Saturday, August 14, 2010

Charles Edward Woodbury

Years Served: 1880
The Boston Daily Globe called Dr. Charles E. Woodbury “eminently qualified for his position.” He was a native of New Hampshire and at 34 years of age an active and energetic man who could be jolly or grave depending upon the circumstances presented to him. The Globe called him “thoroughly a gentleman who discharged the unpleasant duties of his office in a way that leaves them shorn of anything disagreeable...” He performed his more pleasant duties in a way that makes them more agreeable causing the recipient to be very grateful to the Board of Health for appointing him Port Physician. His duties required him to be on the quarantine steamer all the time unless he quarantined passengers or crew on Gallop’s Island.

Prior to his appointment to the position of Assistant Port Physician on April 16, 1879, Woodbury studied in Europe for a year and for the previous four years served as a physician at the McLean Hospital. Mayor Frederick Octavius Prince, a democrat, appointed Charles Woodbury the city’s ninth Port Physician on January 3, 1880. Woodbury’s democratic political affiliations certainly helped him land this post. While he only had an eight months tour of duty, during his work on Gallop’s Island he set an example for an uncompromising work ethic. The Globe reported that Woodbury rose at sunrise ready for duty and from then to sunset he boarded every vessel that entered Boston Harbor. With the exception of the pilot, he was the first Bostonian to board every incoming vessel and without his approval no vessel could proceed to the docks of Boston. His vigilance in seeking out germs of all kinds – whether carried by passengers, packages or mail or sailors - was the critical to the public health of the entire City and even the hinterlands.

Woodbury’s work was grueling and encumbered with a wide range of bureaucratic responsibilities associated with tracking the health of immigrants and passenger vessels. The commander of each vessel he boarded was required to provide answers to the following eight questions: 1) class and name of vessel; 2) masters name and where from; 3) number of days of passage; 4) number of passengers; 5) number of crew; 6) state of health on board; 7) description of cargo and 8) name of consignees.

He examined the crew and took their bills of health from their master. When contagious sickness was on board, he quarantined the vessel and transferred its sick to Gallop’s Island and then fumigated the cargo and vessel. He had the discretion to order all on board passengers to Gallop’s island, or only those suspected of carrying epidemic generating diseases. It was his call and this power made him one of the most powerful men in Boston. If he sent you into quarantine you might be isolated for several weeks – assuming you recovered from your disease. Vessel placed in quarantine were required to raise the yellow flag is set at the fore and not communicate with anyone without Woodbury’s permission. The Port Physician or his assistant had no sinecures when they received their appointments. It was responsible and arduous work that put each physician in peril for their lives on a daily basis. Their untold stories of medical heroism are one of the great examples of selfless service to the public health.

Woodbury was born in Acworth New Hampshire on November 1, 1845. His father sent him to Kimball Union Academy some 50 miles north of his home town where he matriculated from 1863 to 1866. After graduating from the Academy, Dartmouth College in Hanover New Hampshire accepted him into the class of 1870. Dartmouth was only 16 miles north of the Academy so he probably had already visited the campus before he arrived there in the fall of 1866. After graduating from Dartmouth in 1870, he then completed his medical training at the University of New York, graduating in 1873. He took his first job in 1873 at the age of 28 as the assistant Physician at the New Hampshire Hospital for the Insane in Concord. Based on this brief work experience, he then had the medical credentials to work for the McLean Hospital in Waverly Massachusetts where he served from 1874 to 1878. After McLean he took a year to study in Europe and when he returned landed a job as Assistant Port Physician for the city of Boston. Like virtually all other single Port Physicians, he soon married. On October 13, 1880 he tied the knot with Ella Diana Ordway, at Chelsea, Vermont.

He continued his medical career after working for the Boston Board of Health by taking a job with the Bloomingdale Asylum in New York (1881-1882); the Rhode Island State Hospital (1891-1899); the Massachusetts State Hospital in Foxboro (1899-1908). He then retired to his home town of Acworth, New Hampshire where passed most of his remaining days in public service to his community and devotion to his spiritual, medical and humanitarian causes.

Of his three children two were married and resided in Greater Boston, while his daughter Ruth was musical instructor in the New Mexico State Institute for the Blind. Dr. Woodbury was himself a fine musician, directed the church choir and always had charge of the music on "Old Home Day," in the observance of which he was always a leading spirit. He died on October 31, 1936.

1. Quarantine, Boston Daily Globe, July 27, 1879, p. 6

2. The Granite monthly: a New Hampshire magazine devoted to history, biography, literature and state progress, Volume 45, Concord, NH, 1913, p. 293
3. General Catalogue of Dartmouth College and the Associated Schools 1769-1900, prepared by Marvin Davis Bisbee, Hanover, NH, 1900, p. 253.
4. Proceedings of the American Medico-Psychological Association, 1911-1912, at the sixty eighth annual meeting held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, May 28, to 31, 1912, Published by the American Medico-Psychological Association, Baltimore, MD, p. 51.
5.Recent Deaths, New England Journal of Medicine, November 12, 1835, p. 947.

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