Dr. Benjamin Neely Miller
by Louise Pettus
Benjamin Neely Miller, M. D. (1871-1952) practiced medicine in western York County for over a half century. From 1900 until a few months before his death he served the Hickory Grove-Smyrna areas directly but indirectly affected all of the people of York County. He worked tirelessly and is credited with being one of the leaders in founding the York County Medical Society and in establishing two hospitals--Divine Savior in York and York County General Hospital. Educated at Davidson College and the University of the South (Sewanee), he went on to the University of Maryland Medical School.
Dr. Miller chose to begin his practice in the village of Smyrna. He traveled in horse and buggy over a wide range of scattered communities that included Kings Creek, London, Piedmont Springs, Kings Mountain National Park, and Cherokee Falls. In 1900 it was more a mining area than anything else. In the early 1900s every summer brought typhoid epidemics. In 1905 the epidemic season began in March. In April Dr. Miller contracted the dread disease. It would be 10 years before a typhoid vaccine was developed. The only known treatment was a starvation diet in an attempt to avoid intestinal ruptures. It was June before the doctor, then very thin, was able to go back to work.
That same summer, Miller and his bride of less than a year, Adeline Jane Whitesides, moved into a new home. He had a small office built along the side of the road near his house. The only telephone was in the house. Addie took his calls, kept the doctor's books and kept house. It was a transition period in medical history. There were few drugs available and only two available for two specific diseases. Quinine, long used by Indian tribes, served to treat malaria. The other drug was Salvarsan used to treat syphilis. Dr. Miller's satchel carried iodine for patients who might be suffering from pleurisy and phlebitis and to paint a circle around an infected area to prevent it from spreading. Epsom salts , digitalis (a heart stimulant) and syrup of squill (for coughs) were among his staples. He never trusted the stethoscopes of his time and always put his ear to the patient's chest. He always carried two bags, one for the medicine, a few insturments, cotton and gauze. The other was his obstetrical bag.
Neely delivered many babies. In the early years of his practice he often stayed all night in the mother's home. It was the most time-consuming element of his work. In the first quarter of the 20th century the birthrate was very high with most families having 6 to 9 children.
Pneumonia, influenza (called "the grippe" at that time) and whooping cough were prevalent in the winter. Dipththeria, typhoid and colic tended to be present more in the summer. His daughter, Martha Miller Douglas, who wrote his biography, says that Dr. Miller always tried to keep up with the latest medical practices and adopted them whenever possible. "He had the joy of using antibiotics, delivering babies in a hospital, and having access to good hospitals, staffed with good doctors, to whom he could refer patients." Travel was difficult. Mrs. Douglas wrote that "Western York County seemed to be overlooked every time money became available for improvement of roads in York County." (A perennial Western York County complaint.) She wrote that her father would drive "as far as the road permitted in his buggy. Someone always met him with a horse to carry him over the last few miles."
Dr. Miller was so concerned about the road problems that he ran for road commissioner and got all but 10 or 15 votes. In 1936 he was drafted as mayor of Hickory Grove. When asked why he practiced medicine by a State newspaper reporter, Dr. Miller said, "Because I love it."