Jackson County Rural Health Conference

Speakers at the first Jackson County Rural Health Conference, held Nov. 2, 1955, included, from left, Dr. David Daniel of Sylva, Commissioners’ Chairman Jennings Bryson, Dr. M.J. Hornowski of Asheville, Dr. Henry Barnes of Cullowhee, Dr. Dick Slagle of Sylva; and state Deputy Insurance Commissioner Charles Lewis. This photo was found in the event scrapbook loaned to Lynn Hotaling by Sally Campbell.

When I spoke with Sally Campbell this past November, she mentioned that she had once helped organize Sylva’s Rural Health Conferences. Two weeks ago, she loaned me a notebook that contains the records of those conferences that were held here in November 1955, November 1956 and September 1957.

Included are copies of all the correspondence that helped organizers solicit committee members and round up speakers as well as programs, Sylva Herald advertisements and newspaper clippings.

The first document we came to is the program for Jackson County’s third annual Rural Health Conference. Sponsored by the Sylva Halcyon Club in cooperation with the Jackson County Medical Society. The half-day program was held at Sylva Elementary School on Sept. 25, 1957.

Campbell and the late Nancy Potts Coward chaired the executive and program committees, respectively, and a subsequent program for the Nov. 14, 1956, second conference showed they had held the same positions the year before.

It’s not just the facts relating to the health event that are interesting. Seeing the 60-year-old Herald clippings showed how far we’ve come since Sally and Nancy helped organize those conferences. Several things are cut from the Nov. 8, 1956, newspaper that were run in advance of the second rural health program. The Herald front page that pictured the conference speakers was Vol. XXXII, No. 25; this week’s paper is XCIII, No. 9, but, since the newspaper doesn’t use Roman numerals anymore, the numbers on the front page read Vol. 93, No. 9.

Several familiar names are included among those pictured – Dr. David Daniel, Dr. Ralph Morgan, Dr. Philip Dewees and former school superintendent Vernon Cope – and also Dr. Dick Slagle, who has been the subject of the past three articles in The Herald’s history series.

As I read the letters in the notebook, I noticed the first rural health conference was staged by different groups than the second two. The 1955 conference was put on by the Jackson-Swain Medical Society, in cooperation with Jackson County Home Demonstration Clubs, community clubs and Jackson County Schools. Most of that year’s correspondence is from Dr. Henry Barnes, then president of the Jackson-Swain Medical Society and is written on either “District Health Department” stationery or Barnes’ personal stationery that’s inscribed “Henry F. Barnes, M.D., Cullowhee, N.C., Telephone 2901.”

Several of those letters were from Barnes to scheduled speakers about making sure their photos were available to be published in The Herald. One is an Oct. 11, 1955, letter from Barnes to Charles B. Thomas of Sylva, who was then with the local Health Department: “Dear Charlie, I wanted to be sure to ask you if you have a ‘cut’ at the Herald office for your picture in the paper. If you do not, could you get a glossy print down right away so they can make one?” Barnes wrote.

He’s referring there to images etched on thin zinc and mounted on wood so they were “type high” (0.918 inches) and could be inserted into the galleys of metal type that were at that time the basis of each week’s newspaper. Such “cuts” were saved and used over and over at The Herald, because they had to be sent by bus to Charlotte to be made. Even though printing photos is much easier now, thanks to computers and scanners, the information that identifies each picture is still known as a “cutline.”

In a letter written to Barnes, Charles W. Lewis, who was then the state’s chief deputy commissioner of insurance, agreed to attend the event, and also mentioned a photo for the newspaper: “I am enclosing the only glossy print I have; the engraving plate which I once possessed was lost by the Asheville Times and I never have secured another one. I would appreciate the return of this (photo) since I do not have another,” Lewis wrote.

Also included are a number of letters to Barnes from Annette Boutwell, a rural health consultant, written on the stationery of Medical Society of the State of North Carolina, complete with the state seal flanked by the years 1799-1955.

In a hand-written letter to Barnes, Dr. Hugh Matthews of Canton agrees to attend the first event.

In organizing the 1956 and 1957 conferences, Campbell also relied on letters. Included are several she wrote asking community members to serve on committees for the third event.

Speakers’ subjects for the 1955 conference included “The Rural Health Program in North Carolina” by Dr. Wynn Washburn of Boiling Springs; “An Evaluation of Health in Jackson County” by Dr. Daniel; “Farm and Home Sanitation” by Charles Thomas; “Nervousness and What It Means” by Dr. M.J. Hornowski of Asheville; “Heart Disease,” a panel discussion by Drs. Slagle, Daniel, Hornowski, Matthews and Morgan; and “Hospital and Health Insurance” by Deputy Insurance Commissioner Lewis.

Four topics were chosen for the 1956 conference: “Relation of High Blood Pressure to Obesity,” a panel discussion by Drs. Roy Kirchberg, Barnes, Morgan, Hornowski and George Bond of Bat Cave; “Mental Health: How to Blow Your Stack Healthfully” by Dr. Hornowski; “Characteristics of a Good Parent,” a symposium with Drs. Guy Gooding and Daniel, the Rev. D.P. McGeachy, and Judge William Hart; and “The Physician and the Community” by Dr. Bond.

Topics for the third (1957) conference included “X-Ray: Its Uses and Limitations” by Dr. Alan Brown of Waynesville; and “What Makes Dennis a Menace?” a symposium with Drs. Hilton Seals of Sylva and John Patton of Asheville.

Also participating were R.M. Ainsley of Cullowhee and Seth Perkinson of Asheville. The questioning panel included Jeannelle Moore, who would later become North Carolina’s first lady, Dr. Walter Durr and the Rev. A.S. Maxwell.

It’s especially interesting to look back at all the planning required for these events and how it was all done through traditional letter correspondence, leaving a record for us to trace that’s not likely to be available 50 years from now in light of our current reliance on telephones and e-mail.

With regard to those long ago Rural Health Conferences, though, every step is detailed through paper correspondence. Carbon copies of letters sent are saved along with the originals of letters received, and the combined documents allow us a look back at the time and effort put in to organize informational events to promote good health in the community.

Lynn Hotaling was editor of The Sylva Herald for 18 years, retiring in January 2016. She is the author of two books on local history.