Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Longaker, Dr. Daniel (1858–1949)
Author:
Singley, Carol J.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Philadelphia physician Daniel Longaker treated Whitman during his final illness. He, as well as Dr. Alexander McAlister of Camden, were Whitman's main doctors. Neither presented bills for his services. Longaker earned his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1881 and was a pioneer in obstetrics; he is credited with being one of the first in Philadelphia to perform a caesarean section in a patient's home. He served on the staff of Lying-in Hospital and Jewish Maternity Hospital and for several years was Chief of Obstetrics at Kensington Hospital for Women.

Early in 1891, Whitman's friend Horace Traubel asked Longaker to serve as Whitman's doctor. He and Whitman were most likely drawn to Longaker's liberal sympathies. After Longaker's death, for example, a newspaper revealed that his daughter had had him institutionalized because he gave money to leftist groups such as the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee. Longaker attributed Whitman's illness to the emotional strain of Civil War hospital work and to blood poisoning acquired from gangrenous wounds of patients Whitman had nursed. Longaker paid frequent visits and provided various medications, which Whitman's nurse, Elizabeth Leavitt Keller, describes as minimal, designed to alleviate acute or persistent pain. Whitman assisted in his own treatment by detailing his condition to Longaker orally and in letters. Longaker enjoyed talking with Whitman about human nature and reflects that Whitman responded as well to their conversations as he did to medical remedies. Whitman's condition worsened on 17 December 1891, when a fever, accompanied by chills and respiratory problems, incapacitated him. He partially recovered but died on 26 March 1892, too suddenly for Longaker to be called. He was attended by Dr. McAlister, his housekeeper Mary Oakes Davis, nurse Warren Fritzinger, and friends Thomas B. Harned and Horace Traubel.

Longaker and Whitman's other doctors vastly underestimated their patient's condition, perhaps because Whitman complained relatively little and seemed to accept his imminent death. An autopsy, performed by Professor Henry W. Cattell, demonstrator of Gross Morbid Anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania, which Longaker attended, revealed serious maladies—abscesses, tubercles, a large gallstone, deteriorated lungs and liver, and an enlarged prostate. Gay Wilson Allen and David Reynolds provide useful summaries of Longaker's treatment of Whitman, but Emory Holloway misspells Longaker's and McAlister's names.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Holloway, Emory. Whitman: An Interpretation in Narrative. New York: Knopf, 1926.

Keller, Elizabeth Leavitt. Walt Whitman in Mickle Street. New York: Kennerley, 1921.

"Longaker, Daniel." Alumni Records File. University of Pennsylvania Archives. Philadelphia, Pa.

Longaker, Daniel. "The Last Sickness and the Death of Walt Whitman." In Re Walt Whitman. Ed. Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893. 393–411. Rpt. in Whitman in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Memoirs, and Interviews by Friends and Associates. Ed. Joel Myerson. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1991. 90–108.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. Vol. 5. New York: New York UP, 1969.


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