The Village Physician

In 1875, Josiah Bartlett, the doctor for the town of Concord, Massachusetts, passed away.

As village physician, Josiah Bartlett attended the sick through most of the 19th century. Bartlett would have been on hand to treat the Emersons, the Alcotts, the Ripleys, the Channings, the Thoreaus, as well as all of the other inhabitants and strangers passing through the settlement.

Dr. Bartlett drove an open carriage pulled by a high-spirited horse. He lived on Lowell Street, just two doors down from the Masonic Lodge. He was available to his charges at all hours, day and night.

Back then, life was hard, the average lifespan was half of what it is today, and medical practice was long on compassion and short on cure.

During the Civil War, Dr. Bartlett was so taken by reports of those soldiers from Concord who had been wounded in battle that he traveled to the military hospital in Washington, D.C., to do what he could to ease their suffering.

Although he billed for his services, at the end of every year he forgave all accounts that had not been paid. I suppose he figured that if his well-meaning neighbors had the wherewithal to pay up, they would have done so by then. The fact that they didn’t meant that they hadn’t the means to do so.

I can’t imagine that set of principles endorsed by the business of contemporary medical practice, despite a recent New York Times article that advocates revisiting the way American doctors are paid for their services in the interest of curbing the spiraling cost of health care.

Today Dr. Josiah Bartlett rests in Sleepy Hollow cemetery, just down the hill from many of his former patients and their families—remains of that small community gathered together in death as they were in life.

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