Early Twentieth Century Davidson Medical Doctors
Davidson’s tradition of fine doctors continued into the twentieth century. One of the early new arrivals was Zoro Knox Justice, who was born in Henderson County on February 22, 1872. He was a man of many interests, and was a dentist, a medical doctor, a lawyer, and an inventor. On June 7, 1892, the Raleigh News and Observer noted that he had graduated in the commercial course at Judson College, a preparatory college in Hendersonville. In July of that year, the Charlotte Observer reported that he had passed the exam to practice dentistry in North Carolina. According to the Observer, in 1899 Justice, still living in Hendersonville, and Jones Barnett received a patent for a cash drawer. According to the June 13 edition of the Western North Carolina Times, in 1902 he was practicing medicine in Hendersonville, as he attended Mrs. A.J. Gibbs who had a serious case of measles. On May 14, he received his medical degree from the North Carolina Medical College in Davidson, and in August of 1905, he married Corrie Osborne of Brevard; by September they had rented a home on Academy Street (now South Street). His office over the bank provided the first regular dental service in Davidson.
Justice also practiced medicine and law, but according to Ralph Johnson’s memoir David Played a Harp, Dr. Justice was “considered by many a little queer in his ways,” and “didn’t have a large practice in any of his professions.” Johnson, however, had respect for him, as Justice had cured his father of a limp resulting from a supposed stroke, which turned out to be only a pinched nerve in his hip. He yanked on the leg, curing it, and charged nothing for the visit.
Dr. Justice and his wife remained in Davidson in 1920, where he is listed with his wife Corrie and three children, Frank, Z.K. Jr., and Jennille. He was active in Democratic politics, having served as mayor pro tem in 1911. He was also a member of the board of the Davidson Building and Loan Association. He died on February 12, 1927, while hunting on family land in Henderson County. According to family records he fell on his shotgun while he was climbing over a barbed wire fence, killing himself instantly. He is buried in the Refuge Baptist Church Cemetery in Dana (Henderson County).
Dr. Walter Herbert Wooten arrived in Davidson in 1889 to attend Davidson College. He, like several of his predecessors, was to meet a tragic end. Dr. Wooten was born in Bladen County in 1868 and was the son of farmer Shade Wooten and his wife Sarah Daris Wooten. By 1880, the family had moved to Columbus County, and consisted of the parents and eight children. Wooten attended Davidson College, and in 1893 was among the first graduates of the North Carolina Medical College. That same year he married Mary Potts, with whose family he had been boarding. He remained in Davidson to practice medicine, and by 1897, like many Davidson doctors, he had a downtown pharmacy named Wooten & White. In 1900, he built a house on South Street, and at the time of the census, he was living there with Mary and their daughter Sarah, who was 13. He was active in Davidson affairs, serving on the board of commissioners in 1901-2 and 1913-14. At the time of his death in 1914 he still had an interest in a downtown drugstore, now named the White-Jetton Drug Co. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, which noted his death, he also taught hygiene at the medical college.
There is little information available on Wooten’s medical practice. In his autobiography, David Played a Harp, Ralph Johnson does remember being afraid of Dr. Wooten, and hiding in the chicken house until he had completed treating his father. Wooten’s history is overshadowed by his shocking murder by Monroe Jetton, his partner in the pharmacy and neighbor on South Street. Jetton, suspicious that Dr. Wooten was having an affair with his wife, surprised Wooten in his home and shot him in a fit of jealous rage. Jetton was later acquitted in a sensational trial. Wooten was only 46 at the time of his death, and he left behind his wife and daughter.
Dr. E. Quitman Houston (usually identified as E. Q. Houston) arrived in Davidson around 1894, at which time he owned a pharmacy named Houston & Mott. He was born in Iredell County in 1857, and his grandfather was James Houston, who owned a very prosperous plantation in Mount Mourne before the Civil War. In 1860 Houston was living in Mount Mourne with his parents Sidney and Margaret Houston. His father was a prosperous farmer. By 1870 he was living with his mother in Mount Mourne and was working as a farm laborer. In 1880, at the age of 22, he still was living in Iredell County with his mother, but he was working as a storekeeper, and was the head of the household. By 1900, he was living on South Main Street in Davidson with Lillie A. Houston and their three daughters. His occupation was given as postmaster, a position he apparently occupied from 1899-1910. His wife died in 1905, and her obituary calls her “one of the most estimable women of this section of the state.”
That same obituary noted that Dr. Houston was also a professor of anatomy at Davidson’s medical college. Houston was still living on South Main Street in 1910. He was 51 years old, and his household consisted of three daughters, two boarders, and a housekeeper. In June of that year, he married Hattie Dean Turner in Rowan County, and they had a son named Paul Barringer Houston in 1913. Houston served on Davidson’s board of commissioners from 1912-1916.
Dr. Houston may have practiced medicine only sporadically, as a 1941 article in the North Carolina Medical Journal mentions “Old ‘Quit’ Houston, who used to keep the Post Office up in Davidson and practiced a little medicine on the side.” When he died in July 1916, the Charlotte Observer noted that he had taught at the medical college for many years, and opined that “Friends throughout this part of the State and particularly the older students of the North Carolina Medical College” would mourn his passing. He is buried in the Davidson College Cemetery.
Dr. George Madison Maxwell practiced medicine for only a short time in Davidson. He was born in Mecklenburg County in 1876, the son of Ptolemy Philadelphius Maxwell and his wife Mary. In 1880 their small family was living in Davidson, where P.P. Maxwell was employed as a mechanic. George Maxwell graduated from Davidson College in 1896; he later authored Davidson’s alma mater. By 1897, a year after his graduation, he was part owner of a pharmacy on Main Street, called Dupuy and Maxwell. In 1900 George, his father, and his siblings were living in Deweese Township; Ptolemy was a gunsmith and George, 23, was a student at the North Carolina Medical College. He joined Dr. John Peter Munroe’s practice in 1902. Later, he attended the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, where their 1906 class book described him as “a sturdy and typical southerner.” He married Mary Kyle Brown, and by 1910 he was living in Roanoke, Virginia with his father-in-law F.W. Brown. He was working as an eye and ear doctor. He lived and worked near Roanoke for the rest of his life, and when he died in 1953, he was buried in the East Hill Cemetery there.
Dr. James Johnston Withers was to spend a much longer time doctoring in Davidson. He was born in Lemley Township in 1880, the son of Dr. William Banks Withers and his wife Mary. His father died suddenly while hunting when James was only three years old. He remained in his mother’s household in Lemley Township in 1900. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, and married Lottie Feimster, who died in childbirth in 1913, leaving him a widower with three children. By 1915 he had an office over the White Drug Company, later Parks Rexall Drug, located in the building that now houses Kindred. When the flu broke out in 1918-19, Withers, who was then interim college doctor, as well as one of the town doctors, rendered excellent care to his patients. He received a commendation from the governor for saving so many lives. By this time, he was serving on the town board of commissioners, a position he occupied from 1918-1925 and again in 1937.
In September 1919, Withers married Alice McCoy. Their wedding announcement, published in the Charlotte Observer, described Alice as “bright and attractive,” with a “host of friends.” Withers himself apparently had “an extensive practice in the upper part of the county,” and commanded “many friends in the city as well as the county.” They were to have four children. Dr. Withers practiced medicine in Davidson until 1940, and after his death in 1944, he was buried in the Davidson College Cemetery.
Another long-time Davidson doctor was John Wilson McConnell. He was born in McConnellsville (York County, South Carolina) in 1878. He graduated from Davidson College in 1902 and from the medical department of the University of Maryland in 1907. He arrived in Davidson later that year to fill the new Chair of Biology and serve as the college and town physician. According to the Charlotte News, he also served as the first professor of physical training. By 1910 he had married Agnes Haig Doyle of Baltimore, and they were settled in their home on South Main Street. Like many other Davidson physicians, he was on the town board, serving from 1913-1918. McConnell left Davidson for two years to serve in the medical corps during World War I.
Shortly thereafter, Dr. McConnell apparently changed the spelling of his last name. He signed his 1922 passport application “John MacConnell,” and he continued to be known by that name thereafter in public records. By 1930, he was not only the college physician and adviser to pre-med students, but secretary-treasurer of the State Board of Medical Examiners. That same year Governor Gardner appointed him to represent the North Carolina medical profession at their annual Congress of Medical Education, Medical Licensure and Hospitals, to be held in Chicago. He retired from the college in 1945 and died in September 1950, having served town and college for almost 40 years. Historian Mary Beaty described McConnell as “bluff, crusty, but kind-hearted.” His obituary in the Gastonia Gazette noted that “Dr. McConnell had a long and distinguished career in medicine, education, and the service of his country. During his…service he treated thousands of Davidson students. He was one of the college’s most widely known faculty members and was famous for his ability to remember the names of former students who returned to visit him.” He was survived by his wife and his only child, John Courtney McConnell, and is buried in Mimosa Cemetery.
Dr. George Lee Withers was another Mecklenburg County native. He was the son of Dr. William Banks Withers and the brother of Dr. James Withers, both mentioned earlier. Born in 1882, he graduated from Davidson College in 1907, and according to the 1911 UNC yearbook, attended medical school there. A UNC alumni directory indicates that he eventually graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1914. That same June, according to the Charlotte Observer, he opened a practice in Troutman. In 1916 he married Lula C. Wrenn, a teacher from Garner in Wake County. Their wedding announcement describes Withers as “a promising physician of Davidson,” and his wife as “a young lady of pleasing personality.” After the wedding, the happy couple left for Davidson to make their home.
By 1920, Withers was practicing medicine in Davidson and living in a rented home on Main Street. He served on the town board in 1925-26, and again in 1930-31. In 1930, he and Lula were living on South Street with their sons George and Walter. His small brick office was located next to his home. Dr. Withers died in 1942 at the age of 60 and is buried in the Davidson College Cemetery. His obituary describes him as “one of the leading physicians of upper Mecklenburg County” and “a member of the Mecklenburg County, State, and Tri-State Medical societies for many years.”
The years following World War II would bring a new crop of doctors to Davidson. First to arrive was James Baker Woods, the son of medical missionaries. Woods graduated from Davidson College in 1918. Trained at the Medical College of Virginia and Bellevue Hospital in New York City, he came to Davidson as the college doctor in 1942. He left Davidson to serve in the medical corps during World War II, but he was back in town by 1947. For many years, aided by his longtime nurse Selena Mayhew, he practiced medicine in Davidson from his office on South Street.
In his memoir Olin, Oskeegum & Gizmo, James Puckett recalled that “There was something about him that commanded attention. I don’t remember ever feeling more at ease with a person. There was something about him that commanded relaxation. It was a charisma I’ve never know in another person…it was a simpler and kinder medicine; at the heart of it was a genuine concern and love for humanity.”
Many other talented doctors followed in Dr. Woods’ footsteps, including Bill Williams, Ron Beamon, Steve Mange, and Craig and Trisha White; perhaps some of you longtime residents can add others. Davidson has been lucky to be graced with such talented practitioners.
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. She is the author of numerous books and articles on Arkansas and South Carolina history. She is the author of "Ada Jenkins: The Heart of the Matter," a history of the Ada Jenkins school and center.