The oldest, handsomest and best-loved

In his country practice, traveling miles by horse and carriage in all weathers, Ephraim began to feel the toll of West Virginia’s misty autumns, snowy winters, cloudy springs and humid summers. He would come home dog tired. He could not avoid the reality of approaching seventy and the equal reality of the need for income. His eldest two children were working but there were five more, the youngest only eight. He began to brood. He hated being an old man.

He opened the envelope, grunting in satisfaction at finding the banker’s draft — Helena had said the coal bill was due. And then as he read the letter his hands began to tremble. Looking at it again he went to the door and called Helena.

‘Is something wrong?’ she hurried from the back parlor.

‘I wondered if you would come out for a walk with me later.’ He would tell her the news gently, in a pleasant setting.

She hugged herself to his arm as they walked past an empty pasture. Where the woods began Ephraim stopped, took both her hands in his and chafed them, bent to warm them with his breath. ‘How would you feel about moving away from here?’ She pulled her hands away, startled. ‘I have had the most generous, wonderful, timely offer from Dr Abbott. It would mean living in the city — Chicago.’

Ephraim makes one last move — both in career and location. In Chapter 38, The Gleaner, after recuperating from a serious illness he accepts the offer of an editorial post with the journal of the Abbott Alkaloidal company. He and the family moved to Ravenswood, Chicago in 1899 where he lived and worked successfully until his death in January 1913, in his 85th year. The byline in his article above: The story of ‘The Gleaner,’ the oldest, handsomest and best-loved of the entire editorial staff of Clinical Medicine (Date ca 1906). Gleanings from Foreign Fields was Ephraim M Epstein’s regular column of translations from European medical journals. He also ran the Abbott medical library, fostering research.

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It is new, it is progress!

‘If the patient survives the treatment, he’ll survive the illness,’ Ephraim said. ‘But this new dosing method sounds much more efficient — and safe!’

‘Convenient, too. Regrettably some physicians condemn it as quackery,’ his young colleague replied.

‘Why? Clearly this is not watered-down plants in sugar-pills, it’s alkaloids: measured, isolated, active principles. It is new, it is progress, a God-send!

Before the month was out Ephraim wrote to the Abbott Alkaloidal Company for a subscription to their journal and got with it, free, a leather-bound pocket case containing nine vials, each filled with one hundred alkaloidal granules. Among his choices: aconitine for fever, digitalin for heart and circulation, codeine for pain, coughs and colics, morphine sulphate for pain. A month of using the method — easy to handle, pleasant, efficient, effective — and he knew this was a cause he must champion. His passion drove him to action.

When Ephraim’s medical career began in 1859, bleeding, purging and herbal medicine guess-work were the modes of healing; click here  and here for a quick time-travel back to his life as a med student. In The Last Cause (Chapter 37) Dr Epstein happens upon a new form of medication and decides this is the future of medicine. He writes letters, then articles for the company’s journal. Finally in 1895 he travels to Chicago to meet Dr Wallace C Abbott, company founder. Ephraim was right, this era saw the vanguard of today’s scientific medicine. Abbott Pharmaceuticals now is a huge international corporation. Only a couple of years earlier the Chicago World’s Fair (lit up at night in the photo) displayed the latest in electricity, machinery, transport, industry, agriculture. Medicine, too, is part of the glittering future ahead.

Tumors and gunshot wounds…

The ill health of human kind continued as ever: tumors and gunshot wounds, epilepsy and syphilis, pneumonia and cirrhosis, scarlet fever and ulcers, tuberculosis… for many conditions treatment was much the same as Dr Epstein had used nine years ago, before he gave up practice out of grief and guilt.

However, he had to learn about the medical advances. His old enemy from Monastir and Pola remained a scourge, but at least smallpox vaccination was becoming more accepted by the public. Yellow fever still broke out in port cities, but the search for its microbes was narrowing. Childbirth, as always, presented risks, but puerperal fever was less common, theories of cleanliness taking hold. Lister’s carbolic acid solution now swabbed most surgical procedures, and a recent medical journal said a solution of iodine had proved a good antiseptic. Ephraim’s faith in himself as a physician began to return.

In his mountainous West Virginia backwater Ephraim is in full time country medical practice. He travels the rough roads far in his horse and buggy, often taking one of the children — now there are seven — for company and to talk with them to improve their minds. In Chapter 36, Whither Thou Goest, Ephraim and Helena also get descriptions from his daughter Sister Sadie of the Czar’s new repressive May Laws of 1891 which suddenly forced more than ten thousand Jews to leave Moscow. But she, like he, is now Christian.  Doctor’s buggy photograph from http://www.countrydoctormuseum.org ; the museum is located in North Carolina.

Yet he was terrified,

He was terrified, how could he dare to practice again? The dream made Ephraim understand his God-given duty to return to medicine. He saw that he had let his own doubts stand in the way. But he did not know if he was capable; so much had happened in medicine since 1878. He was a fool, a coward, he’d run away from doctoring and forced these wandering years on his loyal loving wife. After all her sacrifice, could she forgive a turn-around?

 

‘Still bearing fruit when I am old, still green and full of sap,’ Ephraim quotes Psalm 92 in Chapter 35, Still Full of Sap. He is awed by becoming a father again at age 58. The birth of a boy, Leo, can never make up for the death of William, but at last Ephraim feels the call to his former profession. After nine years he ends his self-banishment and in 1887 applies to the state of West Virginia for his medical license.

How are the mighty fallen

‘Whatever else may not agree in this disagreeing world, a verb must agree with its noun.’ Ephraim smacked his fist into his palm and then laughed. His new patron, President Pendleton of Bethany College, had the grace and perception to laugh with the just-arrived professor of Hebrew, Greek and Biblical exegesis.

From dry, spare prairie to cradling green hills, the jolt in setting was as if the Epsteins had been picked up and put down in the panhandle of West Virginia by a tornado. After the bitterness in Dakota Territory Ephraim was buoyed with vindication. From being founding president of a university there the house, pay and privileges here are a diminishment from his previous glory, but now he has utter academic freedom. A new book project, a new geography, and, aged 56, yet again a new life awaits — with the loyal Helena and their four daughters to support.

Once again Ephraim lands on his feet, with a post at Bethany College: ideal for him as it was founded by free-thinking Disciples of Christ who believed in no sects, no denominations. His literate and independent style of Christianity surely won’t get him in trouble here. But why not support his family by doctoring? In Chapter 34, Resurrection, in the seventh year of mourning for his little son he still feels unable to return to practice. Bethany College, click  here , flourishes to this day. The home of its second President, William K Pendleton, had been a station in the underground railroad for escaping slaves some 25 years before Ephraim’s time at Bethany. 

Political chicanery

Ousted! He was Founding President of the University of Dakota, but the second academic year was bittersweet for Ephraim. He could not regret that the institution was flourishing and his imprint was on every aspect of its success. But the Board of Regents of the university wanted a different president.

He campaigned for it, was invited to set it up and run it in 1882 until (in his own words) ‘sectarian and political chicanery ousted me.’

From the now University of South Dakota archives: [he] ‘held controversial religious views. Eventually Epstein was removed as president due to political motives by certain members of the Regents of Education when the territory assumed control of the university in 1883. There was also speculation that Dr Epstein had amassed a significant debt for contracting a house in Vermillion.’

A Baptist historical report says: ‘Many friends of the institution deeply regretted the discourtesy and ingratitude exhibited towards its founder.’

Pictured here, from usd.edu archives, the University of Dakota President’s House, North Yale Street, Vermillion. Was this the cause of ‘significant debt’? Normally in this blog-of-his-life I give passages from my biographical fiction, but this true event may yet be contentious today! So I have quoted here from the sources I found, and had a wonderful time imagining our way into Ephraim’s devastating experience (and the birth of another daughter, my grandmother Naomi Epstein) in Chapter 33, The Stone Rejected by the Builders. Will he recover from this? Oh yes — but how, where?

Father of a university

Father of a university. Ephraim was fired with purpose — he accepted the offer: Founding President of Dakota University. He swore that no inquiring mind would be silenced in his university, he would ensure this would be written into the bylaws. Its motto would be Veritas.

Students! Books! Learning! The passionate campaigning of Ephraim and his fellow educationalists around the Territory had resulted in an enrolment of sixty-nine students. With University Hall not yet ready, on a clear day in early October 1882 the University of Dakota’s classes opened in Clay County Court House in Vermillion’s Main Street. The crowning joy of this first academic year came in June 1883 with the opening ceremony for University Hall. Six-year-old Frieda Epstein, in a new white dress, led a cortege of twenty children strewing daisies and pink roses to carpet the path to the hall.

At last Ephraim has faith and trust in a cause, and the cause has faith and trust in him. Since he abjured medicine on the tragic death of his son four years earlier this is the first position that fully utilizes his mental powers, experience, qualifications and knowledge. In Chapter 32, Veritas: President and Founder, he is flying high. But will it last?

University seal courtesy of usd.edu For link click Here

Ephraim was hooked

Ephraim was hooked. Education, fine minds, the good of all — this work had to be done. He offered to join the campaign to start the University of Dakota, for his Baptist circuits provided an ideal opportunity to build support. Mr Kettering gladly welcomed the respected, highly-educated Dr Epstein. The founding trustees were tough, intelligent men and Ephraim savoured working with them as equals conferring over petitions, deadlines and charter requirements. With a cause to fight for Ephraim became fully his old self. His dispirited determination ceased, his withdrawals to his desk were now charged with energy. Helena rejoiced in his zeal; at last her husband was the confident, enthusiastic man she had fallen in love with.

Finally, two years after the awful death of his little son, Ephraim regains purpose in life, though he still feels unable to practice medicine. In Chapter 31, Orion Rising, his engagement in the new cause of a university for the raw Dakota Territory is interrupted by the devastating Great Flood of 1881. By mid-April 400 miles of the Missouri River had been inundated and the worst destruction is in the 25 miles between Yankton, where Ephraim lives, and Vermillion — the town designated as home to the university. The whole settlement of Vermillion has been washed away. Lesser men would be fazed, but Ephraim?