Western North Carolina’s Sanatoria History: A Closer Look at the Fred Kahn Postcard Collection

On September 27, 1919, 100 years ago today, The Asheville Citizen ran an ad on page 10 which read:

SANATORIUM

Dunnwhyce Sanatorium, Black Mountain, N.C., reopened under new management, can accomodate ten more convalescents; ideal location; modern and complete.

Sanatoria had become a health craze by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and Asheville had become a mecca for those suffering from tuberculosis. The climate, which was the basis of treatment in these sanitoria, was considered ideal in Western North Carolina. Indeed, for those studying climatotheraphy, Asheville was considered one of the top climates in the treatment of various lung diseases.

Veranda View, Highland Hospital, Asheville, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

People had long believed, from the low-country elite to the Cherokee Indians, that Asheville fell within the realm of a health resort and by the 1890s, the city and surrounding areas were firmly entrenched in the building explosion of sanitoria. The largest of which was St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Fairview Sanatorium.

An airplane view of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Asheville, NC, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

The Asheville Citizen ad mentioning “Dunnwhyce,” was actually referencing the sanatorium in Black Mountain, Dunnwyche, a sanitorium for consumptive nurses. During this time period, it was quite common for nurses caring for tuberculosis to contract the disease themselves, and most were single women with limited means for their own healthcare.

During the 1911 annual meeting of the North Carolina State Nurses Association (the professional nursing organization for white nurses in the state), two nurses came forward with the idea of a sanatorium for sick and disabled nurses. Supported by the NCSNA, it would be a place nurses could find care and respite. A site was found in Buncombe County, near present-day Black Mountain, and the new institution was named Dunnwyche, in honor of the two women who first championed the idea, Birdie Dunn and Mary Whyche.

Dunnwyche thrived until 1919, when World War I made it necessary for the US Army to build a 1,500 bed sanatorium at nearby Oteen to care for soldiers with lung ailments related to poison gases used as weapons on the battlefield. The Army’s pay scale was higher than Dunnwyche, effectively removing the majority of those caring for their fellow nurses and patients, and leading to the declining maintenance and financial instability of the sanatorium. The building was sold and the proceeds invested in Liberty Bonds, although the interest was then used to help those nurses who had acquired the disease with finding care and money for treatment costs.

Night-time scene US Veterans’ Administration Facility, Oteen, NC, near Asheville, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

The sanatoria movement in Western North Carolina would go on to become yet another pillar that firmly established Asheville as both a health resort and tourist destination across the globe. Today though, all that remains of much of the history of the sanatoria of this area are simply a memory.

Meriwether Hospital, Asheville, NC, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

However, at UNC Asheville Special Collections, we are the repository for the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection. Housed within this postcard collection is a magnificent binder which includes 108 postcards of several of the sanatoria in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Fortunately, through vibrant collections such as the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, the legacy that helped shape Asheville into the renowned destination it has become today will remain alive and well for future generations.

Wesnoca, Asheville, NC “In the Land of the Sky,” from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

Sources:

Buncombe County, North Carolina Nursing History, Appalachian State University, accessed: https://nursinghistory.appstate.edu/counties/buncombe-county

Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

“Sanatorium: Dunnwhyce.” The Asheville Citizen, September 27, 1919.

Asheville Women in History: Catalysts For Change

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which allowed women the right to vote. While some American women were granted the right to vote under this Amendment, there were still many inequalities that women were fighting to change. In Asheville, on Friday, September 12, 1919, an organization was created by several of these ground-breaking women in order to combat some of these inequalities and provide women with opportunities previously only afforded to men.

The Asheville Business and Professional Women’s Association began with 36 members, with Dr. Elizabeth Smith elected as the first President. According to an article in the Asheville Citizen-Times, “… the association is non-political, non-sectarian, and in no wise [sic] a union.” The Association was also self-supporting, with a primary goal of promoting better social and recreational opportunities for business and professional women.

One such professional woman who was also an organizing member and Vice President of the Association was Lillian Exum Clement. Clement was born near Black Mountain, and raised in Buncombe County. She studied law while working for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office and was admitted to the bar and began practicing as an attorney in 1917. Clement was widely known among law circles as “Brother Exum.” She represented Buncombe County as the Democratic candidate in 1920, nominated before women were even enfranchised. She was elected by a landslide (some 10,000 votes to around 40) and became North Carolina’s first female legislator, as well as the first female lawyer to practice without male partners in North Carolina. Clement’s victories helped continue the drive for women’s suffrage during this monumental time.

Lillian Exum Clement on foot bridge; from the Stafford and Wingate L. Anders Collection

Lillian Exum Clement introduced 17 bills during her time as a Representative and was active in many local civic groups, including the Asheville Business and Professional Women’s Association. Clement’s legacy certainly lives on- in 1997, “Lillian’s List” was formed as a pro-choice, Democratic women’s group, supporting women for North Carolina office and providing scholarships to women attending law school. Clement died of pneumonia at age thirty-eight and is buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.

The family of Lillian Exum Clement graciously allowed UNC Asheville’s Special Collections to make 25 digital copies of various images related to Clement and Asheville, which is titled the Stafford and Wingate L. Anders Collection. UNC Asheville is also the repository for an oral history with Nancie Stafford Anders, daughter of Lillian Exum Clement. Anders speaks on her Mother, some of Asheville’s history, and the development of the College Street area in downtown Asheville.

Across North Carolina, several universities and archives are celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. In Asheville, there will be a two day symposium on this event. You Have to Start a Thing: North Carolina Women Breaking Barriers will feature speakers Thursday evening, September 12 and all day Friday, September 13 at Pack Memorial Library. This free event is sponsored by the UNC Asheville History Department and Pack Library. UNC Asheville History Faculty Dr. Daniel Pierce and Dr. Sarah Judson will be two guest speakers, and UNC Asheville History Alums Katherine Calhoun Cutshall and Catherine Amos will be presenting on Lillian Exum Clement and others like her- daring women who broke barriers and became catalysts for change in Asheville and the world beyond.

From the symposium program: “You Have to Start a Thing: North Carolina Women Breaking Barriers”

Sources:

Stafford and Wingate L. Anders Collection (027), D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

“Permanent Club is Organized by Women,” Asheville Citizen-Times, September 13, 1919.