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The United States biographical dictionary and portrait gallery of eminent and self made men. Iowa volume online

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generous nature, without parade or display. He



generally contributed one-half to the current ex-
penses of the church, and time and again has
doubled his contributions to the Sabbath school, for
libraries, periodicals, etc.; and mainly through his
instrumentality was the beautiful and commodious
parsonage of the Presbyterian church built. Nor
were his liberal gifts confined to the church of his
choice, the other evangelical churches of the place
were likewise liberally aided by him. New facts
every day coming to light show the greatness of his

generosity and the multiplicity of his acts of benev-
olence. His loss was regarded as a public calamity.
While reticent to the outside world, yet to his inti-
mate friends he revealed a depth of religious feel-
ing that was but rarely suspected. His deeds of
benevolence were wrought not for show, but for the
love of doing good, not letting his left hand know
his right hand's doings. His acts of kindness will
be lastingly remembered by the citizens of Wilton,
while his loss to the community seems irreparable.



pioneer settler and physician in Poweshiek
county, Iowa, was born and reared in the town of
Brewer, opposite Bangor, Maine, dating his birth on
the 1 6th of March, 1818. He was educated at the
Bango'r Seminary ; read medicine and attended
lectures in the medical department of Harvard
University, there graduating in 1847 ; practiced two
years at Surry and five at Searsport, Maine, and in
March, 1854, found his way to the wild prairie on
which the city of Grinnell now stands. At that
date there was no shanty, not even a wigwam, on
the site of the place. He came in company with
Hon. J. B. Grinnell, late member of congress, H.
M. Hamilton and three or four others, to found a
Congregational town, the parties purchasing next
month several thousand acres, including all the
business part of the present city.

There was a small grove west of town, and Dr.
Holyoke felled the firS tree for a rude cabin, which
was erected in great haste as a shelter from the
March winds, so searching in a prairie country. He
was soon made county surveyor, and laid out the
town and fixed the boundaries of the farms. His
hand was in every important work until the popu-
lation had so largely increased as to demand his
whole time in his profession. Up to the day of his
death, which occurred on the loth of February,
1877, he was very busy in his regular calling. His
rides were often long and tedious, the families in
the country, having been accustomed to test his
skill, being unwilling to exchange for a younger
man their old family physician. He found comfort
in obliging them, though the exposure to which he
was sometimes subjected was not unlikely delete-

rious to his health. > He was stricken with paralysis
of the left side just after rising one morning, and
died before midnight. Physicians attributed the
immediate cause of his death to cerebral hemor-

The usefulness of Dr. Holyoke, as a citizen as
well as physician, and his solid character and influ-
ence, can be best told in the language of parties
who knew him best, and whose sad duty it was
to pay the last rites to his mortal remains. Mr.
Grinnell paid a touching tribute to his memory at
the funeral, and from his remarks we make the fol-
lowing extracts :

Who so near to a community as he who administers
medicine to body and soul, faithful to allay the burning
fever, or, when the grim messenger has claimed his victim,
closing the eyes of our beloved in death, and commending
the bereaved to the God of the widow and fatherless.'
Such were the ministries of our friend, who for twenty
years met the blinding snow-storms and drenching rains
far out in the country, attending the poor who had no
reward to bestow but the " God bless you 1 " and at last
worn out by attendance and anxiety at the bedside of your
friends so justly confiding in his fidelity and professional
skill. We mourn for an eminent professional career closed,
unclouded by one suspicion, and there is the fit acclaim,
" Well and faithfully done." . . For the young, he was a
Sabbath-school superintendent, an instructor and leader of
the church choir. Education had no warmer or more intel-
ligent friend than he. He was for years president of the
board of the literary fund of Grinnell University; a trustee
since the removal o"f' Iowa College to Grinnell ; for years at
the head of the executive committee, and an able lecturer
on physiology and health before the students. . . His
opportunities were numerous and well improved. With a
naturally conservative mind he was abreast wilh e.\ery im-
provement, and a full sharer in the labors of moulding a
community. The county had his service as an officer, the
State Agricultural College as a trustee, and honorable ser-
vice was performed in the state legislature.

He donated the right of way for a railroad from the east
through his homestead, and gave his thousands, the largest
subs-cription, to build the Central railroad of Iowa. In tree
planting and fruit growing, making long, weary journeys
for the rarest standards, he was the pioneer, and an example



in home decoration, as evinced by his tasteful residence and
grounds, where for him there shall never be again the early
bloom of flowers and the sweet spring carol of birds, their
owner and protector having gone to walk in the Paradise
gardens above.

He was an humble man, often tremulous in speech, and
with a subdued utterance which we shall no more hear, but
mav gratefully remember the spirit and words of him whose
life was a gospel, and whose voice is now hushed in death.

On the same occasion President Magoun, of Iowa
College, thus spoke of his connection with that
institution :

He had been a trustee for more than sixteen years, hav-
ing been elected the year after it was resolved to remove
the college, in view of commencing the college work here.
He had also been .all that time a member of the executive
committee. They had asked him to share their trust not
merely because he was prominent and held in high esteem
in the town which he had aided to plant and to build, but
because of his excellent professional education and acquire-
ments, his interest in general education, his superior intel-
ligence, his unquestionable integrity, and because he was
thoroughly a christian man. They found him in this duty
and trust what he had always been in other things, a man

who never came forward unless called forward, a man of
few words, but possessed of great soundness of judgment,
sagacity, plain sense, honesty, conscientiousness and fidel-
ity. He was ordinarily in the board retired, quiet and
silent; but its records and those of the executive committee
show how largely he was called to act in the transaction of
business, and the confidence reposed in his intentions and
his wisdom. He was a man to be intrusted with difficult
business, a man to be trusted, utterly. He was untiring
in respect to the interests of the college, vigilant against
cost, loss and mistakes, patient and attentive to minute
affairs, thoroughly faithful to this trust as to others. He
was the only trustee who had been at the same time an
instructor, gi\'ing gratuitously lectures to successi\'e classes
on the application of physiology to the care of health.

On the 2d of October, 1849, Miss Nancy C.
Clark, of Searsport, Maine, became the wife of Dr.
Holyoke, and they had four children, all sons, three
surviving hirn. Frederic S. died in early infancy;
William Pond, the eldest son, is a medical student;
Edgar Loomis is in the sophomore class of Iowa
College, and Robert Ames is in the preparatory
department of the same institution.



of Ebenezer Withara and Susannah nee Hop-
kinson, was born at New Sharon, Franklin county,
Maine, on the 21st of October, 1830.

The name is of English origin : the family tradi-
tion is that three brothers of that cognomen came
from England about the beginning of the seven-
teenth century and settled in Massachusetts. From
one of these brothers our subject claims descent.
The towns of Withamsville, in Massachusetts, and
in Clermont county, Ohio, derive their names from
members of this lineage, by whom they were founded.
Colonies of Withams are still in New England, while
detachments of them have found their way into
Ohio and other western states. The great-grand-
father of our subject was a soldier of the revolution-
ary war, was wounded at Bunker Hill, and died a
prisoner of war at Halifax, Nova Scotia, while his
grandfather served through the war of 1812. The
mother of Ur. Witham was a sister to the late
Hon. Thomas Hopkinson, of Cambridge, Massa-
chusetts, and a descendant of Francis Hopkinson,
one of the signers of the declaration of independ-
ence. Thomas Hopkinson was a graduate of Har-
vard University, in the same class with Charles
Sumner, and subsequently an eminent lawyer of

Boston, and at one time president of the Boston and
Worcester Railroad Company. Mrs. Witham was a
lady of high literary attainments, having been in early
life a teacher ; she was, moreover, a devout member
of the Baptist church, in which faith she educated
her children, impressing upon them all a deep rever-
ence for the bible and the institutions of Christianity,
and to her influence is mainly due whatever of suc-
cess in life may have been achieved by her children,
all of whom have the liveliest memories of her
motherly care and holy influence. She died at
Mainville, Ohio, in 1867, at the age of sixty-two.

The father of our subject, Ebenezer Witham, was
a natural-born mechanic, with a special talent for
mill machinery, the details of which he seemed to
acquire by intuition. He removed to Farmington,
Maine, when our subject was but four years old,
where he erected a flour-mill for himself on an im-
proved plan of his own devising. He afterward
erected other mills in different parts of the state,
in several of which he retained an interest, and was
supposed to be among the wealthy men of his day.
He was a man of great physical strength, large
framework and iron constitution. Had never been
known to complain of ill-health during his lifetime
until he was smitten down with typhoid fever, of



which he died in 1840, at the early age of thirty-two
years. Like many men of genius, his financial affairs
were loosely conducted, and for much of his property
held in copartnership he had no writings, and when
his estate was settled up, instead of being amply
provided for it was found that his widow and eight
children were virtually penniless, and thrown entirely
upon their own resources.

Charles E. Witham received his juvenile educa-
tion partly in the public schools, but chiefly at the
knee of his excellent mother, and although he was not
in early age a bright scholar, yet he possessed an in-
tense desire for an education. His days were usually
spent at such manual labor as he could procure,
and the proceeds were sacredly devoted to the main-
tenance of the family, of which he was for many
years the chief support, while his nights were de-
voted to reading. His early years were thus fraught
with toil and privation, and void of most of the
enjoyments which generally render the season of
youth the most happy period of life. Notwithstand-
ing these hardships and difficulties he had attained
his maturity at the age of sixteen years, when he not
only passed for a man, but received the wages of a
man, and often extra wages for extra work. Like
his father, too, he possessed a peculiar mechanical
genius, which also brought its reward. He spent
the years between sixteen and eighteen in the starch
factory of Abiel Abbott, Esq., of Farmington, and
was soon made foreman of the works. In 1848 he
sold out the little property which the family still
owned, and with his mother and seven younger
children immigrated to Mainville, Warren county,
Ohio, where the mother had some relations. On
arriving at their destination their entire capital
amounted to two hundred dollars, most of which
they invested in a cabin and patch of ground,
while Charles E. entered a manufacturing establish-
ment, where he earned fair wages, and by his heroic
exertions not only kept the family in food, but com-
fortably clothed.

About the year 1853 certain circumstances tended
to bring the lightning-rod industry into great de-
mand. Our subject was employed as agent by a
firm who had entered largely into the manufacture
of those articles, to make contracts with house-
holders and superintend the erection of those pro-
tectors on their houses. The enterprise proved
profitable,- and young Witham soon accumulated
capital enough to embark in the business on his own
responsibility ; success followed, he became all intent

on money-making, which was then the one aim of
his life : a few years and he should be rich and able
to devote his time to the acquisition of knowledge.
In the midst of these pleasing reveries he was smit-
ten down with Asiatic cholera, and for days his life
hung by a thread. Then he remembered that there
was something else to live for besides riches; that
his Creator and his fellow-men had some claims on
him. He learned to sympathize with suffering, to
feel another's woe, and during convalescence he
resolved to educate himself for a physician and de-
vote the remainder of his life to the alleviation
of human suffering. But on his recovery he was
destitute of means, and the way seemed dark and
hedged up. He had, however, established a rep-
utation for wisdom and integrity which now stood
him in the stead of capital. He resolved to make
a- trip, on his own account, to the southern states,
with his enterprise, and in this way endeavor to
obtain means to prepare for the profession to which
he had resolved to devote his life. Kind friends
indorsed him, and his guardian-angel mother encour-
aged him. He left Ohio in the fall of 1853, traveled
over the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, South and
North Carolinas, and returned in the spring of 1854,
having netted by the trip the handsome sum of
two thousand dollars. This loosened his hands. He
attended three courses of lectures in the Eclectic
Medical Institute of Cincinnati, and pursued his
studies in the office of Dr. C. H. Cleveland, one of
the professors of the institution, and was graduated
with honors in the spring of 1856. He subsequently
attended another course of lectures at the College
of Medicine and Surgery, Cincinnati. He located
at Mainville, Ohio, his old home, and immediately
entered upon the practice of his profession. He was
skillful, enthusiastic, and of course successful.

Soon after the' outbreak of the late war Camp
Denison was established some twelve miles from his
residence. Squadrons of troops had been sent there
in advance of surgeons or regimental organizations.
Disease broke out in the camp. The doctor volun-
teered his services, and for weeks, without fee or
reward other than the prayers and thanks of sick
men, and the" sweet pleasure derived from benevo-
lence, he doctored, nursed and attended the sick
night and day, until he was himself smitten down
with a contagious disease under which he lingered
for months, and in the summer of 186 1 was obliged
to make a trip to the eastern seaboard and spend
the season in recruiting his own health. But his



constitution had received a shock past perfect res-

In the summer of 1862 Dr. Withani was one of
the volunteer surgeons, without pay, on the hos-
pital boat Glendale, which was sent out by the State
of Ohio to bring home such of the sick and disabled
soldiers of the state as could be reached by water.
The vessel, after visiting various cities along the
Mississippi and its tributaries, ascended the Ten-
nessee as far as Pittsburgh Landing, and brought
away from the battlefield at that point some three
hundred wounded men, who were tenderly cared
for, the doctor serving with great zeal and success
in the surgical ward of the boat.

In October, 1862, he volunteered his services to
the war department, and was immediately employed as
acting assistant surgeon in the United States army,
and ordered by General Grant to report at Jackson,
Tennessee. From this he was ordered by special
telegram to repair to Lebanon, Kentucky, where he
was placed on duty at " Hospital No. 2," which had
been filled with mangled human beings from the
battle of Perryville, Kentucky, and was without a
surgeon. Here he found ample employment not
only for his professional powers, but also for his
executive abilities. He organized the institution,
and worked with such zeal for seven months as
gained for him the highest commendation of the
medical director of the post. Here he saved the life
of many a poor soldier-boy who but for his skill
and indomitable energy would inevitably have died.
Having brought the hospital out of chaos and placed
it under excellent discipline, in the spring of 1863
he was ordered to Louisville, Kentucky, where he
remained two years (acting as executive officer when
not in charge of hospitals). Here there were no less
than twenty-one general hospitals. The doctor was
first placed in charge of " No. g," but was soon after
transferred to the " Clay General Hospital," with
five branches, located in as many college and public-
school buildings of the city, one of which was an
officers' hospital, elegantly fitted up in one of the
mansions on Broadway, taken for the purpose. He
was instructed to make branch " C " of this institu-
tion the model hospital, and to say that he carried
out these instructions to the letter would not do
him full justice. All his talents were placed under
contribution, executive, mechanical and surgical,
and every department went like clockwork. More
thorough discipline had not been previously seen in
any hospital. The wards had the air and comfort of

a palace. He had the esteem and unqualified con-
fidence of all his subordinates. During a whole year
of this period he was not out of sight of this institu-
tion. Such arduous and incessant labor would have
broken down a man of iron, much more one of flesh
and bone. At last the doctor was obliged to suc-
cumb, and in the spring of 1865 requested a leave
of absence, which was granted. Meantime the sur-
render of Lee brought the war to a close. The
doctor closed his contract with the government, and
resumed his practice at Mainville.

We have space for but a single one of the many
flattering testimonials and souvenirs of which he was
the recipient during and after -his connection with
the last-named hospital. It speaks for itself:

Louisville, Ky., Sept. 22, 1864.
Doctor Witham, — The attendants and patients of
branch " C, " Clay General Hospital, in admiration of the
unswerving fidelity and patriotism shown in the execution
of the duties assigned you by the government, in apprecia-
tion of the marked ability and sound judgment which has
crowned your labors with noted success, and
especially for the constant care, kindness and benevolence
you have exhibited toward us, herewith present you, as
an expression of our unqualified esteem and devotion, the
case of surgical instruments on which your respected name
is inscribed. Your sincere friends,

Daniel Webster,
William Chaplin,
and one hundred others.

Besides his incessant labors as surgeon, he was
also called upon to serve on boards of examination
for discharging and furloughing soldiers, and to dis-
charge other functions connected with the service
which occupied much time.

After his return from the army he remained two
years in his old home at Mainville, where his
practice soon became burdensome, his health being
still delicate. In order to gain some needed relax-
ation and change of air, and with a view to retiring
from the practice, he removed to Wilton, Iowa, in
the autumn of 1867. The intermission, however,
was but short.

He soon took a leading position in Wilton, not
only as a physician but as a citizen.

He has always been a staunch advocate of free
schools and popular education, and was in 1870
elected a member of the school board of Wilton,
upon which he served with zeal and effect for seven
years. In 1875 he was one of the leading advocates
of the erection of the high school building of the
town, which was made an issue before the electors,
and was hotly contested at the polls, the measure
being strenuously opposed by the only class of the
community who could possibly derive benefit from



it, — those who had large famiUes of children to ed-
ucate, and yet were not liable to taxation for school
purposes, — while it was favored and carried by men
who, Hke Dr. Withara, had no children to educate,
and yet were liable for the full burden of taxation.
Here we have the anomaly of one class of men
voting taxes on themselves for the education of their
neighbors' children, while with a bitter and unani-
mous emphasis the other class vote against receiving
the bounty, in favor of ignorance and against educa-
tion. After the measure had been carried by a
small majority at the polls, Dr. Witham took the
corporation bonds, and advanced the money — thir-
teen thousand dollars — to build the school-house;
the securities were soon after, however, taken off his
hands by an eastern capitalist. He was one of the
original incorporators of the Farmers and Citizens'
Bank of Wilton in 1874, and has since remained
a director.

The doctor was brought up under Baptist in-
fluence, but was too large-hearted and liberal to
remain a member of a denomination which would
exclude from the Lord's table a brother believer
simply because he had been baptized by another
form, and consequently has been for some years a
member of the Congregational church, of which he
is one of the trustees, and one of the largest contrib-
utors. His private charities are also munificent.

He was an abolitionist at the age of ten years,
and has fought it out on that line ever since.

In 1872 Dr. Witham formed a partnership with
Dr. A. A. Cooling, a graduate of Miami Medical
College, Cincinnati, a most excellent and highly-
esteemed physician, which partnership still exists.
The doctor had about three years' experience in
the army hospitals of Nashville during the war.

In the same year incessant professional labor had
so impaired the health of Dr. Witham as to render
a season of rest and recreation imperative. Accord-
ingly he spent the summer of that year in a tour
through Mexico, United States of Columbia, — by
way of the Isthmus of Panama — California and the
Rocky Mountains. Passed through the old gold
mines, the groves of mammoth trees in Calaveras
county, and the picturesque and indescribable Yo-
semite Valley. With the matchless beauty of the
last-mentioned region he was charmed and spell-
bound. After his return home he put the results
of his observations and impressions into a series
of five lectures, which in the winter of 1874-5 he
delivered in behalf of the grasshopper sufferers of

Kansas. It is hoped that he will give the whole to
the public in book form at an early day. It would'
prove a highly important addition to the standard
literature of the country, and would doubtless tend
in some measure to divert the tide of summer travel
from countries beyond the ocean, at least on the
part of those who have never seen the wondrous
beauties and awful grandeur of their own land.

He has a taste for public' speaking, and displays
considerable talent as an elocutionist.

During the centennial year of the republic he
visited the great exposition at Philadelphia, and
made its wondrous collection of the arts and indus-
tries of the world the subject of a series of highly
valuable letters to the western press, which demon-
strated a grasp of thought and a,n acuteness of judg-
ment of rare occurrence.

He has been an earnest temperance advocate all
his lifetime, and has recently delivered a scientific
lecture on " The Action and Power of Alcohol on
the Human System," showing its baneful influence
on future generations. The lecture bristled with
figures and statistics showing the appetite to be
transmissible, and the most fruitful cause of idiocy,

Online Librarypub American Biographical Publishing CompanyThe United States biographical dictionary and portrait gallery of eminent and self made men. Iowa volume → online text (page 44 of 125)