Skip to main contentU.S. National Library of MedicineU.S. National Library of Medicine

Profiles in Science
Pinterest badge Follow Profiles in Science on Pinterest!

The Wilbur A. Sawyer Papers

Letter from Wilbur A. Sawyer to Margaret Sawyer pdf (414,553 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from Wilbur A. Sawyer to Margaret Sawyer
Dr. Sawyer was in Georgia and Alabama inspecting malaria and hookworm control programs from late August to early October 1924, while his family finished a vacation in northern Michigan and prepared to move back to New York City. In this letter Sawyer described southern small-town life and diet, local wildlife (e.g., cockroaches), and making the rounds with local Rockefeller Foundation representative Dr. W. G. Smillie. The "Uncle Bim" that Sawyer mentions was a popular comic strip character during the 1920s.
Item is handwritten.
Number of Image Pages:
5 (414,553 Bytes)
1924-09-21 (September 21, 1924)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
Sawyer, Margaret
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Public Health
Exhibit Category:
From Hookworm to Yellow Fever: Rockefeller Foundation, 1919-1927
Box Number: 2
Folder Number: 4
Unique Identifier:
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Physical Condition:
Series: Correspondence, 1911-1995
SubSeries: Personal correspondence, 1911-1995
Folder: 1924
Andalusia, Sept 21, 1924
Dear Margaret,
Andalusia is a nice Southern town and you would feel perfectly at home in it. The flying cockroaches and the flies that get in your ears remind one of dear old Queensland. There is a nice big cockroach living behind the piano at the boarding-house. He ventures out on the wall but retires after a quick reconnoitre if we are still at meals.
I arrived here at 9.30 in the evening on Friday, Sept. 19. Dr. and Mrs. Smillie met me at the station and took me to the home of Judge Rankin, where I have a delightful clean modern room with private bath,--a luxury after Leesburg. There are stacks of clean towels and there is not a lot of dust anywhere. The room is also cool.
I board across the street where most of the boarders are young school teachers. Between the Rankins and the school marms my soul is being well looked after. The godless go to church once on Sunday and the rest at least twice. Everyone invites you to church and then notices whether
you have gone and comments on it. You are likely to go, too, as there is no other occupation, unless it is spooning, and I am out of that. The most violent form of spooning seems to be taking your girl to church. I hasten to add that Dr. Smillie and I went together and otherwise unaccompanied. First we picked cotton for an hour on his demonstration patch.
Close to the porch at the boarding house there is a lantana bush frequented by a humming bird. He hovers about plunging his beak rapidly into blossom after blossom until the edge is off his appetite and then he sits on a twig from which he can watch his precious blossoms. If a bumble bee comes around then he darts after it and makes passes at it with his beak until it flies away. He gives similar attention to butterflies. He has a strong sense of proprietorship.
I am gradually learning the essentials of the southern bill of fare. You must have grits about twice a day, and you mix them with hash or gravy. This food supplements the principal dish and suppresses any longings for second helpings. Then, you must have chicken
with dumplings at Sunday noon. One chicken will do. You vary the noodles to adjust for the size of the table. You eat a second round of hash, pork, or beans to fill the vacant corners. There is always variety. And then there are the hot biscuits. The small round variety. They were invented small and hot so as to keep the help busy after the meal starts, everything else being on the table and passed from hand to hand in economical and sensible fashion. People ought to do a little work for their food. We can't all earn it by scintillating remarks.
Most the conversation so far has been about Uncle Bim in Australia. No sooner does anyone hear that I have come from there than he asks about Uncle Bim, and wants to learn if he really owns most of Australia, and if I know him. To-day they handed me the section in the movies with his picture. I advise you to get acquainted with him even at the expense of paying 10 cents for a Sunday paper. It is necessary in self defense. If you want to economize keep it dark that you are from Australia.
Mrs. Smillie has a young baby girl just getting her fourth tooth. There are two older children
of the former Mrs. Smillie who died in Brazil of puerperal fever.
The report of the I.H.B. has three of my photos in it, but none from Australia. Two are from Madras and one from Java. I saw Dr. Smillie's copy this morning.
I am hoping to-morrow's mail will bring a letter from you, forwarded through Leesburg. If I mail this to-morrow it will probably not arrive too early to be delivered to you in New York.
Have you enough money to last to the first of the month? I have not received any reimbursements of travel expense and have wondered whether any letters were received from the I.H.B. and forwarded from Harbor Springs.
Rumor has it that Dr. Leach will be assigned to the State of Alabama for a year as epidemiologist. There is plenty to do here. I listened to the oral examination of midwives the other day. Nearly all of them were unable to write and only a few could read. The white women were more ignorant than the blacks. Most of them were very old. Many of the negro women were uncertain of their age. One said she was here in the slave days and her occupation then was "fanning flies" and helping about the table.
One of the women had delivered about a thousand babies.
Alabama maxims by W.A.S.
1. Spare the grits and spoil the food.
2. 'Tis gravy that makes the grits go round.
3. You can build a marble courthouse but you can't keep off the spit.
4. A cockroach in the bush is worth three in the house.
To Blatta Orientalis
Twinkle, twinkle, little Blatta,
How I wonder what's the matta,
Darting all about the house
Like a filthy winged mouse.
2 [and]alusia [NOTE: Sawyer used an ampersand in place of the "and" of andalusia]
Thou house of cotton and pecan (peekahn)
Where homesick wanderers labor on
Eating chicken and gumbo, and pork,
Sighing for loved ones in distant New York.
And getting their only kind solace and balm
From thy gay and festive bobbed school-maam.
Love to all,
Metadata Last Modified Date:
Linked Data:
RDF/XML     JSON     JSON-LD     N3/Turtle     N-Triples