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Beatrice Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 16 February 1879

Dear Mr. Whitman:

Although not in word, I have thanked you for your letter & papers by enjoying them thoroughly.1

Down at this Dispensary2 we work just as hard as at the Hospital, but our spare minutes are our own (no records to write out); our work is under our own control; we are out in fresh air half the day, sometimes half the night, making intimate acquaintance with all sorts of people & places & with far distant parts of Boston.

We have all the responsibility that it is good for young doctors to have, i. e., in all difficult or obscure & dangerous cases we are obliged to call in older heads & are obliged to report verbally to the visiting physician of the month all our cases & our treatment. Only two students live at the Dispensary—Dr. Wiley3 (the coloured Philadelphia student you saw) & myself. In tastes we have much in common & on the whole I prefer to live with her rather than with any of the other students. We share rooms. We have a bedroom, a drug-room, a treatment room, waiting room for patients, & take our meals in the kitchen.

A widow woman with two children housekeeps.

I think Boston a very beautiful city. The public Gardens & Commons in the busiest part, sloping down from the gilt domed state house on Beacon hill, threaded by paths in all directions, traversed by the business men, the fine ladies, the beggars, etc., etc. One broad, sloping path is given up to the boys who want to coast, temporary wooden bridges being thrown over the cross paths. Then, crossing South Bay to South Boston is a beautiful walk I take from one to four times a day. South Boston looks rather dingy; it is inhabited mostly by artisans & mill hands & fishermen, but walking up 3rd St., as you cross the lettered streets A, B, C, D, etc., you look down upon the harbour—on bright days bright blue, & a few sails to be seen—at sunset the colours of course are reflected gorgeously.

Somehow or other the sea looks doubly beautiful set in dingy S. Boston.

Far over in the West End too we have patients. Last Tuesday I had twins all by myself; only one, however, was born alive; the other had been dead a week. How delightful that you are feeling so much better. Shall you not be coming to Boston sometime before I leave, 1st June?

The Boston I know is not the Boston I knew in books; I am as far off from that as if I lived in England—is not the "hub"—I was reminded of that last Sunday when I had time for once to go to church & went to hear Mr. E. E. Hale4 preach and went home to dinner with him....

I like his daughter whom we knew in Philadelphia. She is a clever young artist. Dr. Wiley is very popular with her patients, far more so than I.

Please remember me to all the Staffords5 & give my especial love to Mrs. Stafford. Also to Mrs. Whitman.6

Yours affectionately, Beatrice C. Gilchrist


  • 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. After graduating from the Woman's Medical College of Philadelphia in March 1878, Beatrice Gilchrist became an intern at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston. Her twelve-month internship required her to spend three months at the outpatient dispensary. See Walt Whitman's Mrs. G: A Biography of Anne Gilchrist (Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1991), 184–185, 190–191. [back]
  • 3. Caroline Virginia Wiley Anderson (1848–1919) was the daughter of abolitionist William Still (1821–1902) and Letitia George. She graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1878 as a Doctor of Medicine (being one of only two African-American women in her class). She then applied for an internship at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston. After appealing a racially biased refusal to admit her, she was accepted and interned alongside Beatrice Gilchirst at the hospital and an outpatient dispensary. In 1879, she established a practice in Philadelphia. Wiley married the Reverend Matthew Anderson and became an active member of the Philadelphia community (founding, for example, the city's first black YWCA). See Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science, eds. Marilyn Ogilvie and Joy Harvey (London; New York: Routledge, 2000), 65–66. [back]
  • 4. Edward Everett Hale (1822–1909) was a Unitarian minister and fiction writer, best-known for the short-story "The Man Without a Country" (1863). [back]
  • 5. "The Staffords" refers to the family of Harry Lamb Stafford (1858–1918), a young man who Whitman befriended in 1876 in Camden. Harry's parents, George (1827–1892) and Susan Stafford (1833–1910), were tenant farmers at White Horse Farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey, where Whitman visited them on several occasions. In the 1880s, the Staffords sold the farm and moved to nearby Glendale. For more on Whitman and the Staffords, 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). [back]
  • 6. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. For more information on Louisa, see Karen Wolfe, "Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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