Review 2015 January; 68(1): 3-30.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Alabama Library History: Bookmobiles

For many decades one of the outreach methods used by public libraries all over America has been the bookmobile. These rolling collections brought reading material to both adults and children who often had no way to get to the city or county's public library building. A recent article by Piotr Kowalczyk on the "10 Most Extraordinary Mobile Libraries" describes a variety of moving libraries from around the world.

Below are some photographs of bookmobiles that once toured the roads in Alabama. These images come mostly from the digital collections of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. In many the vehicle seems to be parked in front of a school, which often had no library or a poorly stocked one. The photographs seem to date from the 1920's and 1930's. Some city and county public libraries in the state still operate bookmobiles including Baldwin, Huntsville-Madison, Mobile and Tuscaloosa. 

Two brief pieces on early bookmobiles can be found in the book The Heritage of Jefferson County, Alabama, published in 2002: "Jefferson County Free Library Bookmobile" by James Spotswood and "When the Bookmobile Came to Aunt Ruth's House" by Frances Hulsey Pardue, both on page 211.

Some nice photographs of the Tuscaloosa County bookmobile from days past can be found here.

This bookmobile was in Anniston.

This bookmobile was operated by the Jefferson County Free Library.

Here the Jefferson County Free Library bookmobile is parked at the U.S. Post Office at New Castle where women are browsing through the choices. New Castle was a mining town near Fultondale; a post office was established in 1874. Some filming for the 1925 silent movie Coming Through was done here. From the looks of the tree and the women's coats, this visit must have taken place in winter.

This photo shows the Jefferson County Bookmobile outside the service entrance to Birmingham Public Library in 1939. Librarian Dorothy West is flanked by two of the bookmobile drivers.

This vehicle seems to have been a rolling advertisement for Cullman County's bookmobile.

Here's a Montgomery County Bookmobile

And finally, a bookmobile in Tuscaloosa County [and finally a grown man!]

Inline image 1

Jefferson County Bookmobile in front of the Thomas H. McAdory house in Bessemer ca. 1940

An undated photograph of BPL's "Traveling Branch"

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

Friday, September 5, 2014

Alabama Medical Journal 1906: What the People & the Doctors Should Know

One of the early posts on this blog was an overview of the Alabama Medical Journal in the year 1907. I wanted to continue looking at that publication and year with comments on the first item in the volume. Oddly, the first issue of Volume 19 was published in December 1906. That's the kind of publishing practice that has driven librarians crazy for decades.

That first article was a talk by Dr. Joseph Nathaniel McCormack [1847-1922] of Bowling Green, Kentucky, who at that time was Chairman of the American Medical Association's Committee on Organization. Some years later he edited Some of the Medical Pioneers of Kentucky.

His speech was given in Birmingham to the December 1906 meeting of the Jefferson County Medical Society. His title: "What the People Should Know About the Doctors and What the Doctors Should Know About Themselves."

McCormack's talk is a long, meandering one, but does have its funny moments; audience laughter is even indicated in this printed version. He opens by noting that he has given frequent talks around the country to doctors and others, many of them no doubt in his role as Chairman of an important AMA committee. He also describes his long career in Kentucky, where he spent more than 25 years on the state's board of health. All of this work and travel put him in contact with many important individuals outside medicine during which he learned something interesting about his own profession.

"Now I started out in life with the impression that I joined a great and dignified and highly respected profession, but when I came in contact with that first legislature twenty-seven years ago, I very soon found that it occupied such a low place in the public estimation that for it to support any bill pending before that legislature lessened the chances for passing that bill; that the endorsement of doctors did more harm than good."

McCormack discovered that many people, including state legislators, had confidence in their own family physicians, who often warned them about the incompetence of other doctors in the area. Thus people thought their own doctors were wonderful and all the others quacks. One of the main points McCormack makes as he closes his talk is to urge doctors not to speak ill of their colleagues.

Another problem he outlines is the sad state of health care during the recent Spanish-American War; many U.S. troops died from preventable diseases due to unhealthy camps. " regard to medical and health affairs, the men who have the training of the work have no authority, and the men who have the authority have no training." He is critical of political and military authorities who did not listen to physician calls for changes in the camps and and did not provide better funding.

"This is a bad record for the United States," McCormack declares, "but I am going to show you that the record for Alabama is worse than that." True to his word, he describes the 15,000 cases of "consumption" [tuberculosis] in the state, "with, of course, a very large death rate." The disease could be wiped out if care were taken to prevent bodily discharges from those already sick.

He moves on to typhoid fever in Alabama: 10,000 cases in the state in 1905 with 900 deaths. If water and milk supplies could be kept clean from the flies that often carry it, typhoid too would disappear. "In this State, in the capital of your State, I fanned the flies off of my meal in one fo the best hotels in your State, and tonight in one of the best hotels in this town I did a good deal of the same thing."

McCormack spends a great deal of time describing the method of transmission of typhoid from military camp latrines and urban horse stables that attract flies. Then he reveals racial prejudice no doubt common at the time. "In a city like this it is possible to banish the flies, although I am not positive but what you would have to banish the negroes with them, because they seem to follow darkies very closely." Ahem.

In discussing diptheria in the state, he makes a similar argument about attacking it with milk sterilization and then pinpoints the problem:

Distrust of doctors' motives is hampering many public health efforts that would prevent several terrible diseases from being so widespread.

This transcript of McCormack's talk takes up 23 pages of the journal issue. In the remainder he offers several ways doctors can begin to confront the distrust issue, primarily by meeting with such influential groups as druggists, lawyers and journalists. He also spends several pages [15-17] detailing the fact that most physicians make much less money than the public generally believes.

Suspicians about doctors' motives and skill levels have existed since ancient times. McCormack spoke at a time when anesthesia, knowledge about the real causes of many diseases, operating room cleanliness and increasingly complicated surgeries were combining to create the foundations of the medical care we have today. What should the people know about the doctors? That they are not mostly quacks out for a buck but professionals who can offer knowledge and skills about disease treatment and prevention. What should the doctors know about themselves? That they need to work together, not against one another.

At the close of his talk McCormack was greeted with (Loud applause).

Monday, September 1, 2014

Odetta Sang the Blues...and Folk...and....

        Among the black women who left their birthplace in Birmingham early in life and achieved fame elsewhere are such well-known figures as Condoleezza Rice and Angela Davis and poets Sonia Sanchez and Margaret Walker. Another woman in that category was the flamboyant and mesmerizing singer Odetta.

Odetta in 1961
[Source: Wikipedia]

        Odetta Holmes was born in the city on December 31, 1930. Her father Reuben Holmes died when she was still a young girl, and her stepfather Zadock Felious developed respiratory problems and eventually tuberculosis. Her mother Flora Sanders moved the family to the drier climate in Los Angeles in 1937. Three years later a teacher told Flora her daughter had a singing voice worth training. Odetta graduated from Los Angeles City College where she studied concert and theater music traditions. She knew that as a black woman her possibilities in those fields were limited and realized her music degree studies were “a nice exercise, but it had nothing to do with my life.” (Weiner, 2008)

By 1950 she had spent four years in the Hollywood Turnabout Puppet Theatre and toured the West Coast in a production of Finian’s Rainbow. On that tour she discovered coffee houses and the burgeoning folk music scene in San Francisco and began appearing with just her guitar and remarkable voice with its range of soprano to baritone. Soon she was on the road in the United States and around the world, a pattern that ended only when final illnesses prevented such activity.

In the mid-1950s she toured with Lawrence B. Mohr; he later became a political science professor at the University of Michigan. They released one album, Odetta and Larry, in 1954. Two years later she released her first solo album, Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues. Over her career she released 18 studio and seven live albums and a dozen compilations. The 1965 release Odetta Sings Dylan was the first major album of all-Dylan material by another performer. At the time the two shared a manager, Albert Grossman, a co-founder of the Newport Folk Festival and also manager of the group Peter, Paul and Mary. (Uhl, 2010) In a 1978 interview Dylan noted that her first solo album had exposed him to folk music and that he had learned all the songs. (Weiner, 2008)

Odetta found much of her material during visits to the Archive of Folk-Song at the Library of Congress, where she listened to the rich collections of work songs, blues, spirituals and white Appalachian and English folksongs. She performed at the 1963 March on Washington, where she sang a song that dated back to the slavery era, “O Freedom.”  This appearance solidified her role as an important performer in the struggles of the civil rights era. She was nominated for Grammy Awards in 1963, 1999 and 2005 but never won.

Late in life she received recognition for her artistry. President Clinton awarded her the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities in 1999. The Library of Congress’ Living Legend Award came in 2003. On March 24, 2007, the World Folk Music Association sponsored a tribute concert in Washington, D.C.  Artists such as Harry Belafonte, Janis Ian, Peter, Paul and Mary, Oscar Brand, and Roger McGuinn appeared to honor her.

Odetta returned for concerts in her native Alabama at least three times before her death. In October 1993, she performed for an hour at the annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport. She told Kathy Kemp for an October 20 article in the Birmingham Post-Herald, “One of the few memories I have before leaving Alabama was pretending at music. I remember pounding on the piano and having an aunt claim a headache just to stop me.” Odetta performed in June 2000 in a Saturday night show at the City Stages Festival here in Birmingham.  In February 2005 Odetta appeared in Saturday night and Sunday afternoon shows at The Library Theatre in Hoover. She was accompanied by pianist Seth Farber, also a conductor for stage musicals including Hairspray on Broadway. According to Mary Colurso’s review in the Birmingham News, the 90-minute show included many songs from two recent albums—a 2001 tribute to blues singer Leadbelly, Looking for a Home, and the 1999 release Blues Everywhere I Go.

In addition to her musical career, she acted in several films and television shows, including the 1961 adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman in 1974. She was married three times, to Don Gordon, Gary Shead and blues musician Iverson Minter, known as Louisiana Red. The marriages to Gordon and Shead ended in divorce. She never had any children. Odetta died of heart disease in New York City on December 2, 2008, less than two months before she was scheduled to appear at Barack Obama’s inauguration. A memorial service was held in the city the following February. She was cremated and the ashes spread over the Harlem Meer, a man-made lake in Central Park.

Two photos of Odetta performing in Birmingham at the Municipal Auditorium in 1965 and City Stages in 2000 are available at her BhamWiki entry

Odetta performs at the Municipal Auditorium in Birmingham in October 1965

Source: Alabama Department of Archives & History Digital Collections

Further Reading
Uhl, John. Odetta: May the Circle Be Unbroken. Oxford American #71, 2010

Weiner, Tim. Odetta, Voice of Civil Rights Movement, Dies at 77. New York Times 3 December 2008

A version of this post appeared on the Birmingham History Center's blog in July 2012.