Doctor Woman of The Cumberlands –

Autobiography of May Cravath Wharton, M.D.


By May Cravath Wharton, M.D.


Published by Parthenon Press, Nashville, 1953


I suspect that one of the fabulous perks of being a volunteer at Mountains Branch Library, Lake Lure, is gaining exposure to many varieties of information and entertainment for all ages. Sometimes when re-shelving items, such as returned books or videos, something catches my eye. This is the story of Dr. May Cravath Wharton, who was a pioneer doctor with a true missionary spirit and who spent much time, energy, and personal sacrifice developing health clinics, medical care and other facets of community enrichment in the area of Pleasant Hill and Crossville, Tennessee.


My curiosity was piqued because my Dad was a physician and had the same missionary spirit as Dr. Wharton. He found his own niche as a doctor at The Cumberland Homesteads in Pleasant Hill in the early part of The Depression. He was part of a government funded program of almost communal nature intended to give the area an economic shot in the arm. My Dad and his family of four (before I was born) were given a rent-free home including a medical office and a stipend of $1/yr. I believe he could have been at least a contemporary, maybe a colleague of Dr.Wharton for a short time.


Dr. Wharton was born, educated, and launched her medical career in the north, though she was drawn to the south and Pleasant Hill Academy in Tennessee where her husband became principal of the school. Year was 1917. At the time she taught health related subjects and also worked in the field to help folks treat serious illnesses like influenza, pellagra and a plethora of health issues. The residents she encountered were not used to doctors being women. She rode a horse, or often had to walk several miles to get to families needing health care. I wonder how it felt to learn the remedy already tried was Indian Snake Medicine.


I enjoyed the slightly different writing style, which includes some unusual quirks and regional expressions. Ultimately Dr. Wharton was instrumental in getting several health facilities started, including a hospital, clinic, sanatorium, and nursing home before her death in 1959. The reader will also enjoy a nice black-and-white photo section in the middle of the book.