In West Virginia most physicians until the 20th century were country doctors, often beloved figures practicing from their offices in small towns or the countryside. There were few physicians and some covered a large area. For practical reasons, the physician carried tools and a large supply of medications with him. Horseback was the original means of transportation. Then came the horse and buggy, more comfortable and easily able to transport supplies and a sick patient. In the 20th century, the Model T and the Model A Fords took the place of horses for the most part.
One of the first physicians known to have lived and practiced in Western Virginia was Dr. Jesse Bennet, known as a thorough anatomist and an excellent surgeon, born near Philadelphia in 1769. He and his family moved to a small community six miles above Point Pleasant on the Ohio River in 1797. A few years before coming to present West Virginia, Bennet, at age 25 and under emergency conditions, had performed a cesarean section on his wife and also removed both ovaries. Both mother and child did well.
Dr. Henry Harvey was born in Fincastle, Virginia, in 1788 and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1808. He began practice in Buffalo, Putnam County, and practiced there until his death in 1837.
Dr. Richard Ellis Putney about 1815 set up practice in Malden. He was said to have been the third ‘‘regularly educated physician’’ in the Kanawha Valley, having a degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. His son, Dr. James Putney, was born in Malden in 1816. After attending Washington College (now Washington & Lee University), James ‘‘read medicine’’ under his father’s supervision and later attended Cincinnati Medical College. When the Civil War broke out James Putney joined the Union side as a surgeon and was sent into battle in the Valley of Virginia. He developed a neurological disorder, but despite pain and an increasing inability to walk he continued his practice until he died in 1876.
Dr. Sydenham Herford graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1833 and four years later moved to Buffalo, where he died in 1884. Dr. Eli Herdman Moore was born in Brooke County in 1814. He entered Washington College in Pennsylvania, but illness forced him to return to Wellsburg within a few months of graduation. He read medicine with Dr. John C. Campbell of Wheeling, and was able to graduate from Jefferson College in 1840. Returning to Wellsburg, he died not long afterward.
Dr. James Dye of Chloe in Calhoun County was born in 1867. His brother, Dr. W.T.W. Dye, had a large rural practice. James attended Starling Medical College in Cincinnati, graduated in 1891, and took over his brother’s country practice. W.T.W. then settled in the county seat, Grantsville, where he practiced until his death in 1941. Constant work and little rest exhausted James as it had his brother. He bought a farm near Parkersburg and quit medicine for a period. Years later, Dr. James Dye returned to Chloe and took up again his busy rural practice. James was active until he died at age 86. By then he had delivered more than 5,000 babies and tended to the medical and surgical needs of countless patients.
In 1898, Phoebia G. Moore became the first woman to enter and remain in West Virginia University Medical School. After two years at WVU, she entered Bennett Medical College in Chicago and then returned home to Mannington to a busy rural practice. She traveled the muddy and rutted roads by horseback, later by horse and buggy, and finally she wore out five Model A Fords. It is said that Dr. Moore once gave her shoes to a poor patient and returned to town in stocking feet. By the time of her death in 1953, she had delivered hundreds of babies, many of whom had been named for her.
This Article was written by Warren Point
Hale, John P. History of the Great Kanawha Valley. Madison, WI: Brant Fuller & Co., 1891, Reprint, Gauley & New River Pub., 1994.
Joy, James E. 'Get Yourself a Good Horse': Dr. James Dye of Calhoun County. Goldenseal, (Spring 1982).
Prichard, Arthur C. Phoebia G. Moore, M.D. Goldenseal, (Oct.-Dec. 1979).