Title: Beatrice Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 12 August 1878
Date: August 12, 1878
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman, ed. Thomas B. Harned (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1918), 156–158. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: The Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1842–1937, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.04051
Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Grace Thomas, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
New England Hospital
Hospital life is beginning to seem a long-accustomed life.1 I enjoy all the duties involved & all the human relations. Even getting up in the night is compensated for by yielding a sense of importance & independence. I sleep in a large room with three windows, & three beds in a row. Breakfast at 7, & we are supposed to have seen all our patients before breakfast, but do not keep to that rule.
After breakfast, round to count pulses & respirations, note condition, dress any wound, in charge, etc. At ½ past 8 o'clock go the rounds with the resident physician (Dr. Berlin), all the students, & superintendent of nurses. Then put up medicine, each for her own patients (about 8 in no.), give electricity, etc. If one's patient has an ache or pain, the nurse whistles for the student (my whistle is 2). She sees the patient orders what is necessary, or if serious reports to Dr. Berlin. Then there is some microscopic work, & copying out the history & daily record of the case & making out the temperature charts more than fills in the day. At 8 o'clock we all in conclave report about our patients & talk over any interesting case. One of my patients has empyema following pleurisy. I inject into her chest about a doz. of different preparations. Several of my patients (I have all the very sick just now) require very careful watching.
In the evening we go round again & count pulses & respirations & note temperatures. If a very sick patient, in the middle of the day; also take pulse, etc. The number of visits depending on the need & the competency of the nurse. I like introducing lint into wounds (such simple ones as an incised abscess of the breast) with the probe, because if I take trouble enough I can do it without hurting the patient, much to the patient's surprise.
The other day Mr. & Mrs. Marvin called to see me with Mrs. & Miss Callender—I enjoyed their visit much. To-day Mr. Marvin drove over to fetch me to lunch, & I had a beautiful drive over to Dorchester; in the afternoon a game of lawn tennis, a stroll down to the creek, & drive home by Forest Hill Cemetery & Jamaica Pond. The air was fresh after a shower & golden-tinted, & the drive through beautiful lanes & country. All were friendly & it was refreshing to emerge from the little hospital world. Mr. Marvin's cordial face greeted me when I was speaking to some patients in hammocks, under the trees, the day he called, much to my surprise.
I was to-day feeling the need of a little change of air & scene, so that the visit was most opportune.
Mr. Morse2 is working away desperately at the bust of you; he feels as if he would get on famously if he could only catch a glimpse of you. Now might not you come to Boston on your way to Chesterfield, ride up in the open horsecars (a very pleasant ride) to see me also and give Mr. Morse the benefit of a sitting? How I wish we could get Mrs. Stafford3 in here; the patients get most excellent care. I have great confidence in Dr. Berlin & in the attending physician. I do not want her to come for a month, because Dr. Berlin has just gone away for a vacation.
I fear no mere visiting once a day of a doctor will do her any good—she needs hygienic treatment—massage (a woman works here every day on the patients who need rubbing & massage), feeding up (I have never yet seen a patient whom we could not make eat, appetite or not, by aid of beef-tea & milk), perfect rest, & judicious treatment.
Dr. Berlin is a learned, charming woman of 28—she takes advanced views, gives no medicine at all in some cases, & if any, few at a time, but efficient. She is perfectly unaffected, very intelligent, & has been thoroughly trained. She is a Russian.
Please give my love to Mrs. Whitman & remember me to Colonel Whitman.4 This afternoon, when driving with Mr. Marvin, I thought of the pleasant drives I have had with Colonel Whitman.
Beatrice C. Gilchrist.
If it were not for records accumulating mountain high I should have time to write to my friends.
1. Beatrice Carwardine Gilchrist (1854–1881) was the second child (and first daughter) of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist. An aspiring physician, Beatrice took the needed preparatory classes but was barred (as were all women) from becoming a medical student in England. As a result, she attended the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia. She held positions as a physician in Berne, Switzerland, and later Edinburgh before committing suicide by fatally ingesting hydrocyanic acid in 1881. [back]
2. Sidney Morse, the sculptor. [back]
3. Susan M. Stafford was the mother of Harry Stafford, who, in 1876, became a close friend of Whitman while working at the printing office of the Camden New Republic. Whitman regularly visited the Staffords at their family farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey. Whitman enjoyed the atmosphere and tranquility that the farm provided and would often stay for weeks at a time (see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 685). [back]
4. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). As a Civil War correspondent, Walt wrote warmly about George's service, such as in "Our Brooklyn Boys in the War" (January 5, 1863); "A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One" (January 19, 1865); "Return of a Brooklyn Veteran" (March 12, 1865); and "Our Veterans Mustering Out" (August 5, 1865). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with partner Mr. Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. Walt and George lived together for several years in Camden, but when Walt decided not to move with George and his wife Louisa in 1884, a rift occurred that was ultimately not mended before Walt's 1892 death. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]