By CLAUDIA JOHNSON|
Doctors Training Often Poor in 19th Century ©
The Pulaski Citizen’s 19th Century editions noted graduation of local men from
medical school and often reported activities of the county’s physicians. Doctors
advertised with a professional “card” each week, with some of the practicing
physicians taking larger ads to promote their drug store or other pursuits (often
banking or insurance).
Medical schools advertised regularly, and occasionally a doctor wrote a letter
or CITIZEN editor L.W. McCord published an opinion that doctors should be better
educated. Most doctors learned their trade through apprenticeships with practicing
physicians, which provided the doctors with needed extra income and cheap labor.
Hence the profession was unwilling to replace the proprietary schools and
apprenticeship system with more appropriate education. Opening a medical school
required only a hall and a group of physicians willing to lecture. Students
bought tickets for the lectures, producing hefty supplemental incomes for
physicians, who earned little from patient care. Most schools had no admission
requirements, and money was the motivating force in accepting students, who were
often unruly and undisciplined, and sometimes illiterate. No clinical practice,
aside from apprenticeship, was offered to augment lectures. Learning by dissection
was difficult since most states prohibited dissecting human corpses, and students
either had to bring their own cadavers or colleges employed body snatchers to steal
In an effort to improve standards, state medical societies fought colleges for the
right to license physicians through examinations. But most were forced to accept
either passing an examination or a diploma from a college as proof of ability, and
as states did away with licensing in the middle of the century, even these criteria
Finally, in 1869 Harvard set a new standard by extending its medical college's
school year from four months to nine, requiring both written and oral examinations
and establishing a three-year curriculum. But it was not until Johns Hopkins
University opened in 1876 that medical education improved significantly, because
clinical practice became a requirement as an integral part of training.
Giles County Served by Distinguished Physicians ©
Compiled by Claudia Johnson
Pulaski Citizen staff writer
Pioneer DR. GABRIEL BUMPASS, who carved the first road through the county from the
canebrake and became the first postmaster, practiced medicine at Crosswater and over
a large extent of country, as there were but few physicians in the county in its
earliest days of settlement. Bumpass was a learned and skillful physician but a man
of great eccentricity of character so much so that his influence was affected by it,
according to James McCallum’s 1876 History of Giles County, which was published in
1928 by the Pulaski Citizen.
Physicians who began practicing medicine in Pulaski around the time of the county’s
founding in 1809 were Dr. Gilbert D. Taylor, a surgeon on Andrew Jackson’s medical
staff during the War of 1812, Pulaski’s first mayor, Dr. Elisha Eldridge, and Dr.
Shadrack Nye, who practiced medicine in Pulaski before its incorporation, Dr. David
Woods, Dr. Alfred Flournoy and Dr. Charles Perkins.
CHARLES CLAYTON ABERNATHY, M. D. was born near Pulaski Oct. 9, 1827. In 1848
he began the study of medicine under Dr. R. G. P. White and in the spring of 1851 he
was graduated at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1862 he went on duty as a
commissioned surgeon in the Army of Tennessee at the hospital at Chattanooga. In
December 1862, at his request, he was transferred to the 18th Tennessee Infantry, Col.
J. B. Palmer's regiment, Gen. John C. Brown's brigade, and served as the surgeon of
this regiment until after the battle of Chickamauga, when he was transferred to the
Third Tennessee Regiment, and continued to occupy that position until the close of
the war. At the time of the surrender he was a prisoner of war at Fort Delaware until
release July 19, 1865. In the fall of the same year he resumed the practice of
medicine in Pulaski.
In a 1872 CITIZEN advertisement for Abernathy’s practice with Dr. J. F. Grant, who
returned to Pulaski to practice medicine in Dec. 1871, according to a CITIZEN article,
the physicians assure patients,
“Special attention given to surgery. Having had ample experience in the Army during
the war and being supplied with all the appliance necessary, they feel fully prepared
to treat all cases entrusted to their care.”
Dr. C. C. Abernathy of this city was elected President of the State Medical Society in
Nashville last Tuesday, the honor is well and worthily bestowed. Nearly all our
physicians went up Monday to attend the meeting.
April 3, 1873
DR. JAMES SUMPTER, both physician and druggist, DR. J.C. ROBERTS of Bethel and
DR. CC. ABERNATHY practiced medicine in Pulaski during the Civil War. Sumpter and
Abernathy were exiled from Pulaski during the Union occupation and Roberts was captured
and held prisoner. These men advertised weekly in the post-Civil War issues of the
Country doctors included M.S. WATERS of Stella, JOSEPH MASON of Prospect, W.E.
LANCASTER and his sons, A.J. and G.W. and GRANT NELSON, R.E. AND LEONARD
AYMETT of Pisgah. Campbellsville was served by Drs. Berry, Campbell, Herbert,
Upshaw, Hulme, Voorhies, Fitzgerald and Copland. Bethel produced nine doctors who
practiced in the area, including Dr. Van Edmundson and Dr. Louie Edmundson, who
received a commendation from then University of Tennessee for his 50 years of service
to the community.
DR. GEORGE DEJARNETTE BUTLER was one of the most prominent physicians and
surgeons in his section of the state. Born in Giles county on July 10, 1856, obtained
his medical degree from University of Louisville in 1876, took postgraduate work at
Bellevue Hospital in 1884 and attended the Polyclinic at New York City in 1889.
Immediately after receiving his degree Dr. Butler located at Aspen Hill and practiced
there from 1876 to 1884. The following year he relocated to Pulaski, where he opened
offices and built up an extensive and lucrative patronage. He was on the medical board
during the World War I and was appointed as assistant surgeon of the Tennessee State
Militia by Governor Robert L. Taylor.
Elkton physician DR. JOHN HAMLIN CAMP began practicing in 1817 after graduation
from the University of Pennsylvania. A graduate of Maine Medical College and Jefferson
Medical College, DR. CHARLES N. ORDINAY practiced first in Elkton and
Pulaski before relocating to Nashville. After serving in the Civil War, DR.
ANDREW GLAZE, completed medical studies and resumed practice in Elkton.
DR. BEN CARTER practiced medicine when he lived in Elkton, but after moving
to Pulaski, became a leading businessman, often mentioned in the Pulaski Citizen for
his civic activities.
CHARLES ALFRED ABERNATHY, M. D., born April 1, 1853, attended lectures at the
University of Louisville, graduating from the institution as an M. D. The
CITIZEN reported on Oct. 28, 1875, that Abernathy had set up practice in the Brown
building on the west side of the square. Later he received a diploma from the New York
Polyclinic School and took postgraduate work in the New York Postgraduate School of
Medicine. He practiced one year in Pulaski, and then went to Prospect to form a part-
nership with Dr. Theo. Westmoreland. The Prospect doctors advertised consistently in
the Citizen. However, within a few years the Pulaski Citizen reported that the
doctor was relocating to Lewisburg, Marshall County, but in 1880 he returned to
The CITIZEN followed Abernathy’s distinguished career with short news items
throughout his life. In May 1885, he formed a partnership with Dr. C. C. Abernathy,
one of the oldest physicians of the county. For half a century was local surgeon for
the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and was county health officer and physician for
the county asylum for a decade. For some 13 years he was a member of the state board
of medical examiners and was executive officer of this body for nine years.
DR. WILLIAM A. LEWIS, born in Giles County in 1876, was the first African-American
to be elected president of a county medical association, automatically making him a
member of the national association. A graduate of Fist University and Meharry Medical
College, by 1956 he had delivered more than 2,000 babies in Giles County. Prominent
in local and state organizations, he remained active professionally until his death
Pennsylvania native DR. DAVID SPOTWOOD opened practice in Giles County after
graduation from Meharry Medical College. In addition to his medical practice, during
the 1960s and 1970s, Spotwood, an African-American, served as president of the local
medical society, vice president of the local T.B. association and a member of the
board of the mental health association. As a member of the Tennessee State Board of
Education, he was instrumental in the introduction of vocational programs into the
public school system The Pulaski Citizen reported his death in 1970 at the age of 63.
MONROE M. JOHNSON, M. D. was born in Giles County on Jan. 3, 1828. Our
subject received the advantage at the common schools afforded, and supplemented that
by a five years course in the College Grove Academy, in Williamson County. In 1850
he began studying medicine under Dr. R. G. P. White, and in the fall of the same year
entered Jefferson Medical College at Philadelphia, Penn., from which institution he was
graduated three years later. He practiced in Old Lynnville until the breaking out of
the Civil War, when he enlisted and served in his professional capacity four years. He
then purchased the farm of 252 acres where he practiced his profession and farmed.
W.J. JOHNSON, M.D. graduated from U.T. medical school, practiced medicine from
horseback in the eastern portion of Giles County, opened an office a drug store in
Frankewing, served two years in the medical corps in WWI and performed surgery on
kitchen tables before opening Pulaski’s first hospital in 1926.