Stories of Medicine in Athens County, Ohio
a multi-authored anthology compiled and edited by
Gary E. Cordingley, M.D., Ph.D.
Ranging from horseback doctors to Gray Ladies, and from kitchen-table appendectomies to
mass-produced frontal lobotomies, the story of medicine in Athens County, Ohio, has included
events, activities and personalities as diverse and fascinating as those found anywhere. The
county’s 2005 bicentennial provides an anchor-point to collect and record some of these stories
while primary sources are still available.
Because of its location and special features, Athens County provides elements of interest to
the historian, some of them representative of experiences elsewhere and others unique.
Situated on the Ohio River, an historic thoroughfare, the county is also embedded in a state
that has served as both highway and destination for great migrations of American people.
Additionally, two large institutions within the county have shaped its development—Ohio
University and the Athens State Hospital. The university, one year older than the county itself,
has interacted with medical personnel both as an employer and a training facility. The Athens
State Hospital, also a worksite and training facility for medical personnel, was the county’s
largest employer until the Second World War.
Why assemble a county medical history? In part, because the story of a medical community is
also the story of the lives it touches. Medical practitioners are granted privileged access to
people’s lives. They glimpse their patients in vulnerable and unguarded moments, stripped of
To tell the story of medicine in Athens County, this ensemble effort strove to cover new ground,
access primary or at least contemporaneous sources and sample diverse points of view. Essays
written about or by Drs. Kossuth T. Crossen, D. Scott Allen and Ora O. Fordyce have been
published previously, although their original sources are not widely available. Otherwise (and
with the exception of media-driven essays) reprinting or paraphrasing material already available
elsewhere seemed needless. Whenever possible, authors made use of primary or at least
contemporaneous sources, e.g., themselves (if they participated in or observed the events
about which they wrote), newspaper articles, censuses, unpublished manuscripts, minutes of
meetings, courthouse records and interviews.
As a consequence of this volume’s methods, the county’s second century receives more
coverage than does its first. Fortunately, excellent books are available to inform readers
interested in medicine during the county’s nineteenth century. These include Charles Walker’s
History of Athens County, Ohio (1869), D.J. Lake’s Atlas of Athens County, Ohio (1875), History
of Hocking Valley, Ohio (1883) and Fred Bush’s The Centennial Atlas of Athens County, Ohio
(1905). All four volumes are available in recent reprint editions.
The larger portion of this compilation consists of a succession of overlapping essays written by
multiple authors. The essays come in three varieties. Some are research articles written in the
third person. Others are personal experience essays written in the first person. Still others are
media-driven pieces in which the content derives entirely or mostly from media reports. In all
cases, the principal focus was to answer the question: What was it like to be involved with
medicine at this particular time and place?
The book’s appendices provide chronological listings of individuals who occupied positions of
medical leadership in Athens County. With an approach nearly opposite that used in the
essays, these listings are as exhaustively complete as possible. To assist readers and
genealogists, the book’s back matter also includes a complete index of personal names
appearing anywhere in the book.
O’Bleness Memorial Hospital, the Charles G. O’Bleness Foundation, Wolfhard Baumgaertel, M.
D., and Paul Omelsky, M.D., generously provided funding to make this project possible. I thank
the many contributors to this volume who expended thought, care and effort without
reimbursement. I also thank Linda McKnight and Carol Gardella, who efficiently transcribed
numerous tape-recorded interviews. It was a pleasure to work with Arlene Prunkl of PenUltimate
Editorial Services, who provided meticulous copy editing. The compiler’s wife deserves
particular praise and appreciation for allowing this project to intrude on her life for 13 years.