James Woods Babcock and the Red Plague of Pellagra
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of South Carolina Press
Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication, Quote
This book traces back to 1944−1946 when I was a toddler living with
relatives in Anderson, South Carolina, where my uncle ran a textile
mill. A silver bowl of tan-colored tablets sat on the mahogany dining table.
I snitched them by the handful. I loved the taste—brewer’s yeast.
When my father came back from the war we returned to Columbia, where...
In the fall of 1908 Mildred Corley began to act strangely. She seemed distant. She neglected her children. She dressed poorly. She stared into space, heard voices, and talked to people who weren’t there. Her family doctor sent her to the State Hospital for the Insane in Columbia. When relatives visited the next summer she barely recognized them, and vice versa. Her...
1. Jimmie: “To Fit Ourselves for Future Usefulness”
Chester, South Carolina, late evening of February 16, 1865. A
Confederate army surgeon holds up his eight-year-old son and points to
a lit-up spot on the horizon. “Jimmie,” the man says grimly, “that’s Columbia
The boy would transcend the mediocre primary and secondary schools of post-Civil War South Carolina by going north for 17 years. There he...
2. Superintendent: Hoping, Moping, and Coping
James Woods Babcock returned to South Carolina in 1891 as the state’s first fully-trained psychiatrist or, to use the then-current term, “alienist.” He had attained at age 35 what was then a psychiatrist’s highest ambition: to be an asylum superintendent. However, the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum was an extreme example of the deterioration of public asylums into convenient...
3. Founder of the Movement: Zeists and Anti-Zeists
In December 1907 Babcock recognized a symptom complex consistent with pellagra, widely thought not to exist in the United States. He was unaware that George H. Searcy of Alabama had made the same observation earlier that year. Over the next two years, Babcock with his Columbia colleagues verified that the disease was pellagra, convened two conferences...
4. How Bad It Was: “All Who Enter Here Leave Hope Behind”
The 1909 national pellagra conference in Columbia was in many ways the high-water mark of collaboration, good will, and civic pride in the public response to the epidemic. As it became increasingly apparent that the disease struck mainly in pockets of poverty and deprivation, pellagra like hookworm became for many southerners an embarrassment they preferred...
5. Sambon’s Obsession: Pellagrins, Pellagrologists, and Pellagraphobia
Between the first (1909) and second (1912) national conferences at the South Carolina State Hospital, pellagra became epidemic in the Southeast and a concern throughout the nation. American physicians established a competence in the disease. Louis Sambon’s version of the infection hypothesis replaced Cesare Lombroso’s version of the spoiled-corn...
6. So Near, So Far: Funk Was Right but Few Listened
In 1912 Casimir Funk, a 28-year-old Polish-born chemist working in London, proposed the vitamin-deficiency hypothesis for pellagra. Among those who took him seriously were Surgeon General Rupert Blue of the U.S. Public Health Service, and Fleming Sandwith of London. On the evening of October 3, 1912, at Babcock’s invitation, Blue and Sandwith separately...
7. A Plain Farmer’s Daughter: “The War against the Woman”
In March 1914 Babcock resigned under pressure from Coleman Livingston Blease, possibly the most controversial governor in South Carolina history. As the story is usually told, Blease had at least two reasons to get rid of the superintendent. First, he wanted to get even with Ben Tillman, Babcock’s friend and sponsor but Blease’s mentor-turned-enemy...
8. The Blind Men of Hindustan: “The Diet of the Well-to-Do”
Babcock did well in practice. He set up a clinic and built a small private sanitarium in Columbia. He taught medical students at the Medical College in Charleston. Nora Saunders worked with him until 1919, when she went north to start a new career. Despite success in practice and at teaching, one of his daughters reminisced that “Doctor Babcock never...
Perspective: Asylum Doctor
In 1930 two graduate students, one at the University of South Carolina and the other at the University of Chicago, chose the South Carolina State Hospital for their master’s degree theses. The South Carolina student wrote of Babcock: “When it is considered how little he had to work with, his accomplishments at the hospital deserve much...
Appendix 1: Mortality and Full Recoveries (as Percentages of Patients Treated) by Race, South Carolina State Hospital for the Insane, 1891–1914
Appendix 2: Parallels in the Histories of Beriberi and Pellagra
Appendix 3: A Chronology of Pellagra and Niacin
Appendix 4: Summary of the Four Major Pellagra Conferences held at the South Carolina State Hospital for the Insane, 1908–1915
Notes for Researchers
Abbreviations Used in Notes
Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2014
OCLC Number: 881037461
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Asylum Doctor