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A Southern Practice

The Diary and Autobiography of Charles A Hentz, MD
Steven Stowe, ed.

BUY Cloth · 646 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813918815 · $75.00 · Nov 2000

As a physician practicing in the rural South in the years leading up to and through the Civil War, Charles Arnould Hentz (1827-1894) lived in the midst of enormous changes in southern society and medicine.

A Southern Practice includes the diary that Hentz kept for more than twenty years, beginning with the river journey his family took from Ohio to Alabama when Charles was eighteen. This vividly depicted trip--people, places, and sensory details--sets the stage for Hentz's record of his life through middle age: his apprenticeship and decision to pursue a medical career while a youth in Alabama; maturing as both a man and a doctor while at school in Kentucky; and establishing a general practice--and a large family--in the rough society of the Florida Panhandle. This edition also includes Hentz's autobiography, written at the end of his life, in which he reviews his past as doctor, southerner, and family man.

Taken together, Hentz's diary and autobiography dramatize with unusual clarity and realism the demanding work of a physician in an age before medicine could reliably cure patients. The rural doctor's work plunged him into the center of his community's life. He attended patients enslaved and free; worked one day with the challenges of childbirth, another with desperately sick children; treated the victims of stabbings and shootings; and faced the looming threat of epidemic fever.

By telling what he liked to call his "professional stories," Hentz also gives a relatively rare picture of the feelings and experiences of a middle-class southern white man. His work, religious faith, and social relations with neighbors, slaves, and strangers are described. In their frankness, sharp observation, and good humor, Hentz's writings illuminate nineteenth-century medicine in its full social setting, thus revealing a fresh portrait of the Old South.


Readers of Charles Hentz's diary and autobiography will find themselves immersed in the world of the mid-nineteenth century South as seen through the eyes of an honest observer. There are very few first-person narratives from this time period written by males, and Hentz's portraits of life as a medical student and a rural southern medical practitioner are invaluable contributions to our knowledge of the period. The editor, Steven M. Stowe, is a wonderful writer. His introduction captures the essence of Hentz, his life story, and his times.

Todd Savitt, East Carolina University

About the Author(s): 

Steven M. Stowe is Associate Professor of History at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is the author of Intimacy and Power in the Old South: Ritual in the Lives of the Planters.

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