Dr. Hugh C. Smisson

Industrial Denison, a book published around 1902, featured a photograph of the "office of Dr. H. C. Smisson, Specialist." For a brief period in 1901, Dr. Hugh Clifton Smisson worked in Denison, Texas, as a physician. Before and after, he had a life elsewhere.


"Office of Dr. H. C. Smisson, Specialist."
Robinson, Frank M., comp. Industrial Denison. [N.p.]: Means-Moore Co., [ca. 1909]. Page 50.

Hugh was born in Alabama on September 19, 1871, the son of Dr. Henry J. Smisson (1833-1918) and Laura C., Brunner Smisson (1841-1913).  They had two children: Hugh and Annie Laura Smisson Page (1866-1934).

Henry, the father was born in Georgia and attended the Medical College of South Carolina in Charleston, graduating in 1860.  He served the Confederacy as captain of Company B, 33rd Alabama Infantry, during the Civil War.  He and Laura married in 1866.  According to his obituary, he then practiced medicine in Newton, Dale County, Alabama, for forty years or more.  Later, for several years, he worked in Ozark, Alabama; and he retired at Dothan, Alabama.  He was nearly ninety years of age when he died, five years after his wife passed away.  He was buried in Newton.

Hugh grew up in Newton and married Cora Smithe around 1896. The Southern Practitioner, a medical journal, reported that he was awarded an M.D. degree from Chattanooga (TN) Medical College at its eighth annual commencement on March 23, 1897. The account of the exercises ends: "And another class goes out from the shadows of grand old Lookout to enter on the arduous duties of professional life." In 1898, Dr. Smisson was listed in the Chattanooga City Directory as a physician.

Hugh moved around quite a bit in the years 1900 through 1903. The 1900 U.S. Census found him practicing medicine in Delta County, Texas, southeast of Fannin County, thirty miles from the border with Indian Territory. Cooper was the county seat. Dr. Smisson was enumerated there on June 16.

The Denison City Directory for 1901-1902 lists the doctor in Denison, with an office over 311 West Main Street (above the hardware store of Dollarhide & Harris). Also over 311 was attorney A. B. Person. Person was there before and after Smisson, so he may have rented or sublet a room in his suite to the doctor. Hugh was living at 427 West Texas Street. On page 2 of the directory, the Library of Congress stamped "Two Copies Received" on March 30, 1901. The copyright entry is listed as February 15, 1901. The second paragraph of that page lists Denison's population as 14,692 as of March 1, 1901. We can safely say that Smission arrived in Denison after June 16, 1900, but before March 1, 1901.

He didn't stay long after that. By October he was in Fort Worth. That city's 1901-1902 directory lists him as a "resident physician" in charge of the British Medical Institute. This was a branch of the institute headquartered at Jackson, Michigan. The Library of Congress received its copies of the Fort Worth directory on October 29, 1901. The copyright entry was in the month of September, with the day of the month being illegible. So Smisson likely was in Forth Worth by around October 1, 1901.

On January 24, 1902, newspaper reports from LaFayette, Louisiana, stated: "The fast passenger train which left New Orleans was wrecked Friday [January 17] at Code station, 12 miles east of LaFayette. Five passenger cars were thrown from the track, all well filled with passengers, but fortunately only three were hurt. The injured are: Dr. H. C. Smisson, of Slocum, internal injuries; Dr. Brecker, of Detroit, leg hurt; Mrs. C. H. Hambert, of Buffalo, N. Y., injured internally. The injured were brought here, sent to a hotel and are reported as doing well."

Various newspaper reports listed the injured doctor's city of residence as Slocum [Slocomb], Alabama. That town is near where Dr. Smisson was born and also near Dothan, Alabama, where his father was living at the time. Probably the newspapers were correct that he was from Alabama at the time of the wreck. Or at least he boarded the train there. An account in The Liberty (TX) Vindicator on January 24 said, "He was an attache of the British medical corps and was on his way to Waco, Texas, to establish there a branch office." The fact that he was still working for the "British medical corps" [British Medical Institute] may mean that he had not moved permanently from Fort Worth back to Alabama. He could have gone back there to visit family before returning to Texas. It is unclear whether he ever got to Waco.

Less than two months after his accident, Hugh took time out from being treated for his injuries in Houston, Texas, to scout a possible location (Liberty, Texas) for his practice. The man liked to keep his options open.

The Journal of the American Medical Association for 1910 carried an article titled "Advertising Specialists Convicted of Fraud: W. H. Hale, A. S. Dyar and Roland Register Receive Heavy Fines and Prison Sentences" (pp. 1394–96). This report of fraud in New Orleans described

the so-called Professor Hale who was represented as being of London, England, just then on a visit to the United States, was, as a matter of fact, and had been, for the last nine or ten years, previous to the mailing of the letter in February, 1908, a resident and a registered voter of Jackson, Michigan. Some years previously Hale operated the "British Medical Institute" at Jackson. This was a typical "lost manhood" concern and did a thriving business until Hale was prosecuted under the medical practice act and his "institute" closed. He then began his itinerant career as the "great London specialist."

This information casts a slightly different light on Hugh Smisson's proclamation of himself as a "specialist."

Dr. Smisson, perhaps getting wind of the fraud, continued to move. By 1903, the City Directory of Memphis, Tennessee, listed him as a physician. In 1907, he was living in Ozark, Alabama, where his father then lived.

On September 26, 1910, the Dothan (AL) Eagle reported, "Dr. Hugh Smisson, of Jackson, Mississippi, is in the city, visiting his father, Dr. J. H. Smisson." The article says Jackson, Mississippi, but perhaps this was an error, as three years later Hugh was living in Jackson, Tennessee. The doctor had an unusual affinity for towns called Jackson!

Interestingly, the 1910 Census for Jackson, Tennessee, reported no H. C. Smisson. However, it did list C. L. Smisson, age 38, a physician, whose wife Carrie, age 27, was a "chiropodist." Both his parents were born in Alabama, both hers in Indiana. They had been married (first marriage) five years and had a daughter, Helen, age 4, born in Missouri.

By 1913, Hugh was located in Jackson, Tennessee, and was listed in the City Directory as a physician. That same year, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a short notice: "Lambert Treatment for Drug Addiction. Dr. H. C. Smisson, Jackson, Tenn.: Our supply of copies of The Journal containing the Lambert article on the treatment of morphinism, etc., has been exhausted. A pamphlet containing the article will be sent on receipt of 10 cents."

In 1916, Dr. Hugh Smisson had moved again to Memphis, establishing a practice. The 1917 City Directory reported him living at, or affiliated with, the Tennessee Sanitarium there. He passed away at age 48 in Memphis, on April 14, 1919, and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in that city.

IN SUM: Dr. Smisson leaves Delta County, Texas, after June 16, 1900; he arrives in Denison, Texas, before March 1, 1901; he moves to Fort Worth before October 1, 1901; in 1903 he is out of Texas and in Tennessee. The date of the photo taken in Smisson's office above 311 West Main Street is sometime between June 1900 and October 1901. A question remains: What brought him to Denison?

  

   

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Elaine Nall Bay
2013