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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

SARAH ROSETTA WAKEMAN (1843 – 1864) Female Soldier in the Civil War

In American History, Biography, Civil War, Female Soldiers, Feminists, History, People, Trivia, U.S. Army, Uncategorized, women on June 28, 2010 at 9:24 PM

Female Soldier in the Civil War

The lyrics to the Four Seasons’ song “Walk like a man. Talk like a man,” would have been good advice for Sarah Rosetta Wakeman.  Since she was a girl, she didn’t come by that naturally.  But learning how to do just that gave her a purpose and an adventure way beyond the family farm in Chenango County, New York.

By the time Wakeman was 17 years old, she had had some schooling, but  it was necessary for her to work as a domestic to help support her eight younger siblings and help her father pay off his debts.  Her future wasn’t looking too bright, so she decided that dressing like a man would increase her options.

When she was 19 she donned her disguise and worked as a coal handler on a barge on the Chenango Canal.  For four trips, she made $20.  At the end of her first trip she met some soldiers who tried to recruit her to sign up with the 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers.  She had three more river trips to think about it and decided that the $152 signing bonus for enlisting was too tempting. 

 PRIVATE LIVES                                                                                                            Wakeman changed her first name to Lyons and lied about her age, instantly maturing to 21 years old.  The rest of the information on her regimental descriptive roll was true: five feet tall with a fair complexion, brown hair, blue eyes and the occupation of “boatman.”  Wakeman’s gender was probably accepted at face value because of the cursory physical examination soldiers were given at the time of enlistment, often nothing more than a firm handshake.  Since there were a lot of pre-adolescent boys that edged their way into both the Confederate and Federal forces, it wasn’t unusual to have beardless recruits with higher pitched voices.

In corresponding with her family, Wakeman initially signed her letters “Rosetta,” confident her secret would not be detected.  She described army life and inquired about life back home.  She promised her father she would send money from her $13 a month salary for him to buy food and clothes for the family.  Unfortunately, she had to explain later that she had naively lent it to the first lieutenant and sergeant and received a promissory note in return for the whole amount including interest.  She sheepishly admitted that she had been taken advantage of by these officers and that she had learned her lesson. 

About three months into her military career, Wakeman got the measles and was hospitalized for seven days.  There didn’t seem to be any lasting effects of the disease, and she often expressed how much she enjoyed being a soldier, in contrast to her life on the farm. She had good clothes, enough food and no responsibilities except to handle a gun.

 AN EASY JOB                                                                                                                          In July 1863, the 153rd Regiment moved from Alexandria, Virginia to Washington, D.C.  to help protect the capital against potential riots in connection with the newly instituted draft.  Wakeman appreciated the spacious barracks, the well water for drinking and the salty river water for bathing.  She complained that Colonel Edwin Davis was so strict that the soldiers were hoping to be sent to the front lines, away from his command.

A month later, Wakeman was assigned to guard the prison that housed Rebel prisoners and officers.  With easy duty and a comfortable environment, she felt invincible.  She didn’t believe it was possible for her to die in battle, but if that was God’s will, she would submit to it.  She reminded her parents that she was “as independent as a hog on ice.”

In October, Wakeman reported that her days were filled with drilling exercises: company drill in the morning and battalion drill in the afternoon.  She enjoyed doing them and was proud that she could drill as well as any man in her regiment, and definitely better than the soldier in Company C who fell down, got a bayonet in his leg and “bled like a stuck hog.”

Home was feeling increasingly distant, and Wakeman stopped believing she would ever see her family again.  This spurred a confession that she had sinfully given in to lots of temptations in the army.  She admitted to getting into one fight, and after Stephen Wiley hit her, she gave him three or four good punches in return, putting him in his place.  God’s spirit had since worked in her, she believed, and she prayed that she wouldn’t go astray again.

FIGHTING THE ENEMY                                                                                              With the new year came new orders, and finally the 153rd was going to see some action.  They left Washington on February 18, 1864 and marched to Alexandria, Virginia.  From Alexandria they continued on to New Orleans, finally settling at Camp Franklin in Algiers, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River. 

Wakeman’s regiment fell under the command of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks.  His mission was to establish a strong Union presence in Texas, and he planned to follow the Red River north to Shreveport, near the Texas border.  An order went out saying that no women (nurses, laundresses, officers’ wives, etc.) would be allowed to accompany the command except by written authority from Headquarters. The commanding officers still had no idea that at least one member of the rank and file was in direct defiance of that order.

Wakeman’s group marched 16 days, over 300 miles, making stops to unload supplies.  When they encountered Confederate forces lying in wait, the two-day Battle of Pleasant Hill ensued.  On the second day, Wakeman was in the front lines under fire for four hours, until the fighting was halted by darkness. She spent the entire night lying on the battle field listening to the cries of the wounded and dying. 

Wakeman’s life was spared, but the Federal troops were still in danger.  On April 21, 1864, General Banks ordered a forced march totaling over 100 miles back to Alexandria with the enemy on their tails.  Two days into the march, Wakeman’s brigade was ordered to lie along the river and wait for the opportunity to attack Confederate forces.  As the enemy came closer and surrounded them, the only way out was to fight. Wakeman’s group charged the enemy and defeated them.  The next morning, the regiment continued back to Alexandria only to get lost in the woods.  Exhausted, they finally arrived there on April 25. 

Wakeman had proven herself a worthy soldier, but her prediction about not coming home came true.  She was admitted to the hospital on May 3 with chronic diarrhea, the most deadly disease of the Civil War.  She was sent to the Marine U.S.A. General Hospital in New Orleans on May 7 but didn’t arrive until May 22.  Thanks to a Rebel attack which destroyed river transportation downstream of Alexandria, access on the Mississippi River was shut off for over a week.  Wakeman was 21 years old when she died one month later on June 19.  There is no record of any hospital staff discovering her real identity, and she was given a soldier’s burial in New Orleans.

QUESTION:  In today’s society, is it easier to be a man or a woman?  Why?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Wakeman, Sarah Rosetta (Lauren Cook Burgess, ed.).  An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864.  Pasadena, Maryland: The Minerva Center, 1994.

YOUNG OAK KIM (1919 – 2005) First Ethnic Minority to Command a U.S. Army Combat Battalion

In American History, Biography, History, Korean Americans, Korean War, Trivia, U.S. Army, World War II on June 7, 2010 at 9:32 PM

Young Oak Kim

Young-Oak Kim was born in 1919, the same year as Liberace, Eva Peron and Jackie Robinson.  Those gained fame by being in the public eye.  Kim’s recognition came from more sacrificial pursuits.

Kim’s parents immigrated to America, and his father owned a grocery store in Los Angeles. That was lucky since Kim had six siblings and there were a lot of mouths to feed.  Kim’s father belonged to “The Great Korean Association,” keeping ties to their homeland strong. 

After high school, Kim decided the future would be more profitable if he worked rather than continue his education.  He dropped out of junior college after one year but had trouble finding jobs because of racial discrimination.  His next option was to enlist in the military, but he was refused by the U.S. Army, again because of racial discrimination.  The outbreak of World War II changed everything, and the U.S. Congress passed a law including Asian Americans in conscription, thereby giving Kim his wish.  He was drafted into the Army in January, 1941, three months before his father died.

A TRUE PATRIOT                                   Kim started his military career as an engineer before admission to Officer Candidate School at age 24.  He was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion, a unit of all Japanese American soldiers. Kim believed his superiors didn’t know the difference between Koreans, Japanese and Chinese.  Since Korea was occupied by Japan at the time, when he reported for duty Kim was offered a transfer, but his national pride was greater than his ethic loyalty.  He refused the transfer saying, “There is no Japanese nor Korean here. We’re all Americans and we’re fighting for the same cause.”  His youth, ethnicity and exuberance were three strikes against him at the beginning, but eventually he won the respect of enlisted men and officers with his cool head and courageous leadership.

A REAL HERO                                            The 100th Battalion was originally sent to North Africa, but Kim and his troops wanted more action.  They were reassigned to Italy where Kim’s leadership skills were evident, especially in the Battle of Anzio.  Before they could proceed, the Allies needed to know the locations of German tanks.  First Lieutenant Kim and Private First Class Irving Akahoshi volunteered to infiltrate German territory to get the information.  The two soldiers crawled to an area near Cisterna, Italy, captured two German soldiers in broad daylight and snuck them past enemy outposts back to camp.  The information obtained from these prisoners led to the liberation of Rome and earned Kim the Distinguished Service Cross.

Not one to rest on his laurels, now Captain Kim also led his battalion in battles at Belvedere and Pisa, which helped the Allies occupy Pisa without any casualties.  In France, he helped liberate Bruyères and Biffontaine.  Kim spent six months in Los Angeles in late 1944 on leave to recover from wounds sustained in fighting at Biffontaine.  By the time he had recovered, Germany had surrendered, and Kim decided to trade the action of military for the relative calm of civilian life.

Kim opened one of the first semi-self-serve “launderettes” on Los Angeles.  Many of the skills that made him a great military leader also made him a successful businessman.  That sustained him for two years until the Korean War started.  He realized that it was action that he wanted and abandoned his business and reenlisted in the Army.

VISITING HIS HOMELAND               All Koreans or Korean speakers were assigned to the Army Security Agency. They were responsible for interpreting enemy communication.  But a desk job didn’t excite Kim as much as being on the front lines.  He denied knowing any Korean, cashed in a favor and was allowed to join the infantry.  He landed in Korea, and was undoubtedly thankful he actually did know the language.    

Then Colonel William J. McCaffrey had to figure out how to make the largely incompetent 31st Infantry of the 7th Infantry Division successful.  By McCaffrey’s special request, Major Kim joined the battalion as the Chief Intelligence Officer and a de facto operations officer.  Colonel McCaffrey’s trust in Kim was well rewarded.   The 31st Infantry subsequently won almost every battle and played a major role in pushing Chinese troops back over the 38th parallel and establishing the current border between North and South Korea.

WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR                   This success had an unfortunate flip side.  During the operation, Kim’s unit made it farther north than seemed possible.  The 555th Field Artillery Battalion, thinking they were enemy troops, erroneously bombarded Kim’s battalion, and Kim was seriously injured by the friendly fire. Kim was saved by doctors from Johns Hopkins University who were in Tokyo, and went back to Korea two months later.

Colonel McCaffrey didn’t want to waste Kim’s talent, so he put him in command of the 1st Battalion.  This distinguished Kim as the first ethnic minority to command an Army combat battalion in U.S. history. In September 1952, Kim returned to the states after almost one year in this position. 

Kim extended his tenure in the Army for another 20 years serving in the U.S., Europe and again in South Korea.  He retired in 1965 as a Colonel.  His exemplary and sacrificial service was rewarded by two Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, a French Croix de la Guerre and an Italian Cross of Valor.  In 2005, Kim was also given France’s highest award, the Legion of Valor and South Korea’s highest military honor, the Taeguk Order of Military Merit.

LIFE GOES ON                                             After settling again in California, Kim finally pursued his education.  He graduated with a degree in history in 1972 and worked as the CEO of Fine Particle Technology.   He was married and divorced twice.  

Kim was a humanitarian as well as a soldier.  While in Korea, his compassion persuaded his battalion to adopt an orphanage ensuring that more than 500 war orphans would receive supplies and monetary aid.  His was the only United Nations military unit serving on the frontline to adopt an orphanage during wartime. After his retirement from the military, Kim served on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations including the Japanese American National Museum, the Korean American Coalition and the Go For Broke Educational Foundation which he co-founded.

Kim’s life was ended by cancer at the age of 86.  He’s buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in Honolulu, HI.

QUESTION:  How could you reach out and make peace between you and someone you don’t like?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young-Oak_Kim#cite_note-4

http://www.goldsea.com/Personalities/Inspiring/kimyo.html

http://www.homeofheroes.com/moh/nisei/index2_100th.html

http://www.southbayjacl.org/newsletters/2006/2006_NewYear06.pdf

http://www.goforbroke.org/about_us/about_us_news_press010306.asp