A Young Doctor Begin His Practice

Historical Article Series May 17, 2020 > A Young Doctor Begin His Practice

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 55, No. 2, May 2019

Last summer a penmanship copybook, used by Edwin G. Sumner (1830-1916), was purchased on eBay for $10. It ended up being a fabulous find! The last pages of the copybook contained a journal kept by Edwin Sumner, M.D. that described his first year of medical practice in Mansfield in 1854 – 1855. Below is an abridged version of it, transcribed by Ann Galonska with some added explanatory notes.

April 1st 1854. This day I left Tolland my native town and all its enduring ties for Mansfield Spring Hill. The day rather blustering and cold for the season. I landed about 4 o’clock and procured a boarding place at A C Stoare’s, deposited my medicines in an upper room of a two story house minus one half of a story. [He boarded at Artemas Storrs’ house, now 974 Storrs Road.] The next day I arranged my medicines and after arranging them to make as good a show as possible, I christened the room “My Office” and the following day put out my sign on one of the front door posts to that effect and planted my corporation in a chair in “my office” and waited for calls and waited yes, until I have waited in vain for over a week, until the prospects seem favorable to my waiting weeks and perhaps months longer “in vain” but time will determine and in due time I will scratch down in this my little journal my future success.

Edwin G. Sumner, M. D.
Edwin G. Sumner, M. D.

May 15th 1854. Time has passed rapidly on since last I wrote in this journal, days and even weeks have passed. I am still in my little office waiting for business. I have been doing something in the line of my profession since last I wrote in this book, had several call and prescribed for several at their houses. To day is my birth day, so called, or at least the anniversary of my birth day. Three years ago I was in Hartford in Mr. Agard’s employ. I then and there recorded this day I was 21 years of age… Three years ago I was a Grocery merchant’s clerk and expecting to follow that business. Two years ago I was a student studying medicine. One year ago I was a book agent traveling to get money to continue my studies. To day I am reckoned under the head of Practicing Physicians…

And now a day has arrived which to me is an important one, and as it is now passed I will note its events as far as concerns myself. It is Sunday June 18th 1854 the day is come, the sun beaming down upon earth with universal glory, as [this] is the day that I with trepidations am to be baptized.  The names of the Ladies are Misses Parker, Snow, Tift. A very large congregation were at church in the forenoon and at noon an unusual large number were convened at the water to witness the ceremony. After having sung that beautiful hymn “Sinners are coming home” we were each of us baptized in the name of the Father.

Time passes on and I stay one day after another in and about my office occasionally having a call, nothing very particular transpiring until the middle of June when in the night I am called to see John W Conant he being in a very bad condition… In the morning [he] is worse and at ½ past 12 surrounded by friends he breathed his last, his wife and 2 daughters and one son weeping in an adjoining room as his last breath left his body. I could not refrain in joining with the weeping ones as I stood around his bed and saw my patient die so suddenly. This is the first patient I ever lost and it is with dissatisfaction that I look upon his dead body which was only two days ago enjoying a comfortable manner of health. How uncertain is life! How certain is death! In a day or two I see his lifeless remains lowered into the grave and covered with the cold clods of the valley. But a few days pass and I have another very hard case that of Harvey Moulton, disease inflammation of brain, he recovers in a few days…

Some months have passed since I have taken up my Journal to note the events of my life as they have passed along. As to business I have not done but a small business most of the time 15 or 20 dollars per month – have had as a general thing very good success. I have now at this time which is the latter part of October quite a good business nearly 50 dollars per month… The 26th of this month I lost a patient which produces a great impression on my mind and even now it seems to me as though I could not blot it from my memory. The patient referred to was a Miss Thrall from Windsor village, [who] was taken sick at George Hankses when working in his factory [the silk mill at Hanks Hill]. I was called to see her some two weeks before she died. She was hard sick all the time, disease was Typhoid Fever and on the 26th of October at fifteen minutes before 12 o clock at night she suddenly choked up and with out a struggle she breathed her last. She was a sweet lovely girl, beloved by all who knew her, and she died with a bright prospect for future happiness… I have wept for hours over her early death… I have now lost two patients at the house of George Hanks viz John W Conant & Aurelia Thrall. Even withstanding my unfavorable success, the family seem to respect me and I look upon them as among my best friends in Mansfield…

November has come and with it I again have a sick patient on my hands – viz George Martin, disease typhoid fever. Time moves on and the fever seems to leave him, his tongue clears off, his appetite returns and he is convalescent. But suddenly he is taken worse – he chokes and breathing very laborious, pulse weak, lips purple and a cold clammy sweat pervades the whole surface. He lives so some five hours and then he dies – poor fellow, he is gone. This is the third patient I have lost.

February has come and I am posting up for the examination in New Haven [at the Medical College at Yale]. I am not without my fears… 

Monday Feb 18th. I leave Mansfield for Tolland, remain there over night. Tuesday take the stage for Hartford, stopped at Mr. Agards over night, had a nice visit, and on Wednesday step on board of the cars bound for New Haven, arrive there safely in the forenoon, students are being examined and most of them expressing their fears in regards to themselves. Thursday Feb 21st in the afternoon I was examined and was quite pleased with my examination and was approbated [licensed] by the Examiners and received the title of M.D. Commencement on the evening of Thursday in the Medical College, beautifully illuminated by placing candles inside of the windows… On Friday I left New Haven, reaching Tolland Friday evening and on Saturday returned to Mansfield ready to again receive calls, ready to try my skills again in the healing arts.

Business now rather small, weather unusually cold, very hard winter. Health pretty good. Time passes on and February passes away… Though we hail [March] with joy as being the opening of summer days, we are disappointed in finding instead of sunshine, wind gusts with showers of rain, nought but the cold and bleak winds of the north together with snow and frozen rain… April now has come, weather rather cold. On Monday the 2nd day of April which is freemans meeting, we have an intensely cold day, the winds blowing very high with the thermometer standing very low. Mansfield goes Know Nothing sending G R Hanks and O S Chaffee as their representatives. [The American Party, commonly known as the Know Nothing movement, was an American nativist political party that operated nationally in the mid-1850s. It was primarily anti-Catholic, xenophobic, and hostile to immigration, starting originally as a secret society. (Wikipedia)]

The days in April pass on until we arrive to the 11th the anniversary of my first visit as a Practicing Physician. During the year which has passed and gone, I have seen some days of joy and gladness and some of gloom and sadness. During the year I have been called to mourn over the death of two patients of whom I had the sole care, those of J W Conant & Aurelia Thrall both of which died at the house of G R Hanks. I have also lost one other patient who I attended with Dr Brigham as counsel – viz George Martin. As to my business I can say I have done as much as I expected to do. The whole amount of good business amounting to some $240.00.

May 15th 1855. Again has arrived, the anniversary of my birth day and I am now as I was one year ago to day noting the fact down in my Journal…  To day I am twenty five…  I look forward and imagine myself one year in the future. Shall I be alive, shall I be in Mansfield? Will my situation be as pleasant as it is now or will the cares of the world cast a cloud over my happiness? I am now enjoying myself quite well, although at times I feel lonely and feel as if I might be happier had I some particular friend with whom I could share my joys and sorrows. One year from now I hope to be in possession of that friend – and now I bid adieu to the anniversary of the day of my birth, hoping to see many more as happy as I am now.

Days weeks and months pass away – June has come and gone – July too has come and is passing away. The last day of June I went to Tolland and Miss Mary Hinckley accompanied me, staid over night, for the first time introduced her to my friends in Tolland. I had a fine time. [Edwin Sumner and Mary Stedman Hinckley married on Nov. 13, 1855 in Mansfield City.]

July 4th had a Pic Nic on the green in front of the town house on Spring Hill. Not a remarkable great affair.

July 12th John Barrows dies attended by Dr Brigham and myself, cause of death from Stroke causing disease of brain. In September Mr. Mohr’s child died, disease Inflammation of Brain – and soon after in the same month, Mr. Mohr father of the child died, disease Dysentery… September passes away and October 1st comes. On the morning of Oct 1st Hearrick Farwell dies, she has been sick six weeks. Dr B____ and I have attended her, great distress at her stomach…

October 21st Miss Mary Parker dies, she who with me but a little more than a year ago made a public profession of religion by being baptized. Now she is gone, to day I assisted in burying her out of our sight. I was one of four who bore her to her grave… Dr Richardson was her attending Physician. Her disease was Bilious fever, sick but about two weeks.

And now I bid adieu to this little Journal – Spring Hill October 24, 1855

Following his shaky first year as a physician in Mansfield, described in his journal from 1854-1855, Edwin G. Sumner went on to have a successful career in medicine and other businesses. The following information about him appeared in the Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut, published in 1891.

“Edwin G. Sumner was born in Tolland, in this state, May 15, 1830. He was educated in the common school until he was sixteen, at which time he went to the Ellington Academy and afterwards to the academy at Wilbraham, Massachusetts. After having served as clerk in the city of Hartford for a little more than one year, he commenced the study of medicine in the same place, and continued his studies at the New York University, and at the end of three years graduated in the medical department at Yale College, and commenced practice in Mansfield. He afterwards practiced three years in the old town of Farmington. In 1860 he went to St. Louis, Mo., and was there at the breaking out of the war, after which he returned to Mansfield, in time to be drafted. He a received a commission from Governor Buckingham as assistant surgeon in the 21st Connecticut regiment, but owing to sickness was not able to go into the field at that time. He afterwards moved to Ohio, where he was engaged in business at Dayton for some ten years, returning in 1871 to Mansfield, which place has since been his permanent residence. In 1872 he was elected by the republicans to represent Mansfield in the state legislature, to which he was returned in 1883, at the latter date receiving the appointment of county commissioner in Tolland county for the term of three years.

Dr. Sumner is a member and deacon of the Baptist church at Willimantic. He is also president of the Mansfield school board, and a member of the Masonic fraternity. He married Miss Ellen M. Hinckley of Mansfield, and they have two daughters – one married and living in Dayton, Ohio and the other in Oberlin College in the same state. [His first wife died on April 5, 1859 in Farmington and he married her younger sister on April 12, 1860.] His business connections are with a wholesale notion house in Dayton, as special partner, with the Dime Savings Bank and Natchaug Silk Company of Willimantic, the National Thread Company of Mansfield, and the Underwood Belting Company of Tolland; in all which corporations he is a director.”

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