May Cravath Wharton, M.D. (1873-1959), Founder of Uplands Retirement Village, Pleasant Hill, Tennessee, USA.
By Franklin Parker & Betty J. Parker, 63 Heritage Loop, Crossville, TN 38571-8270.
From Franklin & Betty J. Parker, “Wharton, May Cravath (1873-1959), Tennessee Encyclopedia & Culture. Ed. By Carroll Van West, et. al. Nashville: Tennessee Historical Society, 1998, pp. 1050-1051.
She was Dr. May to friends, doctor woman of the Cumberland’s to others. Babies she delivered were called Dr. May babies. By foot, horseback, tin lizzie, on poor roads, in all weather, she made calls to remote cabins on the Cumberland Plateau, middle Tennessee. Her dream of a hospital in Pleasant Hill became Cumberland Medical Center, Crossville. The May Cravath Wharton Nursing Home and Uplands Retirement Community, both in Pleasant Hill, are her dreams come true.
She was born on a Minnesota farm, a sickly child. Family friend and physician Aunt Addie’s nursing and gift of Home Doctor Book may have inspired May to become a doctor.
She finished high school at Carleton Academy (1889-90), Rochester, Minn., attended Carleton College (1890-93), and the University of North Dakota (1894-95, B.A.), studied in Europe (1897), taught at the University of North Dakota (1898-99), and earned a University of Michigan medical degree (1905).
She applied to the mission board, which then wanted only married missionaries. Disappointed, she practiced medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. There she met and married Edwin R. Wharton (1867-1920). They accepted a call to a Cleveland, Ohio, settlement house, he as director, she as physician (1907-09). Hard work took its toll. She needed rest. They bought a New Hampshire farm. He served small churches. She practiced medicine (1909-17).
In 1917 he became principal of Pleasant Hill Academy, 11 miles west of Crossville, Cumberland County. Its uniqueness went back to 1883 when resident Mrs. Amos Wightman asked the American Missionary Association (AMA, Boston) to send a trained teacher. Mary Santly, who taught a three-month school (spring 1884), said a minister was needed. The AMA sent Maine-born Benjamin F. Dodge (1818-97). He largely built Pleasant Hill Academy (1884-1947), by necessity a boarding school for widely spread community children. He also built and was pastor of First Congregational Church (since 1885).
Tall and shy, May Cravath Wharton taught health courses and was physician to students, faculty, and scattered communities. She worked tirelessly through the 1918 influenza epidemic. She won respect and distinction as the Doctor Woman of the Cumberland’s.
In November 1920 Edwin R. Wharton died suddenly. Dr. May faced a dilemma. Five neighbors came with a letter from 50 families. “The people here want you to stay. We will pay you monthly and help build the hospital. We cannot do without you.”
Dr. May stayed. She was helped in her dream to build a hospital by Massachusetts-born Pleasant Hill Academy art teacher Elizabeth Fletcher (1870-1951), who raised funds, and English-born, Canadian-trained Registered Nurse Alice Adshead (1888-1979). A two-bed Sanatorium Annex (July 2, 1922) was followed by a general hospital (1935) and Van Dyck Annex (1938). Federal, state, and local aid came with the 1947 U.S. Hill-Burton Act that required such aided hospitals to be sited in county seats. Cumberland Medical Center opened in Crossville, 1950. The May Cravath Wharton Nursing Home opened June 21, 1957, Pleasant Hill.
She realized another dream: Uplands Retirement Community. On an early fund-raising trip, visiting her cousin Paul Cravath, a New York City attorney, she was inspired by a poem on his office wall: “•From the lowlands and the mire, •From the mists of earth’s desire, •From the vain pursuit of pelf, •From the attitude of self, Come up higher, Come up higher.”
“Uplands,” she wrote in her autobiography, “That was our name–Uplands!”
Honors came late: Carleton College Alumni Award for “outstanding service…in medicine and…medical care,” June 1953; Tennessee Tuberculosis Association Kranz Memorial Award for “outstanding service in…tuberculosis control,” 1954; Tennessee Medical Association’s “Outstanding General Practitioner of the Year,” 1956; University of Chattanooga honorary Doctor of Laws degree for “many services to the citizens of Tennessee,” 1957; and a Tennessee Bicentennial named marker on the state capitol walkway, 1995.
She ended her autobiography with: “As the shadows of evening fell,…in my dreams I saw the…Uplands of tomorrow.”
She built better than she knew.
May Cravath Wharton, Doctor Woman of the Cumberlands (Pleasant Hill, Tenn. 38578: PO Box 168, 1972 revision, 214 pp., $6.20).
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