Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dr. Ephraim McDowell and his Christmas Miracle in 1809.

The Christian world celebrates December 25 as a day of miracles. They view it as a miracle because the baby Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.  The story will be told over and over again by song and sermon over the Christmas holidays. This first Christmas miracle occurred in Bethlehem. Let me tell you about a first miracle that occurred on the wild frontier of America in Motley’s Glen, 60 miles southwest of Danville, Kentucky, in 1809.

Mrs. Jane Todd Crawford, a second cousin of Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was already the mother of four and another physician had told her she was pregnant again with twins. Finally, after a long delay, word was sent to Dr. Ephraim McDowell whose office was in Danville. On horseback, he made the 60 mile journey to Motley’s Glen. She was not pregnant but had a large tumor. He told her that no medication would cause the tumor to disappear, the tumor would continue to grow, and that the only relief was an operation to remove the tumor. He continued, “I have never removed such a tumor, nor do I know of any doctor who has. I told the lady I could do her no good. That opening the abdomen to extract the tumor was inevitable death. But not standing with this, if she thought herself prepared to die, I would take the lump from her.”

After the brutally honest consultation with Mrs. Crawford, he said he would perform surgery if she could make the journey to his office.  A few days later Mrs. Crawford arrived by horseback and after resting several days, the surgery was scheduled.

Christmas Day was chosen because most people would be in church and there would be fewer spectators. Not everyone was in favor of the surgery but the story of a mob ready to hang the doctor is probably not correct. Because there was nothing else Mrs. Crawford could be given, she swallowed an oral dose of opium and several attendants stood by to help hold her down. It would be another 35 years before anesthesia would come to the field of medicine.

Before the surgery Dr. McDowell wrote out a prayer which he placed it in his pocket: 

“Almighty God be with me, I humbly beseech Thee in this attendance in Thy holy hour; give me becoming awe of Thy presence, and grant me Thy direction and aid. I beseech Thee, that in confessing I may be humble and truly penitent in prayer, serious and devout and praises, grateful and sincere, and in hearing Thy word attentive and willing and desirous to be instructed. Direct me, Oh! God, in performing this operation, for I am but an instrument in Thy hands and I am but Thy servant and if it is Thy will, Oh! Spare this poor afflicted woman. Oh! Give me true faith in the atonement of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, or a love sufficient to procure Thy favor and blessing, that worshiping Thee in Spirit and in Truth my services may be accepted through this all – sufficient merit.”

During the painful surgery, Mrs. Crawford sang hymns and quoted from the Psalms. Five days after removing a 22.5 pound ovarian tumor, she was up making her own bed. It was an uncomplicated recovery and 25 days later she returned to Motley’s Glen on horseback.  Mrs. Jane Todd Crawford lived for 32 more years - 12 years longer than Dr. McDowell. There is a statue to Dr. McDowell located in the National Statuary Hall collection in the U.S. Capital. It was donated in 1929 and the sculptor was Charles H. Niehaus.

It was the first successful removal of an ovarian tumor in the world - a miracle on Christmas day in the wilderness of America more than 200 years ago.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew's Society


The next meeting of the Scottish American History Club will be January 7, 2012.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Andrew Harvie - A President whose life did not end well

Andrew Harvie, served one term as president of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society in 1861. He was born in Scotland and was a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. He came to America and was first employed as a Professor of the Greek and Latin languages at the University of Michigan at Tecumseh. 

In 1848 he moved to Detroit and studied law. After that he moved to Sault Ste. Marie and from there he was elected Senator of the state of Michigan.  Because of this classical training he was a good debater and displayed “industry and capacity as a lawyer.”

In 1852, Mr. Harvie came to Chicago and began practicing law.   He soon “took a deservedly high rank at the Bar, and fame and fortune both seem to open wide their gates that he might enter.”  In another article he was described as a man of “ability and thorough culture.”

We have limited knowledge about Mr. Harvie - just small glimpses into his life. There is a record of him speaking about Thomas Jefferson at the Nebraska Meeting, February 13, 1854.  His eulogy for Dr. Houghton, a geologist in Michigan who drowned in Lake Superior, was described as a “masterpiece of eloquence and beauty.”  In 1858, he served on a committee that planned and organized “The Burns Festival.”  And in 1861, he was elected President of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, a position of honor and ability recognized by the entire city of Chicago.

There is evidence that he was married but his wife cannot be identified.  Some time after 1861 and his own death in 1863, Mrs. Harvie died. The circumstances of her death are not known at the present time and there appears to be no published obituary.  But her death brought significant changes to the life of Andrew Harvie.  He was not well physically and despite the urging of close friends he refused to seek medical attention.  In addition, Mr. Harvie became an alcoholic.

In reporting on his death the Chicago Tribune wrote the following on January 7, 1863: “About seven o’clock yesterday morning, a policeman, while patrolling his customary beat, found the dead body of Andrew Harvie, a man well and sadly known in this community, lying at the foot of the basement stairs, No. 6 Tremont Block on Dearborn Street. He lay with his head downward, where he had fallen, and when found, life was extinct, although the warmth of a part of the system indicated that he had been dead but a short time.”  The coroner’s report indicated that he had died from the effects of a fall and exposure.”

The Chicago Tribune continued a description of Mr. Harvie’s life by writing the following: “He sacrificed wealth, position, fame, a great intellect and a generous heart to that insatiable fiend which has brought low too many of our most brilliant and accomplished men. Death (his wife) broke up his family, and the wretched man became a homeless outcast, wandering our streets, a shattered wreck; even in his ruin, attracting universal sympathy and pity. His sad fate is a terrible warning; not the least terrible that his intellect was profound, his scholarship ornate and his heart open and genial.”  (I doubt a present day newspaper would print such comments.)

Members of the Chicago Bar met in the Superior Court room and drafted the following resolution:

“Where as, it has pleased Almighty God to remove from our midst our brother Andrew Harvie, therefore:”

     “Resolved, that alas another of our number has fallen, an able lawyer, a ripe scholar and kind friend; his loss we deeply deplore and his memory we cherish with the most heartfelt affection.”
      “Resolved, that a copy of these resolutions be spread on the records of the various courts of the city and county, and be furnished to the daily papers of the city for publication.”

Judge Murray F. Tuley in moving the adoption of the resolution paid a feeling tribute to the deceased as a gentleman, a scholar, and a lawyer.  His first law partner had been Andrew Harvie.

The Tribune reported on January 7, 1863, page 4, that "members of the St. Andrew's Society and friends of the deceased are invited to attend the funeral at the Briggs House, at 1 p.m. today."  We do not know where Mr. Harvie is buried. If any of our readers have additional knowledge, especially his place of burial, please communicate with us.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

January 7, 2012 - Next meeting of the Scottish-American History Club. The subject: What Happened Between 1866 and 1875?

February 4, 2012 - Tom Campbell, author of “Fighting Slavery in Chicago.” Mr. Campbell is a lawyer with Baker & McKenzie and life member of the Society.  Copies of his book will be available for purchase.

March 31, 2012 - Proposed tour of the Auditorium Theater.  Watch for further details. Also, the April 7th History Club may be cancelled.  Watch for announcements.

Friday, December 9, 2011

William J. Chalmers & Joan Pinkerton, Part III

William Chalmers and Joan Pinkerton were married in October 1878. A year later their first child was born and she, like others in the family, was named Joan. The second child was born in September of 1889 and he was named Thomas Stewart Chalmers after his grandfather.


Given the location of their house on Ashland Avenue, he probably attended the Brown school. There was one newspaper article about his going to school back east and another reference to Yale. These facts could not be verified for certain.

In 1917, Thomas Stewart was in the second graduating class of officers at Fort Sheridan. On that day, November 28, 1917, 2,218 men graduated as second lieutenants. Before leaving for overseas, he was promoted to Captain and in France received his final promotion to Major. After the war he returned to Chicago where he continued his life as one of Chicago’s most eligible bachelors. In 1920, he traveled overseas visiting England, France and Sweden.

With his father and brother-in-law, Norman Williams, they began a new company called Chalmers and Williams. They manufactured their own mining machinery and operated a supply house. Thomas served as president of the company.

Thomas Stewart Chalmers died on March 26, 1923 at the age of 34. The cause of death was listed as chronic hepatitis and the secondary cause was anemia. He died at his residence, 220 E. Walton Place, and was buried in Graceland cemetery. A funeral service was held at his residence but no other information was given. He left an estate of approximately $250,000 to be divided into three equal parts. One gift was for the County home for Convalescent Children at Prince Crossing, Illinois and one each for his nephew and niece, Joan and Norman Williams.

JOAN CHALMERS (1879-1923)

Like so many other girls from wealthy families in Chicago, Joan attended the Sieboth-Kennedy School. It was said their graduates “married young and married well.” On December 4, 1902, at the age of 23, Joan Chalmers married Norman Williams, Jr. The wedding took place at the Fourth Presbyterian Church and the church was filled with friends and family. Dr. Kittridge of New York, who had married the bride’s parents, performed the ceremony. The Tribune published a long article about the wedding including a beautiful picture of the bride.

The couple had two children. A daughter also named Joan and a son named Norman. The son would later unveil the Lincoln Statue at its dedication in 1926. It is located south of the Art Institute and was a gift from John Crerar, a life member of our Society.

Mr. & Mrs. Norman Williams, spent two years traveling and living in Europe in 1922. They spent that Fall in Woodstock, Vermont, and later came to Chicago for Christmas and lived at the Virginia hotel. Mrs. Williams became ill and was finally taken to St. Luke’s hospital where she was reported critically ill “of a malady which puzzles our physicians.” She died, April 3, 1923 - 8 days after her brother’s death. (According to the death certificate, she died of a staph infection. Neither death was related to the other.) “She was as noted for her wit, her charm of manner and gracious personality as she was for her beauty . . . ” She was buried in Woodstock, Vermont.


In memory of their two children, Thomas Chalmers and his wife gave a beautiful stained-glass window to St. Chrysostom Church in Chicago. The window was designed and executed by Charles J Connick of Boston. The church is located at 1424 North Dearborn.

(The granddaughter, Joan Williams, was a student at Harvard when her wedding announcement was made February 26, 1934. She was to wed Dr. Hamilton Merrill of New York. I was unable to trace the grandson, Norman Williams. Perhaps some distant family member will read this on the Internet and respond.)

Wayne Rethford
President Emeritus & Historian
Scottish American History Club

The next meeting of the History Club is January 7, 2012

Donations to the History Club made be made through the Illinois St. Andrew's Society at