Dr. Henry DeWitt Pawling (continued)

Last week’s column was based on a sketch written by Mrs. Martha Wentworth Suffren, of Strafford, under the title, “An Old Time Doctor in Pennsylvania, 1810-1892.” Much of this story contained Mrs. Suffren’s own personal recollections of Dr. Henry DeWitt Pawling, a country doctor with his office and dwelling both located in the building that now houses “Peacock Gardens” at King of Prussia. At the time she was writing, Mrs. Suffren said:
“More than 50 years have passed since Dr. Henry DeWitt Pawling was laid to rest in Montgomery Cemetery. Yet there are still old cronies who like to put their silver heads together and refresh their memories of a beloved physician.

“For many years he was the family doctor of the King of Prussia section. The chief alleviation of one’s woes was the fact that Dr. Pawling would be sent for. A tall, sturdy figure – a long beard flecked with gray, surmounted by a closely shaven upper lip, a strong, straight nose, and a pair of the most quizzical, piercing brown eyes, ‘eagle eyes,’ as Dr. Drake, of Norristown, characterized them, he was always dressed in black – a sort of frock coat, buttoned high in the neck and having huge pockets in the back.

“A hand on your forehead was enough. He needed no clinical thermometer of later invention to know how high the fever ran. Your tongue was ordered out for inspection. And out it came, although you had been taught that to do so was the height of bad manners in any child. A few questions, and then the doctor got into action.

“From a side pocket he drew a roll of white papers. One of them he folded carefully and tore into a dozen or so little squares, which he laid along the side of a nearby table. From the bulging coat-tail pocket he drew a large bundle wrapped in black oil-cloth ancl tied with black tape. When opened, it displayed a lot of packets, all labelled and containing his favorite remedies. With a point of a broad short knife, he estimated exactly the proper amount of the drug he wanted, perhaps adding another kind, too. Then he folded each dose in its own little paper, and gave them to your mother with instructions. No fuss – no prescription – what would have been the use, with the only drug store six miles off, and only a horse to carry you there? Now a little chat – a couple of jokes – and he was off.

“Transportation was a problem in those days,” she writes. “The doctor was so often begged to give a lift that it finally became a serious tax upon his horses. So he had a narrow little buggy made, holding only one person – himself! And that was that.

“He remembered all the babies he assisted into the world, and carried candy and pretzels for them in hls capacious pockets. Hundreds of the boy babies were named after him by proud and grateful fathers.

Mrs. Suffren continues, “He was of a nervous temperament, and could be a bit gruff at times. Too busy to attend to collection, he employed a Mr. Murray to do this work. One night, very late, as the weary man went to shut his office door on the last of the night’s crop of patients, in came another one, a man who had little the matter with him, yet haunted the office. The over-wrought doctor turned on him, saying, ‘What makes you come here all the time? Don’t you know you are going to die anyway?’ The poor fellow faced about and went out. Then he encountered Mr. Murray coming in. The latter noticed his woeful countenance and asked him what was the matter. After Murray had consoled the patient he took him back into the office when the doctor only laughed and asked if we were not all going to die sometime. Much cheered up, the patient left. And Mr. Murray gave Dr. Pawling a good scolding together with the day’s collection.

“The money gathered by Mr. Murray was always put into a big box, as the doctor did not believe in banks. And it was freely spent upon the household, and the best of everything was on the table. Dr. Pawling was most kind and generous to his family, which was comprised of three sons and five daughters, now all passed away, except for one daughter. Miss May Pawling.”

And thus Mrs. Suffren ends her sketch of “an old time doctor,” except for one closing paragraph which reads:
“Dr. Pawling was recognized as ‘a high authority in medicine.’ But he could go into the kitchen of a humble house, and teach a young girl who was trying to care for her mother, ill of pneumonia, how to make wine whey and flaxseed poultices… his kindly ways, no less than his great skill, endeared him to his people.”

(Mrs. Patterson is searching for a picture of Dr. Pawling, as well as the history of the house in which he lived, which dates back to 1728, according to the marker on “Peacock Gardens.” Her telephone number is Wayne 4569.)