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What's Up Magazine

Doc Emily Hammond Wilson

Mar 13, 2011 04:00AM ● By Anonymous

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The young girl in the photo eventually grew up and, bucking the odds, became a doctor.

In the ensuing years, the woman peered just as steadily at thousands of her patients, who counted upon her to make life and death decisions about their health. Her two sons, John and Chris, may have caught the same high-beam look when report cards arrived at home.

Yet, 9 decades later, she still has the same unwavering, piercing gaze.

Last July 8, Dr. Emily “Doc” Cum­ming Hammond Wilson turned 101 years old.

Her memory slips and slides out of gear, her hair is now a snowy white, and she walks only with assistance. Until August, she lived alone, save for her dog, at her home on Obligation Farm in West River.

Currently, she lives comfortably at Genesis Elder Care Spa Creek Center, an assisted living facility off Hilltop Lane in Annapolis. A urinary tract infection last summer, something a much younger woman can easily weather, knocked her for a steep loop. Though she visits her home occasionally, Doc Wilson will probably spend the rest of her days at Genesis.

“I never dreamed I’d live this long,” she chuckles softly. “I would have taken it as it came.”

The First Woman Doctor in South County

What came her way in more than a century is a lifetime as an accidental pioneer. She was the first female country doctor in South County—southern Anne Arundel County. Despite reservations from some male physicians about a female’s ability to handle their job, she was the first female doctor at Anne Arundel Hospital, now Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC).

Not only was Doc Wilson the first female chief of Staff of AAMC and first female president of the Anne Arundel County Medical Society, she was elected to both posts twice. She was also a member of the first board of Anne Arundel Community College, back when a handful of classes were held in the evenings at Severna Park High School.

She officially retired, after 53 years of practice, on September 1, 1982. Family, friends, and local politicians had thrown her a not-such-a-surprise party to mark her 50th anniversary as a doctor, but she refused to take the hint to retire then.

What may have put her on the road to becoming a doctor in the first place was one in a long line of family dogs.

“My first patient was a dog,” Doc Wilson recalls, sitting in an easy chair in her sunlit room. “My current dog is General PGT Beauregard, a Jack Russell. I’ve had several dogs in succession. There was a pair of Russian wolfhounds, some English greyhounds and a beloved Labrador.”

So low a visitor has to lean within inches of her face to hear, Doc Wilson’s voice is still inflected with the slow, honey-smooth drawl of her South Carolina childhood.“I’m sleeping most of the time now,” she says, “but when I’m awake, I look for articles about what’s going on in the world.”

She was married, and widowed, twice.

John Fletcher Wilson, who was a deputy to Louis L. Goldstein, the state comptroller, was her spouse from 1932 until his death in 1952. The couple had two sons: John, now 73, and Chris, 68.

Her second husband, Albert “Tup” Tupper Walker, had been her sweetheart when they were in their teens. Her family disapproved of his background and perceived lack of education and they broke up and went decades before seeing each other again. Tup and Doc wed in 1974. When she retired, they traveled the world until his death in 1988.

A True Country Doctor

Dr. Emily Wilson’s South County medical practice began in 1929, long before the vaccines, antibiotics, steroids, microsurgery, implants, transplants, and hundreds of other medical advances we take for granted. Conditions were crude and so, often, were the cures.

Only two roads in the area were paved—the rest seemed to be bogs of mud designed to entrap any vehicle that ventured out in an emergency. And for most of her career she lived in houses set back half a mile from any roadway, compounding her transportation woes.

Doc’s memories of how medicine was practiced in South County from the late ’20s into the mid ’60s sounds like a third-world travelogue. Surely the near-primitive living conditions she poignantly describes were not how people were born, lived, and died less than an hour from our nation’s capital? Many homes had no electricity or indoor plumbing. Babies often died shortly after birth, and it could take hours to get to a hospital—or have a doctor make an emergency visit to your house.

In addition to her gender, she was notable for her evenhanded treatment of her patients, regardless of sex, race, severity of illness, or economic status. In an area that practiced Jim Crow segregation, her waiting room was desegregated. Black and white patients sat together and were called in the order of their arrival or their need.

Remembering Doc

“We were friends, not close, but we had a lot in common,” says Dr. Faye Allen, widow of Dr. Aris T. Allen and one of the first African American doctors in Annapolis.

“Doc was outstanding, one of the few women physicians in the county. She was involved as head of staff at the hospital, which was unusual at the time. She had quite a Black practice in the county. With some physicians, if you were Black, they had different hours or waiting rooms for you. She didn’t. So many Blacks in South County were really fond of her.”

A neighbor, 89-year-old Mary “Mousie” Herring, considers herself “a puppy” compared to Dr. Wilson. “When I moved here in 1960, she was still practicing out here in the boondocks. That was a convenience. We became friends because our farms adjoined each other. Our dogs used to play together and fight over female dogs.”

With her late first husband, Eric Purdon, she would socialize with Doc Wilson.

Mrs. Herring notes, “It was unusual for a female to be a doctor when she began. But when she retired, there were many.” “She’s always very pleasant, a lovely lady,” says Mrs. Herring.

Driving into History

People still talk about how Doc Wilson bought a brand new Cadillac with all the gewgaws when she was 91. She planned to drive to Fl orida for a family reunion over Thanksgiving and wanted a nice new car for the trip.

According to her son John, “Mom handed her driver’s license to a dealership salesperson as part of processing the sale. The salesman disappeared and then, just as quickly, came running back. ‘This gotta be a mistake,’ the salesman sputtered. ‘This license says you were born in 1904.’” Doc smiled.

She kept on driving until she turned 97. Very reluctantly, with the prodding of her sons and friends, she finally stopped nighttime driving at age 95.