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DR. WILLIAM MINOR (1834 -1920) Insane Doctor Who Contributed to the Oxford English Dictionary

In American History, Biography, Doctors, Mental health, U.S. Army, Writers on November 8, 2010 at 8:48 PM

William Minor

William Minor had a split personality.  He was a doctor whose hobbies included playing flute and painting.  His contribution to the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary was immeasurable.  But internally he suffered from paranoia, which determined the course of his adult life.

Minor’s parents were Americans descended from early settlers in New England, but in 1834 they went to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as missionaries, representing a Scottish Presbyterian group called Covenanters.  His mother died when he was three, and his father remarried another young missionary woman.  The mission school gave Minor and his siblings an excellent education, and he had the opportunity to learn several languages.

When Minor was 13, he started having “lascivious thoughts” toward the exotic native girls.  He never acted on his impulses, but it was so difficult for him to reconcile these urges with his religious upbringing that he was plagued with guilt.  His parents sent him back to the United States and the responsibility of his uncle, Alfred, in New Haven, Connecticut.

SERVING HIS COUNTRY                          Minor graduated from Yale Medical School in 1863.  With the Civil War going strong, he joined the Union Army as a surgeon and served at the Knight Hospital in New Haven.  He didn’t like the isolation of the hospital and requested to be sent to battle.  Eventually he got his wish and was sent to Northern Virginia where he first encountered the filth of a field hospital and excruciating pain of soldiers suffering from gangrene.  His friends described him as a sensitive man who loved to paint, play the flute and read books, and the battlefield was not an easy place for a man with such artistic sensibilities.

Through a supposed change in orders, in May 1864 Minor ended up in Orange County, Virginia, the site of the Battle of the Wilderness.  In addition to the extreme casualties of battle, desertion was a huge problem.  More than 5,000 soldiers were deserting each month, depleting the ranks of the army.  The punishment for deserters was painful humiliation through branding the letter D on his hip or cheek.  It fell to Dr. Minor to inflict the punishment on one young soldier who ran away during battle.  Minor took the hot iron out of the coals and reluctantly seared the face of the errant young man.  Minor was so affected by that experience that he believed the soldier would somehow seek him out to exact revenge.

Minor was transferred to the L’Overture Hospital in Alexandria where he distinguished himself and received a promotion to assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army.  He moved to Governor’s Island, New York where he treated cholera patients.  It was here that Minor began to exhibit signs of paranoia and promiscuous behavior.  He started carrying a Colt .38 and spent every night with prostitutes which resulted in his contracting venereal disease.  On one occasion he made a failed attempt to cure himself injecting white Rhine wine into his urethra.

Minor became engaged to a young woman from New York.  Since none of his friends ever met her, it was assumed that she was some kind of entertainer.  Ironically, it was her mother who pressured her daughter to call off the engagement, which she did, leaving Minor bitter.  His resentment intensified when the Army relocated him away from the temptations of the city to Fort Barrancas, Florida, an obvious demotion.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT                      In 1868 Minor was diagnosed as “delusional” and was considered a suicide and homicide risk.  He was willingly admitted to the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C. (known as St. Elizabeth’s Hospital) and officially retired from the U.S. Army.

In 1871, Minor was released, and he visited friends and family before boarding a ship to London, hoping that a change of scenery would cure him.  He settled in Lambeth, an area in south London that afforded him “easy access to easy women.”  Minor’s paranoia followed him across the pond.  He believed people were breaking into his room while he slept.  One freezing cold winter night before dawn, Minor shot and killed George Merrett who was on his way to work.  Minor thought Merrett was an intruder, but later admitted he shot the wrong man.  During the trial, the full scope of Minor’s mental illness came out, and he was committed to the Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Broadmoor.

Minor’s life at Broadmoor was very comfortable.  His status as a surgeon was respected, and he was given two adjacent rooms, one for sleeping and one for him to paint, play the flute and read.  Because of his pension from the U.S. Army, Minor was allowed to buy steak, wine, brandy, newspapers and antiquarian books for his collection.  He hired other inmates to perform chores for him.  By day he enjoyed the freedom to stroll around the grounds and do what he wanted to, but at night, his delusions persisted.  Even though he blocked the door with furniture, he believed that intruders poisoned or abused him and defaced his books.

Minor felt truly sorry for his crime, and after almost ten years of institutionalization he asked permission to pay some restitution to Merrett’s widow, Eliza.  She agreed to accept some money from her husband’s killer, and she visited Minor at Broadmoor.  In fact, the two got on well enough that for a while she made monthly visits, delivering to the inmate books she bought on his behalf.

A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY                       In one of these bundles of books, Minor saw a notice from the editor, James Murray, asking for volunteers to help create the first Oxford English Dictionary (OED).  Volunteers collected words from their reading to be included in the dictionary and submitted them with quotes from the books illustrating their meaning.  This was the perfect occupation for an intelligent, educated bibliophile with lots of time on his hands, and it provided for him a connection to the outside world.

The doctor set about this task with voracious energy, meticulously copying words and quotations from volumes of books.  He started working in tandem with the editor in Oxford, writing him to find out which letter he was working on and then searching through his papers to send him words starting with that letter. Minor and Murray corresponded regularly, and the first time Murray visited Minor at Broadmoor, he was shocked to discover that Minor was an inmate and not a staff doctor.  The editor and the volunteer met together many times over the years and developed a friendship based on a mutual love of reading and words.  Occasionally Minor would offer a story about his nighttime tribulations, bringing Murray into understanding of his mental state. 

Over the course of 20 years, Minor made an incomparable contribution to the writing of the OED.  Murray called his efforts “enormous,” acknowledging that within a two year period, Minor supplied at least 12,000 quotations.

After 30 years in Broadmoor, Minor had been there longer than any other patient.  His nightly torments, during which claimed to have uncontrollable sexual relations with thousands of women, never abated.  He saw himself as a vile sinner in the eyes of God.

On December 3, 1902, when Minor was 68 years old, he wrote a note asking for the Medical Officer.  One of the perks Minor enjoyed was to have a pen knife, and he had used it in an act of penance to cut off his penis.

Two years after his self mutilation, Minor became increasingly sicker.  He was 76 years old when he was given permission to return to America to live out his last days.  His brother, Alfred, went to England to escort him on the journey.  Murray and his wife went to Broadmoor to say goodbye in person, and to give Minor six unpublished volumes of the OED to take with him. 

Dr. Minor returned to the Government Hospital for the insane in Washington, D.C.  During the nine years he lived there he was diagnosed as having schizophrenia, a term that only came into usage in 1912.  In 1919, Minor’s nephew successfully petitioned to have his uncle moved to a hospital for the elderly insane in Hartford, Connecticut called The Retreat.  Less than a year later, Minor died of pneumonia in his sleep.

QUESTION:  What is your favorite word?  Why?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Winchester, Simon, The Professor and the Madman, A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.

http://www.berkshirerecordoffice.org.uk/documents/William_Chester_Minor.pdf

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PAUL POPENOE (1888 -1979) First Marriage Counselor and Eugenicist

In American History, Biography, Doctors, People, Trivia on October 27, 2010 at 9:06 AM

Paul Popenoe, age 27

In 1888, Paul Popenoe was the first of four children born in Topeka, Kansas.  When his parents moved the family to Pasadena, California, Popenoe found fertile ground for his seemingly disparate interests: growing date palms, eugenics, and marriage counseling.

The Victorian values of the late 19th century were embedded in Popenoe, but he took a progressive stance on many issues, making his life a contradiction.  He was a Sunday school teacher in his youth but later eschewed religion and became a secular humanist.  When he was 17, he fainted after eating a steak dinner and became a strict vegetarian long before that was popular.  But, true to his Victorian roots, he did not believe in any kind of sex outside of marriage, and he was a virgin on his wedding night.

About 1908, Popenoe dropped out of college after three years to work and care for his sick father.  After working as a newspaper editor for a few years, he quit his job and made a six-month tour of Europe.  Popenoe’s father worked as a nurseryman when he retired, so on his dad’s behalf, Popenoe learned Arabic, one of eight languages he knew, and traveled around the Middle East collecting date palms.  This lead to his first book, Date Growing in the New and Old Worlds, published in 1913, which became a manual for horticulturists.   

A CERTAIN KIND OF PEOPLE PERSON         Later that year, Popenoe moved to Washington D.C. to edit the new publication the Journal of Heredity. He idolized Charles Darwin and believed that improving humanity would happen by applying science to society.  His focus turned to heredity and eugenics, an extension of natural selection.  Eugenicists believe in improving the genetic makeup of the human population specifically by sterilizing people with genetic defects or undesirable traits, thereby keeping them from reproducing.  This was a very progressive point of view subscribed to by the intellectuals of the time, including Alexander Graham Bell, Margaret Sanger and Theodore Roosevelt.  Popenoe’s self study in a group of like-minded scientists and intellectuals eventually resulted in his book Applied Eugenics, published in 1918. 

During World War I, Popenoe was a captain in the vice and liquor section of the War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities.  He was responsible for eliminating liquor and prostitutes from around the army training camps, the perfect job for a teetotaler with his puritanical upbringing.  After the war he went to New York and worked as the Executive Secretary of the American Social Hygiene Association.  Their mission was to use public education to promote premarital abstinence, but they were broadminded enough to promote sex education and birth control. 

BECOMING HIS OWN CASE STUDY               It was while he was in New York that Popenoe married Betty Bowman, a dancer 13 years his junior, after a six month courtship.  The couple moved to Coachella Valley, California where Popenoe retreated to his first love and established a date farm until the agricultural market collapsed and forced them to move to back to Pasadena.

Popenoe’s lack of experience with women made his marriage rough going at first.  He was, however, determined to understand the unique world of women, and his efforts resulted in the book Modern Marriage, A Handbook for Men, published in 1925.  Fifteen years later he revised the book to include advice for women based on his personal and professional experience. 

Despite his lack of a college diploma, in 1929 Popenoe was awarded an honorary doctorate from Occidental College, where he had done two years of study twenty years earlier.  He used the title Dr. Popenoe professionally.

STAYING TRENDY                       The application of his philosophy of hereditarianism shifted with the tide of social thought, and he changed his focus from genetic improvement to family improvement.  In 1930 Popenoe founded the Institute of Family Relations (later the American Institute of Family Relations) in Los Angeles, bringing marriage and family counseling (a concept that started in Germany a decade earlier) to America.  He maintained that “…to improve the race, we should first start with the family.  And since the family often suffers problems which threaten its stability, we must treat those problems.  In other words, we should establish a marriage counseling center where maladjustments might be brought, studied, classified–and helped if possible.”1  Part of his counseling was to encourage fathers to take an active role in the lives of their children. 

In the ensuing decades, the Institute had up to 70 counselors and claimed in 1977 to have counseled over 300,000 men, women and children.  He required the counselors to be married and never divorced.  Even though Popenoe was not religious, in the 1960s and ‘70s many of his assistants were ministers and other religious people, including Dr. James D. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.  His office moved to Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and Popenoe became the marriage counselor to the stars, although Lana Turner went to his house for her sessions to maintain privacy.

REACHING THE MASSES              Popenoe’s influence extended beyond the Institute.  He wrote a daily newspaper column called “Your Family and You,” and he counseled couples on a reality TV show called “Divorce Hearing.”  He was a popular lecturer on college campuses and wrote a total of 17 books and numerous popular and scientific articles on marriage relations.  Television host Art Linkletter asked Popenoe to help him create a way to successfully match men and women, a forerunner to today’s dating services.  Popenoe created a questionnaire of 32 items including race, religion, politics, and pets.  Over 4,000 people responded to a newspaper ad to be matched.  A Univac computer analyzed the surveys and picked a couple who were introduced to each other on Linkletter’s television show People Are Funny.  It was a good match, and the couple got married. 

In 1953 Popenoe started the advice column “Can This Marriage Be Saved” in the magazine the Ladies Home Journal, using actual case studies from the Institute in his articles.  Still a feature of the magazine, the column has been called “the most popular, most enduring women’s magazine feature in the world.”1

Popenoe’s own marriage was not without its challenges, but he practiced what he preached.  Within the relationship the duties fell along traditional gender lines: Popenoe worked and took care of the yard and Betty was a stay-at-home mom who raised four boys.  Their youngest son wrote that Popenoe was a strict disciplinarian who, despite a heavy work schedule, gave his children lots of attention.

In his 1926 book Conservation of the Family, Popenoe predicted what the family of the future would be like.  He expected better mate selection, greater understanding leading to a stronger permanence of love, more intelligent consideration of children, more concern for individual development, especially for women, and more democracy within the family structure.1

QUESTION:  What do you think makes a good marriage?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

1http://www.popenoe.com/PaulPopenoe.htm

http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/glossary=eugenics

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/eugenics

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,867279,00.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Popenoe

Popenoe, David, War Over the Family.  New Jersey: Transactions Publishers, 2005   http://books.google.com/books?id=FhZeJwLSu74C&pg=PA238&lpg=PA238&dq=obituary+paul+popenoe&source=bl&ots=iH3CDQf5Ut&sig=qWwi-eyeC2zp23l5EpqalGP91eg&hl=en&ei=GiLHTJOMAoyssAPKps2oDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBcQ6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q=obituary%20paul%20popenoe&f=false

ELIZABETH BLACKWELL (1821 – 1910) First Female Doctor

In American History, Doctors, Feminists, History, People from England, Victorian Women on October 13, 2010 at 5:13 PM

 

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell’s parents were Quakers.  They believed in equality and educated their sons and daughters equally.  So, when Blackwell decided to be a doctor, her family was totally supportive.  Convincing the rest of the world, however, was not so easy. 

Blackwell was ten when her family moved from England to New York.  When her father’s business failed, they move to Cincinnati.  Shortly after settling  there her father died, leaving the family without income.

Blackwell became a teacher, but she didn’t find it intellectually stimulating enough.  When her girlfriend, Mary Donaldson, got cancer she believed that her suffering would have been less if she could have been treated by a woman doctor.  Donaldson tried to convince Blackwell that she had the intellect and personality to be a great doctor.  As a student, Blackwell was not interested in the sciences, preferring metaphysics and history.  But, her friend’s request haunted her, and she decided to go for it. 

GETTING INTO MEDICAL SCHOOL          Blackwell’s first course of action was to write letters to several physicians to solicit their advice about applying to med school.  All six contacts advised her to give up the idea as it was impossible for a woman to get a medical education.  Dr. Joseph Warrington said in a letter, “Elizabeth, it is of no use trying. Thee cannot gain admission to these schools. Thee must go to Paris and don masculine attire to gain the necessary knowledge.”1  Blackwell was not discouraged.  While she worked as a governess for Dr. John Dixon, of Ashville, North Carolina, she started educating herself in science and classical languages by reading the books in his library. She moved to South Carolina, supported herself by teaching music lessons, and continued her homeschooling from the library of Dixon’s brother.

With a solid background and determination, Blackwell applied to 13 medical schools.  She was rejected outright from every one of them because she was a woman.  This discrimination was foreign to her egalitarian upbringing.  Finally, the faculty of Geneva College in upstate New York (now Hobart College) asked the students to decide Blackwell’s fate.  They unanimously agreed to admit her because they thought her application was a joke.    

In 1846, Blackwell matriculated, and she graduated two years later, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.  Eventually she won over her fellow students by her intelligence and commitment, but she was shunned by the citizens of Geneva who believed her career choice was very inappropriate. 

On January 23, 1849, the same ladies who were rude to Blackwell had a change of heart with her success.  They packed the Presbyterian Church to witness her historic accomplishment, applauding enthusiastically when she received her diploma.  During the ceremony, Charles Lee, Dean of Geneva Medical College, expressed his respect for the first female medical graduate, but in the program he added a footnote that said he supported medical training for qualified women, but the “inconveniences attending the admission of females to all the lectures in a medical school, are so great, that he will feel compelled on all future occasions to oppose such a practice …”2  Her success was inspiring to other women, however, and within three years of her graduation, twenty women completed medical training at various colleges. 

WHAT’S A GIRL TO DO…WITH A MEDICAL DEGREE?    After graduation, Blackwell planned to spend a few months in Philadelphia, studying personally with a Dr. Bryan, and then go to Paris and eventually return to New York to establish her practice where she could expect to earn six thousand dollars a year.

After some time in London studying at a hospital, Blackwell did go to Paris.  The only opportunity open to her there was to train to become a midwife.   While she was in Paris she contracted “purulent opthalmia” and lost the sight in one eye.  This forced her to abandon her dream of becoming a surgeon.

In 1851 she returned to New York City and at age 30 tried to set up her own practice.  People were hesitant trust her as a doctor, so she had to consider another options.  She opened a dispensary to give out-patient treatment to poor women and children.  In this setting, she wasn’t able to accomplish as much as she hoped, so in 1957 she closed the dispensary and opened a hospital, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children (now the New York University Downtown Hospital).  Her partners were two recent medical school graduates: her sister Dr. Emily Blackwell, and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska. 

Even though Blackwell was a busy professional woman, something was missing from her life.  She was never interested in marriage, but she adopted an orphan girl named Katherine “Kitty” Barry.  Blackwell and her daughter made periodic trips to England, and she also made history there.  In 1859 while in London, she was the first woman to have her name entered into the Medical Register of the United Kingdom. 

HELPING OTHER WOMEN FOLLOW IN HER FOOTSTEPS       Back in the States, when the Civil War broke out, Blackwell helped create the Women’s Central Association of Relief, training nurses to treat the wounded soldiers.  Her work at the hospital was going well, but she was committed to opening a medical college for women.  In 1868 Blackwell founded The Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary to provide training for female medical and nursing students.  Blackwell was the Professor of Hygiene, and Emily was the Professor of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women. 

In 1869, Blackwell left Emily in charge, and she and Kitty returned to England where they lived for the rest of Blackwell’s life.  She helped to create the National Health Society, established a private practice and taught gynecology at the London School of Medicine for Women, which she helped to found, and the London School of Medicine for Children. 

In addition to the demands of a pioneering, practicing doctor, Blackwell found the time to write six books focusing on hygiene, the medical treatment for women, raising healthy children, and her autobiography.

On May 31, 1910, Blackwell, 89 years old, died in Hastings, England.  She was buried in Kilmun, in the Highlands of Scotland, one of her favorite places on earth.

QUESTION:  Have you ever done something that most people thought was wrong but that you knew was right for you?  Was it easy or hard?  Were you successful?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

1 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/blackwell/admission.html

2 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/blackwell/graduation.html

http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/medicine/a/blackwell_emin.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Blackwell

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobart_and_William_Smith_Colleges

http://campus.hws.edu/his/blackwell/articles/oldnews.html

http://library.hws.edu/archives/pdfs/tripp.pdf

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mcc:@sum(@field(OTHER+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+))+@field(SUBJ+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+)))

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mcc:@sum(@field(OTHER+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+))+@field(SUBJ+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+)))

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_35.html

Elizabeth Blackwell’s autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women, published in 1895, is out of print.  I could not find it anywhere online or  in any local libraries.