Tuesday, August 01, 2017

A.L. Yocom Sr.: "Gray's Anatomy" strapped to a plow

My friend and Dry Flat classmate Dianne Vincent Mitchell, some time ago, donated a slim volume entitled "The Urinary Organs," written by Sir Henry Thompson and published in London during 1883, to the Lucas County Historical Society. She deals in vintage books and sometimes passes those with ties to local history on to appropriate collections.

"Urinary Organs" you say? 

Well, the book title and topic really aren't the point; it's the wonderful information spread across the two pages just inside the front cover that's of interest.

This has to have been one of the first books that Dr. Albert Lee Yocom Sr. added to his medical library after opening his fledgling practice in Newbern back in 1884 as a newly minted physician.

Obviously he was proud of the little book and, justifiably, a little proud of himself, too. The oldest inscription inside the cover is written in a large and elaborate hand, "A.L. Yocom, M.D., Newbern, Iowa, May 9th, 1885." After that, he apparently acquired a stamp and "Dr. A.L. Yocom, Newbern, Iowa," is spattered here and there inside both front and back covers.

Later still, he moved his practice to Chariton and acquired another stamp, "Dr. A.L. Yocom, Chariton, IA," and added the notation "Private Library."

At some point, he donated the book to the Iowa State Medical Library (a division of the State Library of Iowa) and that institution's bookplate was added. Then, as happens at many libraries, the book was deaccessioned and ended up on the open market, which is where Dianne acquired it.


To avoid confusion, you need to remember that we're talking about the senior Dr. Yocom. It was his son, Dr. Albert Lee Yocom Jr., who built Yocom Hospital and who is the namesake of Yocom Park. But there would not have been a Yocom junior without a Yocom senior --- and it was the old man who established the long-standing family medical tradition in Lucas County.


The senior Dr. Yocom contributed a biography to the 1896 "A Memorial and Biographical Record of Iowa" and in it shared a good deal of information about himself. We learn, for example, that he was born July 8, 1855, at Waynesville, DeWitt county, Illinois, a son of Elijah and Caroline A. (Higgins) Yocom and the eldest of three children.

He "obtained his literary education in the public schools of Waynesville, and was reared to manhood upon his father's farm, aiding in its cultivation. So desirous was he of securing a good education that he would strap a book to the plow handles and thus cultivate the field and his own mind at the same time. In this way he secured the foundation of his medical education, familiarizing himself with the contents of Gray's Anatomy, which was fastened to the plow.

"As soon as possible he entered the University of Illinois and pursued a scientific course as a preparation for the study of medicine, which he later began under the direction of Dr. J.A. Starkey, of Waynesville, Illinois, while employed in farming." 

The young medical student/farmer married Anna Short on Sept. 5, 1878, and they became the parents of five children, one of whom was Albert Lee Jr., who would follow in his father's footsteps medically, although not behind a plow.

On March 29, 1884 --- and he was precise about the date --- Dr. Yocom arrived in Newbern, located on the border of Lucas and Marion counties, with his family to hang out his shingle.

The Chariton Patriot reported in its edition of May 24, 1884, under a Newbern dateline, that "The new doctor, Mr. Yocom, has bought out our other ex-Doctor Ardry, and is now permanently located here and the people are well pleased with him so far, and are glad he has concluded to locate here. He is now talking of repairing his property and if he does it will be a good improvement."

It would have been during the first full year of his practice at Newbern that he added Sir Henry Thompson's slim volume to his library.

While in practice at Newbern, Dr. Yocom enrolled for an additional series of courses at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Keokuk, graduating with the class of 1886.

He then returned to his Newbern practice and The Chariton Democrat reported in its edition of July 22, 1886, that "Dr. Yocom has rented one of L. Victor's buildings and is putting in a first-class drug store. This community needs just such a business house as this, and we think the doctor is the man for the place."

Although still a lively little place, Newbern's fate had fairly well been decided by the time the Yocoms arrived in 1884. The branch rail line connecting Chariton and Indianola had passed to the west, through Oakley and Lacona, and there was no hope of another connection. While the pioneer village would remain an active community center for years to come, it really didn't have much of a future.

As a result, on March 29, 1889, five years to the day after he had arrived in Newbern, the doctor pulled up stakes and relocated both his practice and his family to new homes in the more promising  city of Chariton.

He found office quarters on the second floor of the Smythe building on the northwest corner of the square and a new home for his family on North Main Street. This move launched the Yocom family connection with Lucas County's seat.

The Chariton Herald of April 11, 1886, reported under an English Township dateline, "Dr. A.L. Yocom, who has moved to Chariton, will be sadly missed from Newbern."


The Yocoms prospered in Chariton and eventually Dr. A.L. Yocom's innovative son joined his father's practice. That allowed the senior physician in the family to slow down as he entered his 70s, limiting his practice primarily to his older patients.

He died at age 76 on March 30, 1932, at the hospital his son had built of complications following surgery for a ruptured appendix, almost 50 years after setting foot for the first time in Lucas County.


ruth said...

I still think of the son, Dr. Yocum. I was a teenager and in a car accident and Dr Yocum was my doctor. I had a broken pelvis and his choice of treatment was two full months flat on my back in traction in the hospital. That is a very long time for a teen!! But glory be, I went on to give birth naturally, no limp, and I'm still so grateful.
Ruth Rosenberger Ferguson

Mitchell said...