STOCKTON- MO --Anti-depressant drugs, self-help books, radio and television psychologists and any of a long list of solutions for phobias, depression or other mental issues abound in the world today. However when modern medicine was young, little was known about psychiatry.
Dr. Sigmund Freud revolutionized the idea of treating disorders of the mind with his writings in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and slowly the concept gained acceptance until psychology and psychiatric treatment is accepted and no longer stigmatized today.
True psychologists begin their education in the field of medicine and later begin their practice in the field of treating mental disorders. Such was the case of Cedar County , MO native and physician Jane English Dunaway, or Dr. Jane as she was known to her many patients and friends.
Dr. Jane was born in 1879 at the family home near Caplinger Mills and was the eighth of 14 children born to William Franklin and Lucy Jane (Allder) Dunaway.
She attended rural school near Stockton and earned a teaching certificate at Miller Academy in El Dorado Springs., MO She returned to Cedar County's rural school to teach four years to earn money for medical school.
The Dunaway children included three doctors - Dr. Jane, Dr. Louis Tarwater Dunaway who practiced for many years in El Dorado Springs and Cedar County, MO and Dr. Whig Frank Dunaway who was a veterinarian and practiced mostly in Oklahoma.
Dr. Jane was one of eight to graduate from the University of Missouri School of Medicine in 1905 - the only woman in the class and only the second woman to graduate from the school. She passed medical board examinations in Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma and practiced medicine from the time of graduation until retiring in 1960 at the age of 81.
After graduating from medical school, Dr. Jane practiced general medicine for a time in Stockton, Oklahoma and Colorado before moving to El Dorado Springs in 1915 to join a practice with her brother Dr. Louis T. Dunaway. This partnership lasted through the 1918 influenza epidemic into the early 1920s.
Dr. Jane also spent five years in Puerto Rico, two of them as a doctor at Presbyterian Mission Hospital in San Juan and three years at a private mission clinic of her own at Isabella. She also was a staff member of the first Puerto Rican Board of Sanitation.
In Puerto Rico, she became known as "Doctora."
After returning from Puerto Rico, Dr. Jane became a member of the staff at State Hospital No. 2 in St. Joseph,MO and from 1928 through her retirement in 1960 worked in mental facilities in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
How it all began
During each of her general practice positions, Dr. Jane administered to the mental well-being of her patients as well as the physical. In a 1964 book, "Letters from Doctor Jane," she explained while practicing medicine in El Dorado Springs she often encountered cases not physical in nature, but mental disorders - or physical disorders that seemed to be mental illnesses.
In her book, Dr. Jane published letters to her nephew Stephen, who was considering medical school. She gave informal case histories and wrote, "The purpose of these stories is to try, just try, to lead a few people to understand what a very thin line there is between the emotionally disturbed, who seek help, and the remainder of us average - who wants to be average anyway? - erratic, eccentric, bigoted, biased, superstitious persons who are dependent upon alcohol, tobacco, tranquilizers or other people and who need help but are too arrogant to recognize the fact. The people with whom I've been dealing are just people, usually original, individualistic, never boring, sometimes charming or entertaining and always interesting."
Dr. Jane began her career in mental institutions in a rather abnormal way. Having worked as a general practitioner for the entirety of her career, she writes she received a call in March 1922 who asked if she would be interested in a position in a state hospital.
Dr. Jane recalled her initial feeling was one of revulsion - to be shut in with insane people wouldn't do at all. However, the acquaintance would not accept a no answer to the job offer until the doctor had at least visited the hospital. She finally gave in and met for the interview.
Even in the 1920s, care for the mentally diseased was undergoing rapid changes. Dr. Jane said what she found upon visiting the hospital were immaculate wards with polished floors, well-kept and quiet patients and orderly conduct - not the howling-mad of an asylum.
The state hospital included a hydrotherapy department (for water therapy, which was common at the time), occupational therapy (which was so new it was almost unheard of in the 1920s) and a new method of recording the patient's condition. Gone was the old-fashioned way of doing things, such as putting the patient's name in a log book and putting them in a ward or cell and never recording condition or progress. Dr. Jane said now there were regular meetings with patients and meetings of staff to determine the status of each patient.
Dr. Jane also discussed a new method of treatment that came into being in the late 1930s and early 1940s and remained in use through much of the 1970s - electric convulsive therapy, or shock treatment. The doctor examined the virtues of shock treatments to calm a patient and to help restore the patient to his or her former self.
Move over, Dr. Phil
Each letter to Stephen detailed a specific case, giving insights on the patient's mental illness as well as outlining the method of treatment and the response. All cases are told without the use of medical language. Most include humor of some sort and seem to have a common-sense approach of dealing with each patient.
While Dr. Jane did not have the amassed information of mental illnesses available today to help her deal with patients, she did have a no-nonsense approach to people.
One case study mentioned in "Letters to Doctor Jane" details "Cordelia," a woman who firmly believed she was an alligator. The woman told of her condition and fate to anyone who would listen - how she would be forced to live her life in the institution, never to see her children again, living out her life as an alligator.
Dr. Jane wrote:
"On a Saturday afternoon we met suddenly as she made a turn into the hall. Cordelia put on her act, moaning and wailing, with tears in her voice and her facial expression between a smile and weeping (no tears), saying 'Oh, Dr. Jane, isn't it too bad -'
'Why, Cordelia, what has happened,' I asked. 'What can be the matter?'
"Half sobbing through her smiles, she said, 'Oh, it is too bad. My children are coming tomorrow and they won't know me.'
"Spontaneously, as if it were an inspiration straight from Heaven, I replied joyously and with great animation, 'Why, Cordelia, haven't you heard - didn't the nurse tell you?'
'No, tell me what?'
'It's the most wonderful thing, Cordelia, your children will know you!'
'Oh, no, how can they? I'm an alligator and they can't know me.'
'But didn't you hear? All your children have turned into little alligators, and little alligators always know their mother.'
'Oh, no! You know that's impossible. They couldn't turn into alligators,' she pleaded.
'Oh yes, they can - and have - and they will know you all right.'"
Dr. Jane said the conversation between doctor and patient went on for about 15 minutes, with Cordelia's argument weakening.
The next day when the woman's children came and recognized their mother, it was the last time Cordelia mentioned being an alligator.
Such an unorthodox remedy may seem improbable, but dealing with mental patients in a time before the myriad of pharmaceutical remedies available today was just that - unorthodox, steering through uncharted waters.
Dr. Jane wrote to her nephew, "Mental illness is usually not a disturbance of the intelligence or intellect, but rather an emotional disturbance."
Dealing with those disturbances became Dr. Jane's life work, as she practiced medicine for more than 55 years - 35 of those spent dealing with mental patients.
After her retirement, she moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where she passed away in 1969, she was 90.