“a dream has no dimensions”

The ministry of Dr. May Cravath Wharton began in a humble way: she said ‘yes’ to being the school doctor for the Pleasant Hill Academy.  From there, a consuming dream arose:  “a new day on the Mountain when men and women, equipped with sound bodies and trained minds and hands, could meet the demands of their environment and achieve a more abundant life.”[1]

As a physician, it became Dr. May’s lifelong vocation to address the chronic health conditions of the local people.  In her autobiography, she wrote:

What a joy it would be to help in mending and revitalizing the neglected people of our Mountain!  In my mind I checked over the battered men with their bent backs and gnarled hands, and the women, old and worn-out at thirty from childbearing and hard work, whom I had been treating.  Each bore the stamp of neglect and hard living conditions.  Exposed to the hardships and privations of frontier life, isolated for generations, they had never benefited by modern sanitary science.  They knew little about the dangers of infection.  They neglected accidental injuries.  They suffered chronic ailments in silence and fatalistic resignation… If a thing must be endured, they figured, it must.

It was her love for the people of the Cumberland Plateau that kept Dr. May on the Mountain after her husband died.  In 1921, she and Elizabeth Fletcher (friend and former art teacher at the Academy) opened “Sanex” (sanitarium annex) — a two-bed hospital — the first hospital in Pleasant Hill.  Not long after that, they were joined in their efforts by Alice Adshead, a registered nurse, whom Dr. May had met during a time of respite following her husband’s death.  In 1922, the Uplands Cumberland Mountain Sanitarium was chartered.  Over the next few years, these three women would embark on an impressive public health venture, beginning outpatient clinics in outlying areas, as well as educational programs on hygiene and nutrition.  By 1935, they would open “Cumberland General Hospital” – a 20-bed hospital with operating room, surgical ward, and maternity room.  In 1937, the Van Dyck House was opened, for treatment of tuberculosis.  When a visitor remarked that Dr. May’s dream had come true, she was quoted as replying, “A dream has no dimensions.”

Today, if you drive the eleven miles from Uplands Village to the town of Crossville, you will see another part of the vast dream that Dr. May, Elizabeth Fletcher, and Alice Adshead shared with the people they loved:  Cumberland Medical Center.  Dedicated in 1950, Cumberland Medical Center describes itself as “an acute care hospital offering all private patient rooms as well as specialized services not usually found in the rural medical system.”  The dream without dimensions continues to provide state of the art care to the people of the Cumberland Plateau.

the three dreamers:
Elizabeth Fletcher, Dr. May, and Alice Adshead

[1] May Cravath Wharton, “Doctor Woman of the Cumberlands: The Autobiography of May Cravath Wharton, M.D.” (Pleasant Hill: Uplands Retirement Village, 1953), 85.

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