Dr. Mary Frances (Polly) Shuford Interview

“[As far as women doctors in Asheville,] Dr. Margery Lord was here. [Dr. Margery Lord, City Health Officer for fifteen years from 1939-1954] And an eye specialist had been here. Dr. Merrimon. She fitted my first glasses when I was just a little girl. It wasn’t striking out for woman’s liberation at all, not at all. I studied medicine because I was interested in it. Because it was a challenge, and I wanted to know.

… “In ’35 I think I opened up my office. But it was awfully hard to get started because it was during the depression and, well, I couldn’t get work anywhere. I wasn’t known here as a physician. And Northern Hospital [where I had interned] was a small hospital and small private hospital. They had no room for another physician on the staff.

Dr. Shuford greets neighborhood youngsters of Stump Town, as they gathered in front of the house she had years before converted into Shuford Colored Clinic, where the black residents of Asheville could receive needed medical care. A friend’s gift of $15,000 made the clinic, which opened in 1940, possible. Photo by Bert Shipman/Asheville Citizen-Times Archive.

“And Dr. Ingrathaw, Louise Ingrathaw, was really very friendly and helped me. But what I did, I’d been a laboratory technician before, so I opened up a laboratory first and to be sure that I’d have enough money to make it on I asked around to see several doctors.

“And they paid me so much a month to do all their work, no matter what it was. It wasn’t on a fee basis. They just guaranteed me so much work a month. And I got started like that.

“But then, you can’t do two things. As soon as people started coming to me as patients, the doctors didn’t want me to do their laboratory work. And I can understand that. I couldn’t do both. I either had to specialize in pathology, in the laboratory work, or I had to be a physician. Well, I wanted to be a physician. I didn’t want to do the laboratory work. I studied medicine to get out of that.

“Well, in a year or so, I think I stayed in that laboratory, maybe I would say two years, and then Louise Ingrathaw said she couldn’t work, she couldn’t work very hard and if I’d come and do her laboratory work, she would give me, let me have part of her office, and there was space during the day, and she wasn’t there, and when she wasn’t there, I could see patients. And then anything that she didn’t want, she turned my way, which, that was the way to get started, you know.

“And the first thing she turned over to me was at six in the morning, a colored girl had phoned her that she had a very bad pain, was nauseated and very sick. And the lady she worked for said she was extremely sick, and would Louise come to see her?

“Well Louise phoned me and said, ‘Well, here’s a case for you. You can go to see this girl.’ And she was in the servants’ room, she spent the night there, in her employer’s home. So I went out to see her; inexperienced as I was, it was easy to tell it was appendicitis. Then I tried to get in the hospital here in Asheville, and that’s another story. I didn’t want to give up my entire practice right at the hospital door and that’s what it would have been because the colored people could get in the hospital if they had the money to pay — but they didn’t have a dime.

“At that time, it was in the, well, I started the laboratory in the Flat Iron building because there were physicians there who gave me work to do. I moved to the Haywood building with Dr. Ingrathaw and after she had to retire, the firm she was with, other doctors from that office wanted the whole office, so I moved farther down the hall in the Haywood building, and then I moved to the Arcade building. Then war was declared and the government took over the Arcade building for the war effort and then I moved up to the Weaver building, and there I stayed until 1962.”

Excerpt from post by Dave Tabler, November 22, 2016, Appalachian History (appalachianhistory.net)

Jan 12, 1975 interview of Dr. Mary Frances (Polly) Shuford (b. 1897)

Southern Highlands Research Center, Louis D. Silveri Oral History Collection, D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University, of North Carolina at Asheville