Dr. James D. Whitley, general medical practitioner and author, whose writings are of acknowledged value to the profession and whose labors as physician and surgeon have been so successful as to rank him with the ablest representatives of the profession in Petersburg and central Illinois, was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, England, on the 28th of February, 1844. His father, Eli Whitley, also a native of Halifax, came to America in 1846 and established his home in New York city. He was a pattern maker by trade and for many years was connected, in that capacity, with the Novelty Iron Works of New York. His wife died during the great cholera epidemic in this country, in 1849. In the family were three children.
Dr. Whitley started out in life on his own account when only twelve years of age, without money or influential friends, and that his career has been characterized by steady progression and success is due to the exercise of his native ability, his unremitting diligence and laudable ambition, which has prompted him to find in each transition stage of his career opportunity for further advancement. In his youth he was employed at farm labor in Logan county, Illinois, but desiring to enter professional life, he commenced the study of medicine in 1861 under Dr. Samuel Sargeant, a practicing physician of Lincoln, Illinois. The following year, however, his studies were interrupted by his enlistment in the Union army. He joined the One Hundred and Sixth Illinois Regiment, Colonel R. B. Latham commanding, on the 12th of August, 1862. He was mustered in at Lincoln, Illinois, as a drummer boy, being then but eighteen years of age, and went first to Kentucky. He served in Missouri and Tennessee and was also at Little Rock, Arkansas. A considerable portion of the time was given to guarding railroads. He was present at the fall of Vicksburg and saw varied service during the three years of his military experience. When the regiment steward, a few months after his enlistment, was taken ill, Dr. Whitley was appointed to that position and later was placed on detached service in the general hospital at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in the capacity of chief clerk. Subsequently he was given charge of the dispensary and was finally made acting assistant surgeon, in charge of the guard house and detached forces, so serving until August, 1865, when the war having ended he was honorably discharged.
Dr. Whitley's hospital service, while with the army, proved an excellent training school for his professional career, bringing to him much valuable, practical experience. Upon his return home he resumed the study of medicine and in the winter of 1865-6 he pursued a course of lectures in Rush Medical College. Later he came to Petersburg, Menard county, where he opened an office, but soon removed to Robinson's Mills, where he was appointed postmaster. Subsequently he established his home at Oakford, building the first residence there in 1872. He named the town in honor of William Oakford, of the Oakford-Fahnstock Company, wholesale grocers of Peoria, Illinois. He met with fair success in his practice in the little village which he established and in 1873 he returned to Rush Medical College, where he was graduated in February, 1874. Returning then to Oakford, he continued in practice there until July, 1879, when he again came to Petersburg, where he has since remained, and in the broader field which the county seat affords, he has so directed his labors that they have proved of great value to his fellow men, while the profession acknowledges his ability, which is based upon thorough and conscientious preparation and unfaltering devotion to the responsible duties which devolve upon the physician.
Dr. Whitley has continually added to his knowledge by study and investigation and also through the interchange of thought and experience among the members of the profession who are allied with various medical societies. Since 1878 he has been a member of the American Medical Association and he also belongs to the Illinois State Medical Society. He is a charter member of the Brainard District Medical Society, of which he was the president in 1881; belongs to the American Microscopical Society and is a fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society of London. He is likewise a member of the Illinois Army and Navy Medical Association, was a pension examiner and has been health officer of Petersburg since 1885. His Medical writings include: Observations During an Epidemic of Cerebro-Spinal-Meningitis in 1874; Report of Trichinosis with Post Mortem and Microscopical Appearance of Tissues Effected with the Parasites, and Asiatic Cholera.
Dr. Whitley has been married four times, first in 1866, second in 1873, third in 1890, and fourth in 1904. It was on the 8th of September, 1904, that he was united in marriage to Miss Libbie Rourke, a native of Menard county and a daughter of Colonel Cornelius Rourke, who was one of the pioneers of this county. The Doctor has two sons: James, born January 24, 1891; and Langdon, born June 18, 1896.
Fraternally Dr. Whitley is a Knight Templar Mason, belonging to St. Aldemar commandery at Petersburg, and he is also identified with the Odd Fellows and the Knights of Pythias lodges, in both of which he has filled all the chairs, and he is now surgeon of the Fourth Regiment of the uniform rank of the Knights of Pythias. He is also local surgeon for the Chicago & Alton Railroad, examining surgeon for the Travelers Accident Company since 1885 and examiner for several old line life insurance companies. For several years he was postmaster at Oakford, the postoffice at Robinson's Mills being discontinued after the town of Oakford was started. He was a member of the board of education at Petersburg for fifteen consecutive years. He is one of Menard county's leading and prominent citizens, popular with his brethren of the fraternities to which he belongs and exerting a moving and beneficial influence in behalf of public progress and improvement, as well as along professional lines. It is with extreme pleasure that we present this sketch of his career to the readers of this volume for we realize, and justly too, that it is unto such men that the present prosperity of Menard county is due.