William Anderson Snodgrass (1874–1943)
William Anderson Snodgrass was an instructor at the University of Arkansas Medical School (which later became the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences). During World War I, he organized Hospital Unit T and served as a major in the United States Medical Department in England and France.
William Snodgrass was born on March 17, 1874, to Andrew J. Snodgrass and Elmira F. Masterfield Snodgrass at Murray, Kentucky. When he was ten, his family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County). After completing public school and his premedical courses, he entered the Medical School of the University of Arkansas. He graduated in 1896 and was employed as Little Rock’s city physician in 1898.
In 1898, he married Lelia Phillips, and they had four children. Lelia died on January 20, 1924. He married Margaret Turner on January 3, 1927, and they had three children.
Upon his graduation, he accepted the position of associate professor of anatomy at the medical school. He also took time off for post-graduate courses at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana; the University of Vienna in Austria; and the University of London in England. After the post-graduate work, he began to develop his private practice in surgery. In 1912, he became professor of clinical surgery at the medical school and continued his private practice. He had a private surgical hospital in Little Rock for a short period sometime after 1912. He also volunteered as physician to the Arkansas Methodist Orphanage.
As the war in Europe that started in 1914 continued to accelerate, the United States began to consider ways to prepare for national defense. In January 1917, Snodgrass received an invitation by Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, who was chairman of the Council of National Defense, to attend a conference on January 6, 1917, in Washington DC. The conference was to encourage medical schools to introduce a course in the curriculum to prepare graduates for any emergency and to develop a reserve corps of trained doctors.
On January 8, 1917, the Arkansas Gazette carried the news that the University of Arkansas Medical School would be starting a special course of study to equip graduates for the medical reserve corps (though they would not be required to enter military service). Snodgrass was quoted as saying, “I unqualifiedly indorsed the plan and believe many of our medical students will avail themselves of the course.”
On July 1, 1917, the Gazette carried the news that Snodgrass had been authorized to organize a hospital unit for military service. The unit was to be Hospital Unit T. At first, the doctors were all to be from the University of Arkansas Medical School, but as this would deplete the facility, Snodgrass sought to recruit some physicians from around the state. The unit was to have twelve doctors, twenty-one nurses, and fifty enlisted men, especially those with experience in ambulance driving, blacksmith work, and other needed skills. The nurses had to be graduate nurses and authorized to practice in Arkansas.
Snodgrass joined the reserves and was assigned the rank of major. At first, he held enlistments in his office at 409 Boyle Building, but he soon recruited another doctor, Alvin Jobe, to assist in signing up the enlisted men. Jobe also joined the reserves and was given the rank of captain and adjutant of Unit T. Recruiting was not easy; some of the nurses who originally signed up found other jobs, and others were recruited while waiting to be mobilized. Some of the enlisted men who signed up were taken by their draft boards for active service. At one point, the army notified Snodgrass to increase the enlisted men to 152 but then told him only fifty were needed.
The call for mobilization came, and on January 29, 1918, the male members of Unit T assembled in Little Rock. The next day, the doctors and enlisted men left for Fort McPherson, Georgia, for training. Snodgrass had originally been told that the army would equip the unit, but in February 1918, he was informed that Arkansas had to raise $10,000 for that purpose. He returned to Little Rock to help raise the money. By March 3, the fund had reached $3,814.50, and he returned to Fort McPherson, leaving the rest of the fundraising to others.
The nurses left Little Rock on March 28, for Lakewood, New Jersey, where they received instructions and were equipped with uniforms and other necessities. The men and women of the unit were reunited in New York, and on May 11 they sailed on the British transport Ascania, a converted cattle boat, for Europe. At sailing, the unit consisted of eleven physicians, twenty-one nurses, forty-nine enlisted men, and one volunteer female Red Cross stenographer. Major Snodgrass was in charge of medical services on the entire ship on the trip across the ocean and made daily rounds.
While at sea, their orders were changed, and they were sent to England instead of France. The Ascania docked at Liverpool on May 27; as no provision had been made for members of the unit, the men were taken to a nearby camp and the nurses to a hotel. After ten days, everybody was sent to Sarisbury Court, Hampshire, which was being converted to a hospital. The unit arrived without their food provisions, and Snodgrass paid for food with his own money for three days.
As Sarisbury Court was not ready for patients at that time, Snodgrass was ordered to the front in charge of Field Hospital No. 12. In a later interview with the Arkansas Gazette, he described some of the events that happened while he was a surgeon at the field hospital. He also praised the way the wounded American soldiers accepted their wounds with grace and reported that during the Battle of the Marne, he operated for sixty-four hours without sleep and did 180 operations.
He never rejoined the unit and spent about three months at the field hospital until he contracted influenza. After he recovered, he was assigned to serve as physician for a troop ship returning to the United States with war casualties. Upon reaching the United States, he was granted a furlough and was back in Little Rock by October 25. After his furlough, he was assigned to a hospital in the United States and was discharged on January 3, 1919, from Camp Pike (which later became Camp Joseph T. Robinson).
After his discharge, he resumed his medical practice in Little Rock. He also resumed his role as professor of clinical surgery. Over the next twenty-four years, he was active in his community and in medical societies. He was a fellow in the American College of Surgeons and a member of the Arkansas and Pulaski County medical societies. He was on the Arkansas Board of Medical Examiners, serving as president for two years. In 1932, he was elected chief of staff of the Baptist State Hospital.
Snodgrass died on January 4, 1943, and is buried in Oakland and Fraternal Historic Cemetery Park in Little Rock.
For additional information:
“Dr. William A. Snodgrass.” Arkansas Gazette, January 5, 1943, p. 11.
Herndon, Dallas T. Centennial History of Arkansas, Vol. 2. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922.
“Hospital Unit T to Be Organized Here.” Arkansas Gazette, January 1, 1917, p. 12.
“Local Red Cross Unit Called for Overseas Service.” Arkansas Gazette, January 26, 1918, p. 1.
“We Also Served.” Arkansas Gazette Sunday magazine, February 14, 1943, pp. 1–2, 8–9, 11–12.
Carolyn Yancey Kent
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