Friday, February 1, 2008
Stella Beatrix Whitney/Walker (1881-1962)
The following article is a first attempt to describe the life and work of Stella B. Walker. I would appreciate any additional information anyone would care to contribute.
Writing about the life of Stella Walker, one of my early friends in Cedar Vale, Kansas, will entail several twists, turns, and detours to encompass a life that covered a wide range of both residence, and pursuits.
Stella Beatrix Whitney was born in 1881, the second daughter of Dr. Perry N. Whitney. The earliest record I have found for P. N. Whitney is the 1880 Federal Census. In 1880 Perry Whitney(1865-?) was living in Union Center, Kansas with his wife, Mamie (1856-1926) and infant daughter, Ethel. He listed himself as a farmer on that census form. By the 1885 Kansas Census the family had expanded to include Stella, age 4, and Francis, age 2.
Sometime in the next ten years, Perry, Mamie, and family must have moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Perry attended the Eclectic Medical Institute and graduated with an M. D. degree. “Eclectic Medicine” was a branch of medicine that enjoyed considerable popularity in the mid-nineteenth century. While it is now listed among the so-called “Quack Medicines” by the Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association, Eclecticism vied in the nineteenth century with allopathy, homeopathy, and other lesser-known philosophies, such as hydropathy, phlebotomy, and spiritualism. Eclectic physicians practiced with a philosophy of “alignment with nature,” learning from and using concepts from other schools of medical thought, along with observation of the use of medicinal plants by the Native Americans. There was considerable controversy between the allopaths, who believed in prescribing medicines to fight illness and homeopaths, who believed in prescribing minute amounts of the causes of the illness to boost the immune system to fight the illness. Furthermore, allopaths were divided between the advocates for “botanical medicines” and advocates of “mineral medicines.” Mineral medicines became pharmaceutical medicines, and botanical medicines became the province of herbalists, naturopaths and the like. There is no need to tell you who won that battle.
The eclectics, who included Dr. Whitney, tried to remain above the fray, preferring to pick and choose among all the methods of treatment. They often compounded their own medicines from combinations of “botanical” and “mineral” sources and created specific medicines for particular illnesses. The many preparations that Mrs. Walker compounded from Dr. Whitney’s recipes and sold over the counter at Whitney Drugstore, were typical eclectic medicines used by eclectic physicians.
By the 1895 Kansas Census, Dr. P. N. Whitney was living and practicing in Cedar Vale, where he had moved after graduating from the Eclectic Medical Institute. The 1901 history of Cedar Vale relates that “for the past four years he has had the leading drug business in the city. His daughter, Miss Ethel, is a very clever artist in oil painting; and another daughter, Miss Stella, who is studying pharmacy, is very expert in crayon portrait work.” Stella Whitney was in the very first graduating class from Cedar Vale High School (1896) (see photo). The 1900 Federal Census lists the entire family (which now included another daughter, Dorothea) living at home. Ethel was “at school” and Stella (age 19) and Francis (age 17) were saleswomen at the Whitney Drug Store. Sometime during the period, Stella attended the University of Kansas, where she was one of the first women to graduate from the pharmacy school.
Shortly afterwards, Stella met and married Reuben Gerald Walker and the couple moved to Mounds, Oklahoma. The 1910 census shows them living in Mounds, where Reuben lists himself as a “retail merchant and druggist.” Stella was not working during this period. Reuben had come from Highland, Kansas, where he had worked as a hired man on the Rolls Hunter farm.
Nothing is known of the couple for ten years. When we next meet them in the 1920 Federal Census, they are living in Dublin Gulch, Montana, where Reuben is employed as a miner. They have two children, Julia Irene (age 3) and William K (age 1) and Stella has no listed occupation. During this period, Stella lost several babies, either early in life or before birth. The Cedar Vale Cemetery lists a plot with the designation “Infant children of Reuben & Stella [Walker] (no names, no dates).
In 1929 Stella moved back to Cedar Vale with her children, which now included Marcella (b. 1923) and Althea (b. 1925). There is no evidence that Reuben came back with them and there is no record of what happened to him after 1920. Stella is listed as the head of the household on the 1930 Federal Census. She was sharing responsibility with her sister, Ethel Whitney/Crabtree in running the Whitney Drug Store. Both women were registered pharmacists.
Stella’s son, William attended the University of Kansas, graduating with both a pharmacy and an M. D. degree in 1945. He then served in the U. S. Army until 1948, before returning to Cedar Vale to take up the practice of medicine. In 1955 he moved his practice to Sedan, where he remained until his retirement in 1988.
Ethel Crabtree died on October 25, 1951 and Stella became the sole proprietor of the Whitney Drug Store. When I worked there around that time I never remember Ethel taking part in the operation of the business. Stella Walker continued to run the Whitney Drug Store until her retirement in the late 1950s. She then moved to Sedan to be with William and his family until her death on October 19, 1962.
Stella B. Walker was an important figure in medicine in Cedar Vale, Kansas. While she was thoroughly trained in modern pharmacy, she maintained the eclectic remedies that her father P. N. Whitney brought to the town. Townspeople depended on Dr. Whitney’s medicines for many of their ailments, and they missed Whitney Drug Store when it closed.