Female Doctor Broke S. County Fevers, Barriers

April 05, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

As soon as she stepped off the bus, young Emily Hammond knew she wasn't rural Anne Arundel County's idea of a family doctor.

The old country physician who served southern Anne Arundel had died, and the community was eagerly awaiting his replacement. Fresh out of medical school, Hammond was eager to begin.

But she quickly found that in 1929, people weren't quite ready totrust their lives to an attractive young girl.

The general-store owner who met Hammond at the bus was shocked to find that the new doctor was a woman. "He was horrified. He didn't open his mouth for fivemiles," recalls Dr. Emily Hammond Wilson, now 86.

Wilson was AnneArundel's first female physician. In the 53 years she practiced in South County, she delivered countless babies, removed fishhooks from thumbs and herring bones from throats, treated common colds and calamitous diseases.

Wilson, who grew up on a South Carolina cotton plantation and has lived since 1946 on historic Obligation Farm in Harwood, treated blacks as equals in an era when hospitals confined them to a separate ward. Answered calls any hour of the day or night. Did just about anything to get to a sick patient, including riding on a tractor axle while hanging onto a hired hand as he drove through roads too muddy for a car to manage.

She saw medical science move from the days of mustard plasters to laser technology. She can remember when all you could do for tuberculosis patients was hold their hands andwait for them to die.

Wilson remembers, too, the dean of the Medical College of Georgia, who in the mid-1920s accused her of applying to the school because "I just wanted to flirt with the boys."

"ButI made it through."

By the 1950s, Wilson was president of the Anne Arundel County Medical Society and chief of staff at Anne Arundel General Hospital. Today, she is "enormously admired" by everyone she ever treated, says Harwood's Sally Whall, 70, a former patient.

"She's a very remarkable woman," says her son, John F. Wilson Jr. of Harwood. "She sets out to do something, and nothing is going to stop her."

Wilson grew up at Red Cliff, a cotton plantation built in 1850 by her great-grandfather, James Henry Hammond, a South Carolina senator who, she claims, coined the phrase, "Cotton is king."

The eldest of eight children, Wilson became a doctor "partly because nobody wanted me to. They wanted me to be a lady." Only her mother encouraged her.

"She said, 'You don't have to wear a derby hat and smoke a cigar to be a doctor. You can still be a woman.' She was quite a gal. My mother had taken care of all the little black children on the plantation because there were no doctors there. That started me on the idea."

In 1927, she became the second woman to graduate from the Medical College of Georgia. After an intership at the Central Georgia Railroad Hospital, she got a job at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The following summer -- the summer of 1929 -- an uncle in Upper Marlboro told her the country doctor in southern Anne Arundel had died, and why shouldn't she apply?

She did, and despite an initially cold reception-- one prominent woman refused to let her a room because she figuredWilson wasn't going to make it -- set up practice in a rented summerkitchen.

She borrowed $1,000 from her uncle to buy a Ford automobile and furnish the summer kitchen, which served as both home and office.

"I slept on a cot at night and used that as my examining table," she says. "It was very unsanitary."

Wilson's first patient showed up after a week. He wasn't exactly what she expected. He was a dog.

"I had got dressed up in my best outfit to go to a church party. I thought that would be a way to meet people. As I was ready to leave I saw a car rushing up and said, 'Oh goody! I have a patient!' Then they brought in a big shepherd dog that had been hit by an automobile."

After a while, "People began to be pretty desperate, so they sent for me. One lady said, 'My cook fainted in the kitchen.' She came to the door and said, 'Well, you are not as bad-looking as I thought you'd be.' "

Wilson charged $1 for an office visit, $2 for a home visit and $15 for home delivery. But people along the waterfront often bartered with oysters. "During the Depression that was all they had. Oysters got to be anathema."

One of Wilson's biggest problems were the roads. Routes 2 and 408 were the only paved highways, and her car was always getting stuck in the mud. "I used to get the horses to pull me out every other day in the winter," she recalls.

After six months, she met John Wilson, a deputy state controller, at a dance. They dated for 2 1/2 years before marrying in 1932. Their first son, John, was born nine months after they wed, following a difficult pregnancy. Wilson delivered a baby the day before she had her own by Caesarean section. She went back to work a month later.

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