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Transcript: Adam N. Boyd, 1976

Please note: The Becker Medical Library presents this oral history interview as part of the record of the past. This primary historical resource may reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times and of the interviewee. The Becker Medical Library does not endorse the views expressed in this interview, which may contain materials offensive to some users.

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This is Oral History interview number 23 with Adam N. Boyd, M.D., a graduate of the medical school class of 1926.  Dr. Boyd, could you tell us something about your family and your early childhood?

Well, I went to small town schools in Texas and later a rural school and finally went into town, so to speak, and graduated from a small town school in 1917.

What town was that?

That was Franklin, Texas, a little county seat town in central Texas.  The war [World War I] was on at that time and I was a little young at the moment to go in service so I went to the University of Texas as a freshman in the fall of 1917.

How did you decide to go to that school?

Well, I was pretty unknowledgeable about schools.  Out of 10 people in our graduating class, there were only two or three that went to college, which was not exactly the common thing to do in those days.  Anyway my school progress was interrupted when I went into the service.  After I got out, I came back and finished my work.

To go back a little bit about your early childhood, what was your father’s occupation?


Did you have brothers and sisters?

I had three brothers and three sisters.

Did they go to college?

Yes.  All of my brothers and sisters went to college except one brother and one sister, but my sister graduated from nursing at Herman Hospital in Houston.

What do the other children do?

Well, my older sister was a school teacher.  I had two brothers that were farmers, another brother that was an entomologist, and I believe they were the only ones that had particular occupations.

It sounds as if your parents did put an emphasis on education.

It was not a question so much of my parents putting emphasis on education because really they weren’t financially able to, but we just sort of worked it out.  I don’t know how.  Sometimes it did work out, but it was not easy.

Did you pretty much have to earn the money for tuition yourself?

I did, yes.  My college career, after the war, was interrupted by the pressure of having to work to put myself along and I lost a year in medical school.  As a matter of fact, I was unable to go on to medical school and dropped out a year and taught a laboratory course in the University of Texas and went on and got my Master’s degree between my junior and senior years.

I see.  So you went to college and you were there for how long?

I was there one year and a summer before I went in the service.

Did you volunteer or was it the draft?

Well, the school put in what I recall as ROTC – well, it was not R – SATC back in the early days, and we were in school and members the service.  We were sent to officer’s training camp from that contingent.  So I was discharged after the war from officer’s training camp in Louisville, Kentucky – Fort Zachary Taylor.

How long were you in the service?

Oh, just a few months.

But you did graduate from officer’s training?

No.  After the war, I guess they considered it was a very expensive unit and it was one of the first units that was broken up – discharged.

Did you serve abroad at all?

No.  I was in officer’s training camp when the Armistice was signed.

And then did you go back to college from there?

Oh yes.  We were out of the service in December and I went home and went right back to the University after the first of January.  There was a very large contingent of people that had been evacuated from the service.

What year were you in then?  Were you a sophomore when you went back?

Yes.  Of course, it was all mixed up.  I just can’t begin to tell you how complicated things were by virtue of interruption with the service and interruption with the influenza epidemic that they had that year and—

Did you leave school during the epidemic?

No.  I stayed in school through that epidemic and left school only when we went in the service.

Were many people of your acquaintance seriously ill with influenza?

Oh yes.  It was a tremendous mortality rate in our part of the country.

So people you know died from it?

Oh yes.

Did you yourself have it?

No.  I don’t think any of my family had it.

But many of your classmates did?

Yes, the death rate was very high.

Did they know the cause of it at that time?  What was their treatment?

Well, not much treatment; mostly supportive.

Is this what got you interested in becoming a doctor?

No, I can’t say what stimulated my interest except the war was going on and the need was emphasized.  I remember my high school principal said to me, “Why don’t you go to the university and take that pre-med course before it goes up to three years?”

So you entered the University with the idea of taking pre-med?


And you took that?


Was your major, in science?

Chemistry and zoology.  I wrote my Master’s thesis later on the reproductive cycle, using the opossum as an experimental animal.

How did you decide which medical school to go to?

Oh, I don’t know.  I just saw the Washington University catalog.

You saw their catalog and that made you interested.


When you came to medical school, how large was your class?


And how many of those graduated, do you know?

Oh, all of them.

Was there much competition to get into medical school then?

Oh yes.  Maybe not anything like it is now, but we thought it was competition.

Once you were involved in the program here, did you find that there was a lot of competition and pressure among the students?

I don’t recall that there was a lot of [that].  It seemed that everybody worked pretty hard and more students maybe had an outside interest.

Did you pay your own way?

I borrowed some money.  Between my junior and senior years, I don’t know how I got the job, but I was approached by somebody from Monsanto Chemical Company – I had a Master’s degree then – to do some animal experimentation on some of their products.  I worked at that most of the summer between my junior and senior years.  The first part of the summer I had to teach a zoology class in the University of Texas.  In the middle of the summer, I came down here and went to work for Monsanto and did some work with them during my senior year.  I did enough work that it helped to put me through my last year of medical school.

Although you did have to borrow money, too.

Yes, I borrowed money.

You mentioned a few minutes ago that you dropped out of medical school for a year.  Was that when you got your M.A.?


So you went back to Texas?

That’s right.  But it was a question of going to work outside or doing something [where] I could make a little money and accomplish something.  I felt like the tutorship that I had at the University would at least defray my expenses pretty good and then the degree would be all bonus.

Do you remember any of your teachers in medical school that were outstanding?

Oh, yes.

Maybe you could name and tell us a little bit about a few of them.  Which one comes most readily to mind?

Well, I guess I would have to say Dr. Barney Brooks.

Could you tell us a little bit about him?

Dr. Barney Brooks was a graduate of the University of Texas years before that.  Then he went to Hopkins and got his degree and he came to Washington University.  He was a fixture here.  He was Dr. [Evarts] Graham’s associate or assistant.  Dr. Barney Brooks later went down to Vanderbilt when they reorganized their medical school in about 1925.  He went down there and as Professor of Surgery, and I later went down there to do my internship mainly because of Dr. Brooks.

Another member of the faculty, Dr. Barr, David Barr, came here while I was a student, I think during my sophomore or junior year.  Dr. Alexander, I don’t remember what his first name was, [ed. note: Dr. Harry L. Alexander is the faculty member referred to] came here at about the same time.  Then, of course, we had men like Dr. Ernest Sachs.

Could you tell us something about him?

Oh, he was – I remember his noon clinics on Thursday.  (Laughs)

What were they like?

Oh, he’d have a patient down in “the Pit” in the little amphitheater, you know.  He’d get groups of three or four students down there, and he’d quiz them on everything pertaining to whatever subject he was representing that day.

Where were the rest of the students?  He would take them two at a time?

Two or three at a time and the rest of them would be in the amphitheater.

The rest of them would be up in the seats watching and listening?

Yes.  Watching and feeling how thankful they were that they weren’t in the Pit.

What were your contacts with Dr. Barr?

Well, he conducted ward rounds and of course he had his lecture for the whole class.  Ward rounds were small sections that we were in.

What were his lectures like?

Oh, his lectures were real interesting, whatever the topic.  I remember writing a paper in medicine.  Dr. Barr had made mention of the fact that in diagnosis of lobar pneumonia that the chlorides were increased, I believe it was, in output.  I wrote my annual paper on that subject because I knew how interested he was in it.  I did a lot of research and found a number of patients that they had made these determinations on.  It was interesting, and I got a favorable comment from him.

Did you have much contact with Dr. Graham in classes or outside of classes?

Dr. Graham had some ward rounds, yes, and of course he had his weekly lecture for the whole class.

By the way, we do have Dr. Graham’s papers here in the historical archives.

Yes.  On his first operation on the lung?

Yes, that’s very famous.

I’ll have to remark about an incident that took place with Dr. Barney Brooks.  Of course, you know they didn’t do a lot of real big, world-shattering surgery in those days, but he had this patient with a large abdominal aorta aneurysm, and he set the operation in the amphitheater where the students were all gathered – I mean many of them.  He got in there and for some reason or other, I guess it wasn’t difficult, he tore into the aneurysm and he stuck his finger up into the proximal part of the abdominal aorta to control the bleeding.  [He] turned around to the amphitheater group, and said, “Gentlemen, I now have my finger in the abdominal aorta.”  Well, there was just one thing he could do, [which] was to tie it off.  He did, and the man went ahead and got well.  Of course, he had enough collateral circulation to take care of the lower extremity circulation, but the man went ahead and died of something else, and that report was recorded in the American Medical Journal.

Could you talk a little bit more about some of your other teachers?  You’ve mentioned many of them.

Yes.  Of course, we remember Dr. Barr and Dr. Alexander and Dr. Graham.

Dr. Alexander – do you remember his lectures?

Yes, but I don’t remember them as much as I did Dr. Barr’s.  I don’t believe he lectured to the sections as much as Dr. Barr did.

What was the medical school like then?  I suppose there were many fewer buildings than now.

Oh, compared to now, it was a wide spotted room.  I was over in one of the buildings just awhile ago and saw some of the old pictures.  I saw the picture of Barnes Hospital [in] 1920, that was six years before I graduated.  [It was a] three‑story building with wards projecting out away from the corridor.  I forget now how they designated the building, something like 2119.  Each wing had a designated number and the first number was the floor, what wing it was, and then the second letter was the floor that it was on.  It was just a three-story building I believe.  They had just completed the maternity building [St. Louis Maternity Hospital] when we graduated that year.

I guess they haven’t stopped building it since that time; there are still new buildings going up.  Were you a member of any medical fraternity?

Yes, I was a member of the Phi Beta Pi medical fraternity and was the president of the chapter – “Archon” we called it one year.  The fraternity house was at that time, I believe it still is, over on Forest Park Boulevard.

I think the fraternity, at least the Washington University chapter, has been dissolved.  I’m not aware of any medical fraternities existing.

Oh, is that so?  They’re gone?

I think they’re gone.  Did you stay in the fraternity house?


How did one go about getting into a fraternity?  Was it an exclusive group?

Well, just sort of a common consent and [the members] making friends with you and [you] making friends with the members.

Were there any other aspects of medical school at the time you were here that you remember as being particularly interesting?

Nothing outstanding I think.

You were here four years in medical school.  Where did you have your internship?

Down at Vanderbilt University Hospital.

How did you come to go there?

Well, I think it’s probably because Dr. Barney Brooks had gone down there as Professor of Surgery.

I see.  So he had gone there and then you followed him?

Yes, he had gone there the year before I did.  Vanderbilt just opened up the new hospital in 1925.  They got their new faculty mainly from Hopkins and Washington University.

I see.  Were you there one year?

Two years.

And was this called an internship?


Was it a general internship?

Well, I had a combination internship in pathology and surgery.  I don’t know how it happened but it was a nice combination.

And did you go on to a residency?

No, I just had the two years and went into practice.

After you finished that, where did you decide to go into practice?  Did you go back to Texas?

Well, I was from Texas and I just thought that would be a good place to go back to.  However, I went back to Houston and I had never lived there before, but it was not too far away from our part of the state.

Did it take a long time to build up a practice then?

Yes.  I just really got started when the Depression came along.  Things weren’t too bad right at first, but later on got awfully bad, and it was hard.  I would hate to go through it again.  Even some of the men that were well-established in medicine had a hard time making collections, but it finally moved out.

Did you remain in Houston?

Yes, all the time since 1928.

Are you still practicing?

No.  I retired four years ago.

Did you have a general practice?

Yes, general practice.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your practice?  Did you specialize at all?

I enjoyed a good general practice.

I suppose that they would call it a family practice today?

Right.  It would be called a family practice now, a new term that they’ve designated in the last few years.

Did you handle births?

Oh yes, I did.  I did OB, and strangely enough, we did a lot of home deliveries in those days.  Of course, the Depression was on.  While the expense in the hospital wouldn’t be very great, a lot of people preferred to have the babies at home.  In fact, about the first question we asked a patient that came in to see us, a new OB case, was, “Do you want to have your baby in the hospital or do you want to be delivered at home?”

So they did have that choice then?

Yes, they had that choice.  That went on for a few years.  Finally, after things began to brighten up a bit, most of us just didn’t have time to do home deliveries.  It was real time-consuming.

When did you stop the home deliveries, approximately?

Oh, I would say after things started improving in the early thirties, in 1933, ‘34 or ‘35.

Then you handled what would now be called pediatrics.  Did you handle the children?

Oh, yes.  In fact I had a little job in the clinic; the Junior League conducted a clinic in Houston and I got that job in 1929.  It paid me enough salary that it was really very helpful.  There was a children’s clinic and they even paid the hospital bill on so many tonsillectomies, I think about 50 a year.  They paid hospital bills for deserving obstetric patients, to the tune of about 25 per year.  I remember we had a contract with the old Methodist Hospital, which is now a leading hospital, and we did both the tonsillectomies and the obstetrics in the hospital.

So you were in private practice, but then you did have this association with the clinic.

Yes.  Just two hours a day.

How many other doctors were associated with the clinic?

It was just me.

Was this clinic supported by a foundation?

Well, it was the Junior League of Houston, and they made their money by different methods.  They still have – they still conduct a clinic.

Was this a clinic for people who couldn’t afford these things; who didn’t have money?

That’s right.  People that were needy could just come and apply without going through a lot of red tape.

That’s very interesting.

It was.

Did you do operations then?

Oh, I got on the staff at City Hospital, and on surgery, and I worked.  We had plenty of time to do outside work, so to speak, and I worked hard at that.  I got on the obstetrical service at Herman Hospital and I worked hard at that.  So I made use of all opportunities.

What kinds of operations did you do?

Well, routine abdominal things: hernias, appendix, gall bladders, hysterectomies.

So you really were active in every phase of practice.

I had a lot of experience there with my association with the City Hospital and had made considerable use of it.

Did you ever take any other doctors into partnership?

Yes, back in 1940 or ‘41, I went in with a friend and we worked pretty much together on everything until he died in 1960.  By that time, I was sort of slowing down anyway, I guess you would say.

Were you involved in any way in World War II?


There is a big Veterans Hospital in Houston, isn’t there?


Were you involved with that at all?


When you were practicing, how many hours a week did you work?

I worked 50 hours a week or more a lot of times.  Of course doing obstetrics, you just had no way of predicting how much you did work.

And when you worked.

That’s right.

What kind of professional organizations did you participate in?

Well, that’s interesting.  I taught nurses for several years in the old Methodist Hospital.

Was there a nursing school there?

They do not have a nursing school as such down there; they’re affiliated with other institutions.

I see.

There was a dental school there and back in those days, I taught pathology at the dental school for a number of years.  I finally got so busy, I just felt like I had to give it up.

The dental students.  Were these nurses – was this what they would call now continuing education for nurses or were they on their way to becoming R.N.’s?

It was their curriculum for their R.N.-ship.

What medical societies do you belong to?

The Harris County Medical Society and for a while, the Southern [Medical Association].  Of course, membership in the Harris County Medical Society gave you membership in the state medical association and for a long time in the American Medical Association.

Did you belong to professional specialty organizations?

No, it would be pretty hard to.

Since you were involved in all aspects, I guess the general ones would be more useful.

Yes.  I was on the staff and pretty active in the City Hospital staff affairs and Herman Hospital and Methodist Hospital.  I was president of the Methodist Hospital staff one year.

It sounds as if you were really busy with not a spare moment.

There was another phase of activities that I pursued.  Back in the middle of the war when the rubber situation [shortage] was so acute, they opened the Goodyear Synthetic Rubber Company in Houston.

This was World War II?

Yes, it was 1943.  And I was asked – I was suggested – to do their industrial work, which I did, somewhat out of a feeling of patriotism.  It was a government project, and while I was at age level that I wouldn’t have ever been drafted, I felt like it would be making a contribution to the overall war effort.  I arranged my schedule [so that] I could go out there for an hour a day and do their examinations and take care of their industrial work.  I might add that I went on with that schedule until I closed my office.  But in the meantime, a few years before I closed my office in 1972, I had given up the emergency work and we let a clinic take that over which cut down on my activities a great deal.  And then when I closed my office, the rubber company asked me if I’d continue to come on out there and help them with their examinations and all, which I consented to do, and which I’m still doing four and a half years after I’ve closed my office.

So you haven’t really retired.

Well, I go out there three hours a week, one hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  I treat no patients; I take care of no injuries.  It’s just a job of examining new employees and handling releases for employees who have been off sick or injured.  In fact, at times it seems like I’m not needed there, but as long as they want me it gives me a little break in my retirement activities – which sometimes is not a bad idea – besides a little revenue from it.  A lot of retired people find it hard to pass the time of day.  [Besides] going out there for a brief period three times a week, I have a farm outside of Houston.

Oh, you do have a farm.  Have you had that for a long time?

I’ve had farms.  I first started out in 1945 with a farm out there.  Later on, I bought another farm.  The first one was 130 acres and then I bought another little farm of 42 acres.  The highway came along and took off about 29 percent of my first farm, and for some unknown reason, I didn’t use very good judgment, but after I sold that right-of-way, my CPA said, “Reinvest that money in similar type property to delay your tax situation.”  I bought a 350-acre place and kept it for seven years and sold it at a good profit.  So, farmland has been good to me, but right now I’ve only got the 42 acres and it’s something to play with and enjoy.

Did you hire people to run the farm?

I did for a while, but it’s a big place – the 350-acre place.  I leased it for pasture and a rice farm.  It had a 13-acre lake and it did have water for rice irrigation.

I see.  So you would lease out the land and in that way, you would have income, but you wouldn’t have the problems of growing the crops?

That’s right.

You mention your retirement and your work at the rubber plant and then your farm.  What other activities do you engage in?

Well, I just do a little Boy Scout work and this sort of thing and that.  Some of my friends that need a little help, especially if they don’t have a man around the house, my wife will volunteer my services.

Mentioning the Boy Scouts reminds me of something I meant to ask you earlier.  I was wondering if there were any particular community activities you were involved in?

Well, my church work and the Boy Scouts and that sort of thing, usually.

Did you have any chance to do any writing when you practiced?

No, no.

The practice itself was more than enough?

Yes.  It was having four children and it was pretty much of a job to keep moving, especially back during the critical years.

When did the hard times start for the nation?  Would it be 1929?

No, as a matter of fact, while the Depression started in 1929, we had a discovery of oil not too far from Houston that sort of protected us from the brunt of the Depression for the first few years.  Actually, it didn’t hit us so awfully hard till 1932, and that was a bad year.

And how long did it last?

Well, it was in progress before that, but I mean that was the height of it.  I think he next year, ‘33, it began to ease off just a little bit maybe due to the fact that a new administration had gone in and new policies and that sort of thing during the Roosevelt era.  Different projects [were] established to overcome the structure of the Depression.

So 1923 was the worst year then?


You mentioned your children.  Have any of them followed in your footsteps?

No, no.

What occupations do they—

Well, I have a son who’s a banker.  I have another son who is in the electronics business and has his own company; and a daughter that teaches Latin in one of the high schools.  Another daughter in Austin is a housewife.  Three of our children live in Houston.

Are there any other aspects of your career you’d like to talk about?  I may not have asked all the right questions.

No, I think you’ve covered the waterfront very well.  You don’t remember a lot of these good things.  I’ve had an interesting life.

It sounds as if you’ve had a very interesting and active life.  Could you tell us how you believe medical school today differs from medical school at the time you were a student?

Well, the whole aspect of medicine is so different now than what it was back before the time of antibiotics and surgery in the chest and the cardiovascular system.  I can well remember when surgery was pretty well limited to the abdomen, to general surgery.  They didn’t go in the chest for many things except to drain an abscess.  Of course, we all recall [Dr. Evarts] Graham’s first lung surgery here, and that hasn’t been too awfully many years ago.  But I guess the medical education is about as different from [what] it was in our day as the practice of medicine is different from what it was in those days.

In Houston, are there as many general practitioners as there were, or has this changed?

There are an awful lot of general practitioners, family practice specialists you might say.  Of course being a medical center, I think you would find a larger percentage of highly-trained specialists than you would in a non-medical center.  Houston has two medical schools now, Baylor University and the University of Texas has recently established a new medical facility.  I think that attracts more specialization, but still a lot of general practitioners and family practitioners associating themselves with the outlying hospitals.

Do you think that medical practice has gotten too specialized or do you think it’s a good trend to specialization?

No, I don’t think it’s too specialized.  I am concerned somewhat about some of the changes that have been made in the practice of medicine and I wonder if there is not too much acceleration in the cost of medical attention to people.  When I see some of my old patients that were coming to me for a number of years, they all seem to express the feeling that medical attention is almost beyond their means.  I think that means an awful lot; if the people are concerned about it, it must be a problem.  I don’t know what the solution is going to be.

So the increased cost of medical care— Do you have any ideas of why this has happened or what can be done?

I think one thing is the increased cost of production, so to speak; the increased cost of help in doctors’ offices and in hospitals.  Wherever there’s a lot of labor involved, there’s always an increase in costs.  I think that’s one thing that’s driving it up.  Of course, the high rate of insurance premiums has driven it up and I think probably, for the most part, doctors are living a little higher than they used to.

Where in Houston did you have your office?

Well, the first 13 years that I was in Houston, I was in the Medical Arts Building, a rather large medical building, where most of the medical people and a lot of the dentists had their offices.  After that time the hospitals began to move out and doctors started moving out and beginning in 1941, we had an office near the old Methodist Hospital which was about halfway between downtown and the medical center.  It was a very easy place for people to come to.  People are encouraged to go to doctors’ offices if all they have to do is to drive up and park the car and walk in the back door or the front door.  People are hesitant about going to larger buildings and having to drive up several rounds into a parking garage or having to park their car and walk three or four blocks to get to medical offices.  So I think that’s one thing that inhibits a lot of people from going to doctors as much as they should – just the difficulty they have in getting there.

So you had a convenient location?

We had a very convenient, centrally-located area.

Did your practice ever grow so large that you had to stop seeing new patients?

Probably towards the last I did when I felt that I should be doing fewer things, but I just seemed to work harder in the peak years.

What would a typical day be like for you from the time you got up?  When did you get up?

Oh, I got up early.  When we had surgery, it was usually 7:30 in the morning.

Surgery started at 7:30.

We got to the office by 10:00 or so and worked pretty hard until I ran out to Goodyear, back in the office practice again till maybe 6:00 and maybe some house calls in there.

I was going to ask you.  You did do house calls?

Oh yes, we made house calls, especially before the war.

How many house calls?  I’m sure it varied, but—

Well, back before the war, we made house calls on as many people as we saw in the office a lot of times.  But the conditions during the war made it more impossible to make house calls, and people who were acclimated to have their calls made at home readjusted their requirements, so to speak, and they came to the office.  After the war, house calls became progressively more infrequent.  But as long as I practiced medicine, I made some house calls.

When you finally got home in the evening, did you receive many calls?

Oh yes, my patients didn’t hesitate to call me.  They called me at any time.

They’d call you in the evenings and on weekends?

Oh, yes, and early in the morning.  Late at night, sometimes.  But they felt free to call me.

Were these emergency-type calls?

Not always.  No, not always.

It sounds as if you didn’t have any free time at home.  Did you have any?

Oh yes, I could utilize the in-between time, you know.  And it’s hard on your family to have a schedule.  It was awfully bad before I had any association with a partnership, but after that it was easier on the family life and children, making plans and so on.

Then did you take turns with emergency-type calls?

Right.  We’d spell each other and it worked out very nicely.

Earlier you said something about your children, but I haven’t asked you anything about your wife.  When you were married?

We were married in 1927, about a year and a little over after I finished medical school.  I met my wife here in St. Louis.  She was a teacher out in Maplewood or Kirkwood.  And we were married, well, about 15 months after we finished medical school.  I was in Vanderbilt at the time, of course, and after we got through at Vanderbilt we went right on to Houston.

Was she from Missouri?

Yes, she was from Missouri originally.

This concludes Oral History Interview #23 with Dr. Adam N. Boyd, a general practitioner and graduate of the medical school, Class of 1926.  The interview was held on May 13, 1976.


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