Caring for the Sick and Injured
HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988Back to previous chapter -- Forward to next chapter -- Return to Table of Contents
Hampton's preeminent early physician was Dr. William T. Merrill, who began his local practice in 1854. From 1859 through 1873, he was the only doctor in Hampton and the surrounding towns. His interests ranged widely from business to education. He was a one-sixth owner of the shoe factory when it was built in 1887, and two years later he built the Merrill Block, Hampton's best mercantile building of its time. Merrill was an organizer and founder of the first public library, became a Hampton Academy trustee in 1862, and was a member of the school board from 1868 until his death in 1897 at age 72.
Other doctors at the turn of the century included Stanley M. Ward (who in 1895 replaced Dr. C. P. Jackson, who had moved to Florida for his health), William B. Mack, who moved to Hampton from Kingston in 1900, E. Henry Thompson, and Marvin F. Smith. While making a call on Dr. Merrill before the latter's death, Dr. Smith fell in Merrill's yard, breaking his arm. Dr. Smith set his own break and within a day or two was busy caring for his numerous patients. Dr. Thompson, who died in 1920, was Hampton's last horse-and-buggy doctor. When he got a red Maxwell auto, his daughter Isabelle drove him on his rounds.
Dr. Ward, a Hampton physician for 28 years, died at age 63 in 1922 and was replaced by Dr. Arthur M. Fernald. An ardent prohibitionist and antismoker, Fernald often greeted patients with the question, "How's your bowels?" Dr. Wayne P. Bryer, who replaced Fernald when the latter retired in 1936, remained in practice until 1982. Bryer recalled that Dr. Fernald had office hours three times daily, beginning at 6 A.M., offered Sunday hours; and took time off only to go to the Deerfield Fair. Dr. Fernald also held regular Beach office hours in the summer. Dr. Charles B. Bailey began his practice in Hampton in 1938 but moved to Hampton Falls in 1952, although he continued to see many Hampton patients until his retirement in 1981. Other longtime doctors of recent years included Dr. Roger N. Blake, who began his Hampton practice in the 1940s and died in 1978; Dr. Edmund F. Gauron, a native of Seabrook, who began his Hampton practice in 1954; and Dr. Peter Meneghin, who began his Hampton practice in the 1950s.
Of all the changes that have occurred in Hampton during the past hundred years, perhaps nothing has had so much impact on daily living as improvements in medicine and in the care and treatment of illness and injury. Before the turn of the century and into the early 1900s, doctors were handicapped by a lack of advanced medical knowledge, poor medical facilities, and few of the "miracle" drugs that now exist. Countering these deficiencies was the traditional house call. Doctors had regular office hours, but there were no local ambulances, and a doctor could hardly ask a sick person or a woman in labor to be taken by open wagon from Bride's Hill down Exeter Road to the village. Because the usual treatment of some illnesses was confinement, the doctors regularly went to the patients. The personal attention provided by the house call, and the anticipation with which it was awaited by the patient, in some cases helped to counter the lack of medicine and knowledge that handicapped all doctors at the time.
One can only imagine the hours required of Dr. Merrill, who was the town's (and the area's) only doctor for 14 years. Dr. Marvin Smith, a heavyset man, spent so many hours in his wagon making house calls that the wagon had a permanent list to the right, the side on which he always sat. In 1890, the Portsmouth Chronicle said, "Dr. Smith's business is driving him day and night; for five nights recently he never took off his clothes and oftimes falls asleep while driving . . . diseases that baffle others' skill he treats successfully, and is faithful to every patient under his charge." During an epidemic of influenza in 1892, Dr. Smith had some 200 patients in Hampton and surrounding towns and hardly had time to sleep. Dr. Smith apparently had more stamina than his animals, because the News-Letter said he was using three horses and needed a fourth to make his 12-hour daily rounds. During the winter of 1893, Dr. Smith made his rounds in a high-backed sleigh, a family relic once used by his father. When automobiles were available, the local doctor was among the first in town to buy one. Dr. Mack's 1906 Maxwell was the first auto in Hampton. Dr. Arthur Fernald eased his calling burden by hiring Jim Creighton to drive his automobile.
Life at the turn of the century was dangerous. There were few if any safety regulations. The local newspaper columns almost weekly carried the reports of accidents. Workmen were always falling off houses while painting, were cut or mangled by machinery, or were crushed while unloading wagons or the train. Horses were involved in many accidents. Wagons bumped over curbs, spilling their passengers; horses spooked by automobiles, the electric street-railway cars, or loud noises dumped their drivers or ran over pedestrians; and people were kicked or bitten by horses. In September 1899, Lewis Nudd was thrown from his carriage when his horse was spooked by a street-railway car.
A Portsmouth newspaper in September 1883 described the following Hampton accidents that happened on one day within a short distance of each other: An elderly lady was badly injured when she fell from the moving train as it neared the depot; John Nudd, who was binding a load of straw in his barn when the rope broke, fell 12 feet to the floor, breaking his shoulder and "otherwise seriously injuring himself," while his son lay ill with typhoid fever; and John Mace, while driving his wagon too fast around the corner of Winnacunnet and Lafayette roads, tipped over and fell, breaking his leg. He was cared for at the Union House, but did not get his leg set for several hours. Finally, Mrs. Samuel Lane fell and received a severe sprain of one wrist.
An 1889 issue of the News-Letter reported: J. Freeman Williams was recovering from having had his foot crushed by the road machine; painter Henry C. Tate shot himself in the foot, losing a toe, while hunting on the marsh; a Mr. Perkins lost a thumb and Edwin J. Hobbs's son injured his hand -- accidents that occurred while working on machines at the shoe factory. In October of that year, the Portsmouth newspaper described a gruesome accident: "Yesterday about noon, Mr. Fred Cummings ... was at work on the Jacob Brown woodlot in Hampton, near the Exeter line, and stumbling over something fell upon a circular saw, propelled at lightning speed by steam power, and he was sawed in two in the middle of his body. It was the most horrible sight ever seen. Of course the unfortunate man did not live a minute."
In early October 1890, 12-year-old Valentine Marston lost his left hand when his apparently improperly loaded gun exploded while he was hunting in the woods with friends. It was some two hours before he received medical treatment, and his loss of blood was so great that Dr. Smith had to wait a week before amputating the damaged arm. The treatment was too late and the boy died on October 12 of lockjaw, a fatal illness now usually prevented by a tetanus injection. Some local people still believe that the ghost of young Marston haunts his house, which was located on the north corner of Watson's Lane and Lafayette Road and later moved to Woodland Road.
Accidents involving cuts or broken limbs seem to have been treated quickly and efficiently by these early doctors, and eventual recovery was expected. The treatment of illness, however, was another matter, especially when epidemics struck the community. One epidemic was denied in 1883 by the Portsmouth Chronicle correspondent: "The existence of malarial disease on the New Hampshire beaches is denied. It is asserted that of the many thousands of visitors this year but two have died and those from natural causes, uninfluenced by local surroundings. Our seacoast has always been considered exceptionally healthful, and with good reason, as the vital statistics of New Castle, Rye and Hampton show."
No one could deny the dangers of the serious epidemic of diphtheria. It was called throat distemper during the winter of 1735-36, when it killed 72 Hampton people, 14 of whom died in March 1736. In the province of New Hampshire, approximately 1,000 people died during that epidemic, most under the age of 20. Diphtheria struck again during the autumn of 1754, and, by the end of the following year, there were 43 Hampton deaths. In 1866, 14 local people died from diphtheria, including seven in one family.
In the early 1890s, diphtheria again ravaged Hampton and surrounding towns. The treatment, if the newspaper can be believed, was, "Gargle or rinse mouth and throat often with a half a teaspoon of tincture of black cohosh [a medicinal plant] diluted in a little water. Any good druggist or doctor will furnish it with directions." The paper claimed it had been used with success years earlier in New Orleans, where "there was not a single death in the city from that disease when tincture of black cohosh had been frequently used in or before the beginning of the complaint."
It is not known how Hampton's doctors treated diphtheria, but confinement and quarantine apparently were important, because the schools often were closed and churches canceled Sunday services. Dr. Smith was again called upon by residents, and eventually he too became sick. In January 1891, the News-Letter's Hampton correspondent wrote, "A gloom has hung over the town for the past ten days while Dr. Smith has been very low with diphtheria. Five physicians were in Hampton on Sunday and Monday attending his patients and each day new cases of diphtheria are reported. During January 1890 (while treating another outbreak of the epidemic), Dr. Smith had averaged 50 calls a day. During the month he got only two hours of sleep Out of 24. His success is without parallel."
The newspaper accounts do not list the total number of deaths in the 1890-91 epidemic, but of the nine deaths reported, eight were children aged two years to 16 years, and one, Charles Towle, clerk at the Hotel Whittier, was 32. Two children, Alice and Ellen Beauchamp, children of a French-Canadian shoe-factory worker died within four days of each other. In early February 1891, the local newspaper correspondent reported, "Diphtheria seems to be passing away as silently as it came to our community. May its visits be unlike 'angels few and far,' forevermore between. The few deaths have been somewhat peculiar. After convalescence heart failure seemed the fatal cause. The doctors tell me this latter is the greatest danger." When the last diphtheria-related death occurred in late February 1891, it was duly reported in the newspaper, with the comment, "While many are being removed by the angel of death, some are given to make up the number." This statement was followed by birth announcements. The impact of the illness on the community is shown by the following comparison: In 1890, when there was an epidemic, 30 people (11 under age 18) died in Hampton and the average age at death was 40; in 1892, there were only 14 deaths and the average age was 65. It was not until 1933 that Hampton first inoculated children against diphtheria.
Many childhood diseases are today controlled by vaccination. One of the first to be attacked locally was smallpox. The disease was brought to this continent by the early settlers, causing epidemic deaths among native Americans. Individuals who were not killed by the disease suffered disfiguring facial scars. By the turn of the nineteenth century, vaccination was available. In April 1901, the school board notified parents that, per order of the State Board of Health, students had to be vaccinated against smallpox to enter school. In May, a Newburyport newspaper said there was opposition to vaccination in Hampton. According to the newspaper, "Dr. Smith of the local board of health declared that in country places it is unnecessary to vaccinate as the disease has never approached that vicinity. The order is considered a most arbitrary one. Dr. Smith is not alone in his opinion for pretty much every one around here thinks vaccination is unnecessary." The following week, Dr. Smith denied the statement, but the correspondent said local people still believed vaccination was not necessary. The school board insisted, however, and then began the annual ritual of preschoolers going to the doctor for their inoculations, which resulted in small, usually circular scars on the upper arm or buttock. Some parents continued to resist the vaccination, however, and into the 1920s as many as 50 students had not been vaccinated. The rule was finally enforced in 1932, when no student was allowed in the school without protection against smallpox or a letter from a doctor excusing the treatment for medical reasons. In the 1980s, the World Health Organization announced that smallpox had been eradicated worldwide, and the vaccinations are no longer required.
In September 1911, Russell, 9, and Annie, 11, children of Mr. and Mrs. Frank James, died from scarlet fever, and the intermediate and primary schools at the east end of town were closed for two weeks to prevent an outbreak of the illness. Both schools were fumigated before classes returned.
In March 1918, the Spanish influenza epidemic hit the town. Between 150 and 200 people in Hampton were believed sick, with three deaths at the Beach. Frank L. Long, appointed as health officer, postponed all public meetings, including school, churches, and organizations with large memberships. The disease usually lasted three days and caused fever, headaches, and the aching of joints. Deaths usually resulted from secondary infections such as pneumonia. Few people over age 50 were attacked by the disease, but among the victims was pharmacist Victor G. Garland, 27, who died of pneumonia. To assist the overworked doctors, the Town hired two nurses, paid for their board, and spent $367 to rent an automobile for their use. In the fall, with the peak of the epidemic over, Long, who was also struck by the disease, announced that churches could open again on October 27.
As a way of combating these contagious diseases, the Red Cross supported the Town's hiring of Mrs. Alys G. Hemingway as a community and school nurse in January 1922. She began with a health center and first-aid office in the newly opened Centre School. During her first year, the nurse treated 112 individual cases, had 324 calls, and made 185 school visits. She saw an average of 40 students per month. Her duties also involved the Beach, where she was available daily in a first-aid station from 10 A.M. until 5 P.M., remaining until 11 P.M. on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday nights. She provided 605 first-aid treatments at the Beach. The Town provided $1,200 and donations supported the program. Patients were charged 50 cents and transportation for day visits, $1 for calls after 7 P.M., and $5 for late-night emergencies. The service was free for those who could not afford to pay. The Union said that since hiring the nurse, Hampton had had no epidemics, which was important since there were 200 children in the new Centre School.
After a year in service, nurse Hemingway broke her arm and had to retire, but she was replaced in June by Hilda Chadwick. Working with Dr. Fernald, nurse Chadwick examined 278 pupils, finding 28 to be underweight and in need of extra milk, which was provided by the school. Of the students examined, 157 had "defective" teeth, so the nurse also conducted a dental clinic in which 70 students were treated during 105 working hours by Dr. Brown of Exeter, who was assisted by the nurse.
Miss Chadwick was followed by Dorothy Eldridge, who was nurse from 1925 until 1929. Her detailed school reports indicated general good health for the children of the town, but with some improvement needed. In 1926, for example, there were 45 cases of malnutrition, 11 of defective vision, 1 of defective hearing, 114 cases of defective teeth, 74 hypertrophied tonsils, 5 cases of adenoids, and 71 unvaccinated students. A dentist operated a clinic charging $2 per hour.
Nurse N. Elizabeth Hills, working with Dr. Fernald, finally got all of the students vaccinated in 1930. During her first year in town, she made 495 classroom inspections, 110 building inspections, 78 short classroom talks, 225 parent consultations, and taught in 108 classrooms. She made 384 preschool visits, 48 prenatal visits, 186 infant welfare visits, and she made 408 school and 524 adult home visits. The annual school physicals and the careful observations of the school nurse spared Hampton from some of the epidemic illnesses that struck other small towns. During an equally busy 1932, the nurse married James Hay. She remained as town and school nurse until 1937. During the 1930s, there were several outbreaks of German measles, whooping cough, mumps, and chicken pox. Much of the nurse's work was provided at no charge to the many families having financial difficulties during the Depression. A federal grant of $185 in 1934 permitted 12 sets of tonsils to be removed at no cost to the patients. The "underweight program" supplied free cookies, milk, and cod-liver oil (paid for with federal funds) to children needing to gain weight.
When school began in September 1935, school nurse Elizabeth Hay issued a warning about the recent infantile paralysis (polio) epidemic, a crippling illness that struck children and, if not fatal, often left the youngsters with withered limbs. President Frankiin D. Roosevelt had been stricken with the disease and his birthday was the occasion of an annual fund drive. By 1949, the Sumner Insurance Agency was offering two-year polio insurance for $10, and the Kiwanis Club was soliciting money for the Rockingham County Polio Fund. Two mild cases of polio were reported in Hampton in the fall of 1949, but newspaper accounts do not mention how many Hampton children were stricken with the disease. There was a collective sigh of relief throughout Hampton and the state in the spring of 1955, when the first injections of the Salk vaccine were given to schoolchildren. In 1962, oral vaccines were given to some 2,800 people from Hampton, North Hampton, and Hampton Falls.
In the spring of 1936, Hampton American Legion members joined with the Hampton Red Cross to solicit money and supplies for people suffering from serious floods in New Hampshire. These were the greatest floods in the history of the state, and many local organizations ran fund-raisers to assist victims. Hampton sent a truckload of supplies. The nutritionist at the flood center said children needed cod-liver oil to resist diseases, so the Red Cross supplied cod-liver oil at the rate of 100 gallons per week to all children from ages 1 to 6.
In 1940, the school dental program was conducted by Dr. Harold Pierson. A joyous medical event occurred in 1942, when Mrs. Herbert Trofatter of Hampton delivered triplets at a Lawrence, Massachusetts, hospital. Richard and Robert, who were identical, and Ruth joined three older brothers at home. Triplets Jeremy, Justin, and Joshua were born to Margo and Larry Roy of Hampton Beach in 1973.
The Blue Cross-Blue Shield medical insurance program was first offered to Hampton residents in 1947, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. Beginning in 1949, emergency ambulance service was provided to the local community without a subsidy by the Sturgis Funeral Home. When Raymond Sturgis sold his business in 1968, the Town had to seek another ambulance. Private firms wanted a $10,000 subsidy, which the Town was willing to provide, since selectmen had no alternative. In an effort to solve the problem, local pharmacist Francis X. McNeil organized a volunteer ambulance corps similar to operations in Rye and North Hampton. The volunteer service began in 1969, offering service to all residents without further charge if they paid a $5 membership fee. Nonmembers were charged $25. Despite the best of intentions, the ambulance corps was plagued by a shortage of personnel, limited funds, and equipment problems. Finally, in 1972, the volunteer program ended and the Town established an ambulance service based at the fire department. In 1975, the ambulance had 554 calls; in 1987, there were 976 calls and 181 walk-in medical cases.
Over the years, local residents have reached out to assist those in need. A much-publicized case concerned the Plastridge family, whose son Paul was the victim of a rare disease called bronchiectasis. He was three years old when first diagnosed, and in August of that year, he had a portion of one lung removed. At various times Paul had also broken both left and right collarbones and his wrist, had been bitten by a dog, and suffered from pneumonia arthritis. In the fall of 1949, his father Charles, a railroad brakeman, fell from the train and broke his leg in three places. Here, clearly, were people in need, and the community of Hampton was joined by other charitable organizations throughout New England to assist the family.
The Hampton Lions and Kiwanis clubs led a $2,500 fund-raising effort. Just after his fifth birthday, when there was a community birthday party for him, Paul underwent a further operation. The family lived on Hackett Lane and, because the dampness in the area affected young Paul, Dr. Edmund Gauron, Jr., finally suggested that the family move elsewhere. In 1955, they relocated to Portsmouth. Four years later, 12-year-old Paul was the special guest of honor at a joint meeting of the local service clubs that had worked to raise funds for him.
There have been other examples of community support. More than $18,000 was raised for a bone-marrow transplant for 12-year-old Jack Whitney, who was suffering from leukemia. Following a two-and-a-half-year struggle against the disease, during which he displayed great courage, cheerfulness, and resolve, young Jack died in December 1975. In 1983, more than $32,000 was raised locally to help fund a successful kidney-transplant operation for Keith Lemerise, age 21, who received the donor organ from his brother Gregg, then age 19.
In 1983, the Hampton Union first mentioned AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), a fatal disease, with no cure at present, that is spread through intimate sexual contact, by intravenous drug users, and, in some cases, through blood transfusions. Many people who first suffered from the disease, which has been recorded worldwide, are homosexuals, but heterosexual cases have also been reported. Because of the paranoia that surrounds the disease, the names of patients or those who are carriers of AIDS are kept private, so there are no public records of the number of cases in Hampton, if any, at this time.
A trend that gives a hopeful sign for the future is the decline of smoking, especially in public buildings, where it has been banned, and in restaurants,where special no-smoking sections have been set aside. Thought to be a major cause of lung cancer and heart disease, smoking was raised as a town issue some 60 years ago. Following the 1923 town meeting, the Union commented that since women received the right to vote, men no longer smoked at town meeting in deference to the women. The latter had been seen chewing gum and "what is worse leave great gobs of the sticky stuff on the seats of the settees, so that men in rising to address the moderator or to leave the hall, they must take the settees with them or leave a large portion of their pants behind. We trust women will be more considerate in the future, and we trust that this is not a symbol of what has happened in our politics, namely the substitution of feminine chewing gum for masculine tobacco smoke."
A week later, a letter, written by a woman but unsigned, explained, "In defense of the women in Hampton in regard to their inconsiderate thought of chewing gum in town meeting and hurting the feelings of one man, we will say he must have been seeing double, counting one woman twice -- if he saw any. We belong to five organizations of women in town and up to the present time we have never seen one woman chewing gum, let alone 'numbers.' Perhaps if some of those men who were stuck to their seats by the sticky substance had stuck there, they, and the town, would have been better off."