Dr. Harry Blaine McMechen. PHOTO POSTED ON ANCESTRY.COM BY TaniaAnnA
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
George and Mildred Lacey McMechen worked hard during their lives so that their children were well prepared to leave a mark as free and educated citizens of their country.
The McMechens, of Wheeling, West Virginia, died before their youngest son, Harry Blaine McMechen, reached manhood, but none-the-less they initiated – before their deaths – a plan to insure that he would have the financial means to attend college.
When widower George McMechen, a plasterer by trade, penned his will prior to his death, he stipulated that after his debts and funeral expenses were paid, $400 was to be set aside to allow young Harry to attend a college of his choosing. The rest of the estate – consisting of property the elder McMechens had accumulated during their lifetime - was to be divided between the McMechen children. The will was probated in March 1902, when Harry was about 17 years old.
The story’s relevance to this region is that Harry ultimately graduated first from Indiana University at Bloomington, and from MeHarry medical college in Nashville in 1911. By 1914 he was a practicing physician and surgeon in Hannibal. He lived and worked in this community until his death in 1951, a timeframe of nearly four decades.
Republican by political preference and a Methodist by faith, McMechen – known as Dr. Mech to his patients – delivered many babies in Hannibal, some of who are still living.
Gale Conley of Hannibal remembers “Dr. Mech.” (McMechen)
“He was my grandmother’s doctor,” Gale said. “He helped my grandmother, Anna Conley. She lived on N. Ninth Street – I can still remember the address – 618. That’s where I grew up; she raised four of us,” he said. His mother, Lula Virginia Moss, died six weeks after Gale’s birth.
Jim Riding of Hannibal also remembers Dr. Mech, along with Dr. Fox, who practiced in Hannibal about the same time.
“I was a little bitty fella,” Jim remembers. His family lived at 2110 Patchen. “Dr. Mech and Dr. Fox both made house calls. They each drove a big black Cadillac. I don’t know how they afforded them; all their patients were poor.
“Dad (William [Bud] Riding) was sick. My Dad loved milk. Dr. Mech wasn’t around, and Dr. Fox told my Dad not to drink any milk. That made him feel worse. Dr. Mech came back and told Dad to drink all the milk he wanted, and he got better.”
Gale Conley also remembers the big black Cadillacs that the doctors drove. “They were real long – those were the first Cadillacs I had ever seen.”
* Emma McMechen was born circa 1864 and married William Payne in 1908, at Ohio County, W.Va. Prior to her marriage, she worked as a dressmaker in Wheeling. By 1914 the Paynes had relocated to Hannibal along with Dr. McMechen and his wife Hullsee, and they lived together for a short time at 1925 Market St. The Paynes continued to live on Market Street, and Mr. Payne operated the People’s Grocery store for a time at 1216 Broadway. Emma McMechen Payne died in 1921. Dr. McMechen was listed on her death certificate as her family physician.
* Mary Bell (Mamie) McMechen died in 1967 at the age of 96. She was a retired school teacher, and lived out her life in Wheeling. She is buried in Peninsula Cemetery, Wheeling.
* Ada Hawkins Henderson resided in Boston in 1921.
* Lelia McMechen married Wilbur Dolan, and continued to live in Wheeling. She died in 1948, and he died in 1966. They are buried at Peninsula Cemetery in Wheeling.
* George McMechen Jr., graduated from Morgan College in 1895, and from Yale University law school in 1898. He was a prominent civil rights attorney in Baltimore, Md. A public school in that city is named in his honor. He died in 1961 and is buried at Arbutus Cemetery in Baltimore.
* Ethel McMechen Jones was a manicurist in Wheeling in 1904. She married Earl Clifton Jones in 1916, and in 1921 they were living in Los Angeles, Calif. She died in 1971. Their daughter, Jane McMechen Jones, died in 1941 at the age of 22, and is buried at Peninsula Cemetery.
* Harry McMechen died in 1951 at Hannibal, and his wife, Hullsee, died in 1952. They are buried together at Peninsula Cemetery in Wheeling.
Note: The 1910 census shows three of the sisters living together in their family home at 1045 Eoff St., in Wheeling: Mary McMechen, a school teacher; Ethel McMechen, who was working as an attendant in a physician’s office; and Lelia McMechen McCollough, a widow. Mary McMechen owned the house free and clear. She inherited the house upon her father’s death in 1902.
Education at MeHarry
Dr. McMechen graduated from MeHarry Medical College in 1911, and then studied at Kansas City General Hospital before moving to Hannibal.
MeHarry Medical College was founded in 1876 in Nashville, Tenn., and is the second oldest medical school for African Americans in the nation. It is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Other Hannibal doctors who graduated from MeHarry included Dr. Queen and Dr. Fox.
June McMechen was born at Hannibal in 1922, the daughter of Dr. Harry and Hullsee McMechen. As a teenager she was a member of the Allen Chapel (AME) Singers. They performed a concert at the AME Church of Palmyra in May 1937. Members of the choir were E. Abbey, M. Ewing, L. Lasley, E. Roberts, and Miss McMechen, L. Anderson and M. Keyer, sopranos; R. Roberts, M. Harrington and R. Keyer, altos; Wm. Williams, D. Bright and W. Howard, tenors; Joe Hall, bass; Anna Sanders, organist and Frank Lewis, chair master. During a skit, Samuel Hobbs played the role of Uncle Sam and Ella Bell Hobbs played Aunt Ella.
Miss McMechen went on to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she was named the most talented undergraduate in March 1942. For this honor, she was chosen to sing over a nation-wide radio network as guest of Fred Allen. While in New York, she attended a bout between Joe Louis and Abe Simon; and she attended the Broadway production of Porgy and Bess.
A special thanks to Faye Dant for suggesting this story topic.
Note: Jim's Journey, The Huck Finn Freedom Center, offers resources to those who are interested in building cross-cultural understanding by documenting, preserving and presenting the history of the 19th and 20th-century African American community in Hannibal and northeast Missouri. http://www.jimsjourney.org/ G. Faye Dant is a fifth-generation African American Hannibalian and descendant of Missouri slave, James Walker.
Researcher Rhonda Brown Hall of Hannibal, Mo., moderates the Negro Family's Research Center on Facebook.
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2014. In retirement, she researches and writes narratives regarding the people who contributed to this region’s development. Her collective work can be found on her website, www.maryloumontgomery.com
This photo represents the seven children of George and Mildred Lacey McMechen of Wheeling, W.Va. On the back row, at left, is Dr. Harry Blaine McMechen, who practiced medicine in Hannibal for nearly 40 years. PHOTO POSTED ON ANCESTRY.COM BY TaniaAnnA
This map features the states where MeHarry medical school graduates had located their practices. It was published in The Nashville Globe on Sept. 4, 1908, three years prior to Dr. Harry B. McMechen’s graduation from the school.
Dr. and Mrs. McMechen lived at 1217 Church Street for many years. The house served as both residence and office for the doctor. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Nora Creason of Hannibal shared these two prescriptions written by Dr. Harry Blaine McMechen.