Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Staff/Personnel

CLARA DAVIS – Nurse, 1913

We know very little about Clara Davis except she was among the very first staff selected for Pine Mountain, following Katherine Pettit‘s arrival in the Pine Mountain valley. She apparently came to the School sometime after April of 1913. As a recent nursing graduate, possibly of Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia, she was an invaluable asset to the early staff and community and foundational in establishing health and medical programs at the new school. Health concerns were many in the primitive accommodations of the early School and were epidemic in the surrounding community. Clara was apparently a pioneer in the treatment hookworm, trachoma, and fly-borne diseases, all diseases that were endemic to the area and of concern to the founders of the School. Her practices in treating these diseases were adopted as a model by many of her successors at Pine Mountain.

Evelyn Wells describes the work of Davis in her unpublished history of Pine Mountain 1913 – 1928:

From the very beginning, emphasis was laid upon constructive health work of all kinds. One of the members of the first School family was Miss Clara Davis, a nurse, whose work was of course mostly in the community, visiting district schools and homes. She laid a foundation of friendly rela­tions with the neighborhood because of her ministrations along lines that everybody could understand. She began the long cam­paign against such problems as hookworm, trachoma, and flies and agitated for sanitary closets and quarantine against infectious diseases, to say nothing of preaching against the physical inroads of alcohol and cigarettes.

Davis’ stay at Pine Mountain was, however, very brief. In the same year, 1913, she possibly married William Epley and left the School for Oneida, New York. [Same Clara Davis?]


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first night call ; ride down greasy ; Hiram Turner’s baby ; Gabe’s Branch ; Nance Turner ; mules ; Big Laurel ; Will Creech’s baby ; vaseline ; saddle bags ; lanterns ; telephone wires ;

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Dan Creech’s place ; caring for baby ; turpentine stupes ; castor oil ; calomel ; wet application ; hot, dry salt ;

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boiled water ; breakfast ; rocking ; price for nurse’s visit ; Lewis Turner’s store ; Johanna Turner’s horse ; Ida Turner ; Mary Ann Begley ; Miss Bishop’s class ; Brit Wilder ; Aunt Sal ; milk ; district schools ; talks on health and hygiene ;

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proper exercise and good habits ; physiology ; text books ; girl teacher ; trachoma ; “Kaintuck” Ridge ; district schools ; Hospital Department’s need for a horse ; Henry Creech ; cost of a mule ;

(Attributed to Davis by Mary Rogers)

Addressed to Ethel de Long, this typewritten letter describes Davis’ first night call on patients “down Greasy.” The narrative captures the extreme hardship of treating patients in the far-flung homes of the rural community. If the trip occurred in July 1913, as indicated, the experience would have been about three months following her arrival at Pine Mountain.


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July 8, 1913
[notation: Miss Davis? Dup.]

My dear Miss de Long:

I want you to know of my first night call and the exciting ride down greasy to Hiram Turner’s whose baby had been “tuk with a mighty bad spell”.

At seven o’clock Sunday night when I reached home from a most delightful trip to the Fall on Gabe’s Branch, I found Nance Turner waiting for me with her father’s mule to take me four miles down Greasy to Hi Turner’s at the mouth of Big Laurel.

It was rather disconcerting, for I was somewhat stiff from my ten mile ride over the Ridge and down Gabe’s Branch. The trip over the Ridge is always lovely, and I was glad to see Will Creech’s baby again — you would never have believed that the rosy chubby baby I saw could be the tiny, blue, gasping morsel of humanity they were “giving up to die” that Sunday we were over in May. I don’t take any credit of its recovery unless perhaps the vaseline I fed it helped clear out its throat so it had a little more air space, but I think we did encourage the mother that day so she was less inclined to “give the baby up”.

I walked a mile or so and was just beginning to be tired and stiff and to think longingly of a bath and my comfortable bed when we reached home at seven.

The sight of Nance and her mule put all such thoughts out of my head and I hurried to get my saddle bags repacked for that trip. It was beginning to get dark when we started off so we took a lantern and a box of matches. It was light enough to see the road when we started down Greasy but not light enough for us to escape getting hung up on the first telephone wire that was down across the road. I felt it in time to duck my head but it caught Nance and switched the lantern out of her hand. I was in the saddle and she rode behind. The crash of the breaking glass startled the mule so that she had to speak several times to him before he stopped although I had pulled him up at once. Nance had a cut finger but got off and went back for the remains of the lantern which I carried unlighted all the rest of the way.

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…Luckily Nance and the mule “knew every step of the way” and we were able to make [pretty] good time. Nance’s orders were “pull up on his bri…pace”.

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He did and it was the most comfortable gait I’ve ever struck. We kept him at it pretty steadily after we passed Dan Creech’s place and Nance called “Come on out yer and hand me up a limb some of yer”. At the next crossing the mule tryed [sic] to take us across a bushy bristley [sic] log, I suppose to get rid of the “limb” and incidentally of us. Frequently from there to the end of our journey Nance would say over my shoulder “keep pullin’ on the upper rein, we’re along a steep bank”, or “go slow here, there’s a wire down over the road”. We tried to light the lantern, but the wind blew it out, so when we came to a “wirey place” I struck matches till we could see to get hold of it and lift it over our heads. Once going up the creek bank at one of the numerous fords the mule stumbled and Nance nearly fell off. I don’t see how she stuck on at all. she may have held on to the saddle sometimes, but she never touched me. Another time she said “there’s a brush down in the road here” and just then the mule crashed through and over. I looked at the brush next morning by daylight and it was a dead tree about six inches through and most of the branches were still on it.

I asked her as we traveled along how long she had waited and she said “a right smart spell. They told me to wait fer ye or go till I found ye”. We were a little more than an hour on the way but it seemed longer although the mule was “so easy ridin'” that physically I was no more tired than when I started.

I found the little ten months’ old baby almost in convulsions with pain. It had been sick for two weeks, but that morning was taken with “a spell of pukin’ and runnin’ off of its bowels, and it hadn’t had any rest since”. It really was awful to see that baby suffer. About every four or five minutes it would scream and writhe with acute pains and between those spasms it whimpered and fretted in an effort to get comfortable. A soon as I could get hot water and flannel (there were about six women besides the mother to wait on me) I began putting on turpentine stupes and in less than half an hour it began to be more comfortable. At twelve I let them give a dose of castor oil to follow up the dose of calomel they had given before I arrived and a little later we put on dry clothes and changed from wet applications to hot, dry salt.

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I was afraid of the well water they were using so had some boiled for the baby and the first sign of interest the little one showed aside from crying for his mammy when she gave him to any else for a minute, was when he began to watch me heat up that water in a teaspoon so he could have it hot each time. By breakfast time at four A. M. (they began to prepare it at three o’clock, just when it began to get light) he was pretty comfortable and would sleep half an hour at a time without his mother rocking him. That rocking would have killed any modern-brought-up-by-book child. He was jolted back and forth on a hard chair to the tune of various ballads till I wondered why his little head didn’t drop off, and his mother kept it up almost all night. I used to beg her to stop for a while, but as sure as she did he would waken and cry.

When it was time for me to leave at six o’clock the father asked me my price and when I told him that at ten cents an hour it would be just a dollar he wanted me to take a dollar and a half. I compromised by letting him pay for the new lamp chimney I bought at Lewis Turner’s store and started home [on] Johanna Turner’s horse. It was not nearly as comfortable as the mule and when I reached home at seven I was quite ready for my delayed bath and bed.

I guess the people appreciated my services for Johanna said they were “right proud of the baby’s getting better so quick”. It must continue to stay better for Ida, Nance’s sister, said “if that baby got bad again they were coming right soon for Miss Davis”. And Mary Ann Begley heard this morning that it was getting better.

Miss Bishop has such an interesting little class and her star pupil is Brit Wilder, the poor little sickly fellow whose father brought him down here for advice some time in May. The poor child had indigestion from eating too much grease. They had no cow so Aunt Sal has been sending milk up for him every other day till kindergarten opened and he and Sally came down to stay with her and go to school. You never would know him now. He is fat and rosy and jolly and keeps things interesting in the school room with his baby chatter.

I have visited one of the district schools and given one short talk on health and hygiene, putting…[truncated page]

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…proper exercise and good habits. I hope to go often enough to enlarge on each subject and get in a little physiology that is fitted to their needs. They are studying a text book that is so full of technical terms that it would phaze [sic] a high school class, definitions and descriptions of such nervous diseases as chorea, neurasthenia, paralysis, etc. The one geography of the school had to be shared by the five members of that class. I couldn’t blame them for not wanting to recite before strangers, could you?

My heart went out for the girl teacher, — no broom to sweep her school room, no chalk for her blackboard, half the children with eyes so weak from trachoma that they were not fit to study even when the corn was “laid by” and they could attend school. Her boarding place is two miles from the school house over “Kaintuck” Ridge and she is usually tired and discouraged. Can you wonder?

The other six or seven schools within a radius of seven miles are so far away (none less than four miles) that I have not even tried to visit them during this hot weather. Later I may not mind walking eight or ten miles a day, but I hope before long the Hospital Department can own a nag. Do you know of anyone who would give us money for one? I wish I could buy Nance’s mule, it is so comfortable and I have so much confidence in its ability to meet trying situations. Henry Creech says it was offered to him this spring for $175.00 and it might be bought for less in the fall. Of course it would cost quite a bit to feed it, but I believe I could buy corn cheap if I had a chance to get about the country more, and I am sure a lot would be given by the people whose homes I visit. I am almost ready to cry, as did the king hard pressed in battle, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse”.

Yours sincerely,


Clara Davis




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Clara Davis ; Dr. Abby Little ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; physicians ; Pole House ; Clara Davis ; hookworm ; trachoma ; fly-borne diseases ; Old Log ; Infirmary ; medical settlements ; Big Laurel, KY ; Line Fork, KY ; World War I ; Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Mary Rockwell Hook ; Katherine Pettit ; Ethel de Long ; mules ; rural medicine ; Hi Turner ; Gabe’s Branch Falls ; Big Laurel ; Nance Turner ; Greasy Creek ; Dan Creech ; castor oil ; calomel ; Johana Turner ; Ida Turner ; Mary Ann Begley ; Evangeline Bishop ; Brit Wilder ; Aunt Sal ; neurasthenia ; paralysis; trachoma ; Henry Creech ;

Subject LCSH

Davis, Clara.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Rural health services — Appalachian Region — History.
History of Medicine — Biography.




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet


Series 9: Staff/Personnel




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 9: Staff/Personnel

Coverage Temporal


Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Big Laurel, KY ; Line Fork, KY ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Clara Davis ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Clara Davis ;




Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2013-11-10 hhw ; 2013-12-02 aae ; 2014-12-22 hhw ; 2014-12-26 aae ; 2014-12-30 hhw ;


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