Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Uplands (Cumberland County, Tenn.) Records Now Available to Researchers

By Lori Lockhart

May Hannah Cravath was born August 18, 1873, in Winona County, Minnesota. She was the daughter of Hannah Elizabeth “Eliza” Williams (1839-1907) and Bishop Milton Cravath (1835-1900). Dr. May spent her early childhood on a farm in Minnesota before moving with her family to “pioneer a homestead and tree claim” in Dakota Territory (now South Dakota). She completed high school at Carleton Academy in Northfield, Minnesota, before attending Carleton College from 1890-1893. Dr. May completed her B.A. at the University of North Dakota where she was valedictorian of her graduating class. She taught briefly at the University of North Dakota before receiving her medical degree from the University of Michigan Homeopathic Medical School in 1903. Dr. May set up a medical practice in Atlanta, Georgia. It is there, at church, where she met her husband, Edwin R. Wharton (1864-1920). The two were married August 7, 1906, in Fulton County, Georgia.

Dr. May Cravath Wharton (1873-1959) when she was attending college, ca. 1890s.
Uplands Records, Tennessee State Library and Archives

The Whartons moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1907 to run a settlement house. Edwin served as director and Dr. May worked as a physician. The Whartons moved to a New Hampshire farm in 1909. Dr. May had a private practice in New Hampshire and Edwin served in small churches in the area. In 1917, the Whartons moved to Pleasant Hill, Tennessee. Edwin took a position as principal of Pleasant Hill Academy. Dr. May served the academy’s staff and students as a physician and she also taught health classes. When the global flu epidemic came to Pleasant Hill in 1918-1919, Dr. May started serving local families outside of the school. Many times she traveled rough terrain on foot, horseback, muleback or (in rare occasions when there was a good enough trail) buggy. Dr. May developed a reputation among the mountain families as a caring and determined doctor. On Nov. 19, 1920, Dr. May’s husband died, and she began to make plans to return to New Hampshire. Clinton Anderson, along with other community members, brought Dr. May a petition signed by 50 families asking her to stay and be their doctor. She made the decision to stay in Pleasant Hill.

Dr. May Cravath Wharton (1873-1959) with a mule used to help her cover rough terrain to reach her patients, ca. 1920s.
Uplands Records, Tennessee State Library and Archives

On Aug. 7, 1921, Dr. May and Elizabeth Fletcher (an Art teacher at Pleasant Hill Academy) opened Sanex, a two-bed hospital. In November of that same year, Alice Adshead joined Dr. May and Ms. Fletcher in their endeavors. Ms. Adshead was a British born and Canadian trained registered nurse who Dr. May met at a North Carolina sanatorium. Dr. May had gone to the Carolina hospital for advanced study in the treatment of tuberculosis. In 1922, the three women chartered Uplands Cumberland Mountain Sanatorium and on Nov. 20, they opened an eight-bed hospital. By 1935, the endeavor had grown to a twenty-bed hospital with an operating room, surgical ward and maternity room. On May 17, 1937, Van Dyck House for the treatment of Tuberculosis was opened. In March 1950, Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville opened with a fifty-bed capacity. Dr. May’s last project was the opening of the nursing home that bears her name in 1957. Dr. May died November 19, 1959. She is buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

Elizabeth Fletcher (1870-1951), Dr. May Cravath Wharton (1873-1959), and Alice Adshead (1888-1979), ca. 1940s.
Uplands Records, Tennessee State Library and Archives

A collection related to Dr. May is now available for research at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The records consist of materials transferred from the archives of Uplands Retirement Village. The materials date between 1847 and 2005. The collection documents the life of Dr. May as well as the rise of Uplands Retirement Village and Cumberland Medical Center, with a portion of the materials relating to Pleasant Hill Academy and Pleasant Hill Community Church. The highlight of the assemblage is the 75 boxes of photographs, which include printed photographs, slides, negatives, contact sheets and scrapbooks.

Helen Lawson, Martha Bledsoe, Dr. H. F. Lawson, Dr. May Cravath Wharton (1873-1959), and Ova Dell Wood work with an unidentified patient in the Uplands Operating Room, ca. mid 1940s.
Uplands Records, Tennessee State Library and Archives

Interested researchers are invited to view the finding aid found here:

For information on how to access to this material, please contact the Library and Archives’ Public Services Section Reference Desk at or phone (615) 741-2764.

Dr. May’s autobiography, “Doctor Woman of the Cumberlands,” and “A History of Pleasant Hill Academy,” written by Emma Dodge, are also available to researchers. Please see the Library and Archives’ catalog for more details on these titles.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

1 comment:

  1. I know first-hand what a treasure these papers are. Lori meticulously placed the documents in user-friendly order. For researchers interested in Upper Cumberland life, this new collection is a must-see.