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Tag Archives: Medical College of Virginia

- “Muzzled Doctors vs. Unmuzzled Guns”: Lieutenant William Armistead Gills, M.D., versus the United States Navy


Gills, William Armistead, Scrapbook, ca. 1920-1940, Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

“Muzzled Doctors vs. Unmuzzled Guns” was a provocative phrase used by retired naval officer William Armistead Gills, M.D., to describe the poor condition of medical care for seamen during the first half of the twentieth century. Why would Gills, a World War I veteran and dedicated officer, pen such forceful criticism, hinting at military unpreparedness? A voluminous scrapbook and his War History Commission Questionnaire at the Library of Virginia reveal the details of this fascinating story.

A native of Amelia County, William Armistead Gills graduated from Richmond’s Medical College of Virginia in 1900. Demonstrating an affinity for the military, he served as a lieutenant in the Virginia National Guard medical corps for several years while attending the Army Medical School in Washington, D.C., from which he graduated in 1906. A faculty member at the Medical College of Virginia from 1904 to 1908, he served on the staff of Governor Claude Swanson. After serving in the United States Army medical reserve corps from 1910 to 1913 he entered private practice in Richmond.

With America’s entry into World War I in 1917, Gills enrolled as an assistant surgeon in the medical reserve corps. Commissioned a lieutenant, in October he was assigned to the U.S. naval base at Block Island, Rhode Island, where he directed the medical department. In January 1919 the influenza pandemic struck the base … read more »

Posted in Other Departments, World War I Centennial
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- “View from the Hospital”: The Blanton World War I Scrapbook

This is the latest entry in a series of blog posts spotlighting stories and records of Virginia’s involvement in World War I


Postcard showing Lycee Pastur (American Hospital).

Many collections in the Library of Virginia’s holdings document Virginians serving in World War I. One of the earliest and most interesting of these is Wyndham Bolling Blanton’s 1915 scrapbook (Acc. 42104). Blanton, born in Richmond in 1890, graduated from Hampden-Sydney (B.A. 1910) and the University of Virginia (M.A. 1912). The scrapbook documents his time as a volunteer in the American Ambulance Corps, also known as the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, at a hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

The book begins with photographs and programs from the cruise to and from France and images of French cities and the war front. Later pages include photographs of surgeries and injured soldiers in the hospital, many quite graphic. Blanton may have documented these procedures in anticipation of his career in medicine. The photographs note period medical advances such as the Blake splint (a modification of the still-used Thomas splint) and other emerging techniques. Also included is Blanton’s passport and correspondence in French, possibly from patients he had helped.

The Blanton scrapbook is a fascinating look at the early days of the “war to end all wars,” long before American soldiers were called to serve “over there.” While somewhat jarring initially, upon second view, … read more »

Posted in Private Papers Blog Posts, World War I Centennial
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- Mug Shot Monday: Clinton Kirby, No. 25830, 42236, and 49236


Photograph of Clinton Kirby, #42236, Inmate Photographs, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 38, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.  Clinton Kirby, the subject of this week’s post, was convicted three times for housebreaking, shot while trying to escape from the Medical College of Virginia, and diagnosed as psychotic.


Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1932 August 20, page one.

On 19 August 1932, Clinton Kirby, a convicted felon serving a ten-year sentence for robbery, was brought from the State Farm in Goochland County to the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) in Richmond.  Kirby was at MCV to have his arm x-rayed.  He broke it in 1931 and it had caused him discomfort ever since.  Within minutes of arriving at the Dispensary Building, Kirby rushed out the front door and ran north on 11th Street trying to escape.  H.H. Bowles, the guard who accompanied Kirby to MCV, raced after him firing two warning shots in the air.  “But after wasting two good bullets that way,” reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bowles fired two shots directly at Kirby.  The first shot missed.  The second shot hit Kirby in his left arm just after he crossed Leigh Street in front of the city dump.  Bowles apprehended him within seconds.   Kirby returned to the hospital by ambulance and surgeons removed the slug from his arm.

Kirby was convicted in July 1930 … read more »

- Chris Baker: “Cheerful Among Corpses”

Chris Baker (left) with anatomy students at MCV circa 1899. Image courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Tompkins-McCaw Library, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Anatomical dissection is a matter of course for today’s medical student. Those who selflessly donate their bodies to science are treated with utmost respect for the critical service that they provide to burgeoning doctors and surgeons. Medical schools in the 19th century had a more difficult time with this aspect of education and often had to turn to “anatomical men” or “resurrectionists” to procure cadavers for study by their students. Virginia schools had no legal means of acquiring bodies until 1884 when legislation established the state anatomical board and made the bodies of prisoners and the indigent available for study. An August article in Style Weekly piqued the interest of some Library of Virginia (LVA) archivists, which turned up some interesting archival records about Richmond’s own “anatomical man,” Chris Baker.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) professor Shawn Utsey has endeavored to uncover the thus-far unknown history of Baker’s work for the Medical College of Virginia (MCV). In that effort, he has combed the archives of MCV and the LVA as well as other sources. So far revealed is that from sometime after the Civil War until just after World War I, Baker worked as a janitor in MCV’s Egyptian Building. However, his duties went far beyond the tidying of the dissection room. With the tacit approval of the college, Baker and his cohorts (often including young medical … read more »