Sue Edwards, curator of the Old Jail Museum in Greenwood, is shown with the new Historic Doctors Exhibit.
GREENWOOD—A new exhibit of one small town's medical history at the Old Jail Museum in Greenwood provides an intriguing glimpse into how Arkansas medicine has changed in the past 100-plus years. For example, visitors can see a photo of Charles W. Hall, MD, who started practicing in Greenwood in 1915, holding a half-bushel of sweet potatoes, his pay for delivering a baby the night before.
The exhibit contains memorabilia of 13 highly regarded physicians who worked in south Sebastian County dating back to the 1800s. Metal braces for broken bones, old photographs, doctors' bags, medicine bottles, baby scales, patient logs and bills, as well as medical instruments are some of the items on display through October at the museum located southeast of the Town Square on Arkansas Highway 10.
One of the doctors who is still living is Art Martin, MD, 91, of Fort Smith. Martin was one of three Greenwood High School graduates from the class of 36 people in 1935 to become physicians. Two of the graduates, Martin and the late Henry M. Sims, MD, came back to the Fort Smith area to practice.
Martin, who practiced medicine for 60 years, said healthcare today is not nearly as personal as it used to be.
"That is the complaint I get from my former patients," Martin said. "They say, 'Nobody listens to me or talks to me.' It has all gotten so mechanical now. They do all kinds of lab work rather than talk to patients. In medical school, our instructor said if you listen to patients, they will eventually tell you what is wrong with them."
Glenda Wallace, South Sebastian Historical Society historian, was delivered by Hall.
"He delivered me at home, and did the same with most of the rest of the people I grew up with," Wallace said. "He practiced from 1915 until 1973 when he died. That was 57 years in one place. He was not a wealthy man. He let people pay what they could."
Wallace said she enjoys the displays that show medicine in a bygone era. Greenwood was a coal mining community, as were other south Sebastian County towns, so several of the doctors were physicians for coal miners. Morgan Henry Scott, MD, moved to the Jenny Lind community in 1922, and was the company doctor for Black Diamond Mine. Miners paid $1.50 a week for medical services including drugs. Baby deliveries were $12.50 including prenatal and post-natal care.
"He delivered my husband, Jack, when he was born," Wallace said.
There is also a dental display that Wallace finds extraordinary. It includes a peddle-powered machine that was used to drill teeth, and an early set of false teeth.
Museum Curator Sue Edwards said the dentist who provided the dental equipment displayed is James Burgess, who just celebrated 50 years of continuous practice. Burgess donated early false teeth made from a vulcanite product. He purchased the false teeth that had been used for 25 years before Burgess provided new dentures.
"The early false teeth look pretty weird," Edwards said. "The lining of the dentures is almost brown looking, which was the nature of the product that preceded any type of plastic products."
Another unusual item is a set of baby scales that looks similar to fish scales.
"We imagined it would be cute baby scales, but it is not," Edwards said. "Babies were delivered at home, and every kitchen had a scale you used to weigh produce. What the doctors did was wrap the baby in a blanket, and lift it through the hook. That is how they measured the baby's weight."
Other items of interest include a straight edge razor used to cut umbilical cords, tiny bottles of medicines, stainless steel syringes, and one of the first electric nebulizer sterilizers. There are also some late 19th century medical textbooks with pictures and medical advertisements such as those advertising house calls for $2.50 and delivery of a baby for $1.25.
"Surgery, which usually was on a kitchen table with housewife assisting, had to be pretty involved to be more than $25," Edwards had said. "Medicine has come a long ways in the past 150 years. We can see this in the evolution of some of their ledgers. We have one ledger prior to 1900s from Peyton B. Coker, MD, an early founder of Lavaca, which is a south Sebastian County town, and a leader in establishing the Methodist Church in Lavaca. He mixed his farm, household and practice ledger. He might mark 'Sold 25 head of cattle" and 'Delivered a baby,' on the same day. It is interesting to see the diversity he was dealing with."
The museum also has the complete baby ledger of Charles Bailey, MD, from when he started practicing in 1953 to the last baby he delivered in the 1980s.
The exhibit that opened May 1 has had very positive response from the public. Many people are coming who have never been to the museum before.
"They are coming because many of these doctors delivered family members, and all these doctors are highly thought of," Edwards said. "People have fond memories of all of them. Many of the doctors were coalmine doctors. Coalminers paid $1.50 a week for insurance, but that didn't include busted faces from Saturday night brawls. That was an extra charge."
The Historic Doctors Exhibit in the Old Jail Museum is open from 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.