DR. GERSHOM Hill
 

 

 
Dr. Gershom H. Hill, physician, superintendent and man of affairs.- There is an

indefinable quality that distinguishes some men which is still waiting for a

name. So fine is this endowment or this combination of excellencies that its

presence can be detected only by results. Its possessor the world likes because

he is a man who does things. A visitor will say, "He is the man for me because

he brings things to pass. He succeeds in doing the thing to be done." Dr.

Gershom H. Hill, superintendent of the Iowa Hospital for the Insane at

Independence, either possessed naturally or in the school of experience acquired

an administrative ability of a very high order. A peculiar field exists for the

display of his capacities which has seemed to call him out at all his strong
points.


   "In the best sense," exclaims the editor of an Iowa paper, who has known him

intimately from youth, at the time of Dr. Hill's election to his present office,

"he is a self-made man, having secured his education and paid for it by his own

industry, working his way through college, and through all obstacles to his

present enviable but worthily earned position. Many of his college friends, and

the people of the town who remember him in those days, have a thrill of

generous, grateful pride as they learn of his recent promotion. Few men can give

a better account of their talents, time and opportunities or furnish an example

more worthy." And Dr. Edward Hornibrook, a physician of exceptional attainments

and observation, who, by particular studies and by official relations as well as

by close acquaintance, has had all of the best means of forming a fair estimate

of the work of Dr. Hill, affirms: "It is the best conducted hospital I ever saw.

There is more done to alleviate the misery and distress, more done toward

promoting the bodily health, of the patients, more done to make the hospital as

little irksome as possible for the patients, more done to furnish good food and

clothing, to furnish the hospital with proper ventilation, than in any other

hospital I ever saw."


   One of the plainest observations to those that know Dr. Hill's lineage is

that he was well born. In the case of horses, for example, it is worth much to

belong to a good family. It carries actual value. If one's education must begin

in the minds of his ancestors, and if one may have great good fortune in

choosing good parents from whom to be born, Dr. Hill's success began at this

point. His father, Rev. James J. Hill, was of heroic mold, joining upon his

graduation at Andover the "Iowa Band," who came as home missionaries to Iowa,

when a Territory, and here in a rude house, May 8, 1846, Dr. Hill was born. His

mother, Sarah E. (Hyde) Hill, of Bath, Maine, entered with whole-souled ardor

into the self-denying labors of those primitive days, saying with characteristic

vigor and enthusiasm, "Somebody must be built into these foundations." These

parents, be it ever said as a memorial of them, gave the first dollar to found

Iowa College, now the mother of patriots and ministers and missionaries and

scholars, at Grinnell. Besides Dr. Hill, the only other survivor of this

original Iowa family is his brother, Rev. James L. Hill, D. D., of Salem,

Massachusetts.


   The subject of our sketch is farther fortunate in that his peculiar abilities

seem exactly to meet the times. During his day the whole trend of things has

been toward organization. It is an age-drift. Everybody who wants to do anything

or wants others to do anything must have the ability to erect his idea into some

simple form of allied labor. Here Dr. Hill is an acknowledged master.

Responsible for everything, he works through others, not imperiously but with

such firm command of the situation as it is, with such thoroughness and

attention to details that the success of the hospital is found in its associated

life and effort. With the bee it is the making of the wax that costs, and so it

is that the receptacle or form of a thing is quite as indicative of genius as

the sweets that fill it.


   Another remarkable thing about Dr. Hill is his versatility. In his work this

capacity for a variety of things is supremely manifest. If you can name another

man who can excel him in one point or another, it would prove nothing. There are

few men, if any, that can combine so many points as he. It is not enough to fix

upon one little point and insist that some one else represents it in a higher

degree of excellency. We' must look at the totality of any man's character and

of any man's work and of any man's, service and judge it not by its specific

points but by its wholeness and massiveness. A man's work often furnishes the

best character sketch that can possibly be drawn. A hospital requires

professional abilities of the highest order. Its conduct, too, must furnish an

unquestioned model. Progressiveness in the care of the herds and of the farm

must set the pace for others. While this biographical sketch was being written a

report comes from the board of trustees of the hospital, who have been meeting

in regular session, as follows: "We have not been able to discover where more

could be done for the happiness and comfort of the inmates."


   We next catalogue his great talent for silence. He knows how like Von Moltke

to hold his tongue in seven languages. As with General Grant, so with Dr. Hill:

in dealing with all sorts and sizes of tempers, this is a prime excellence. His

pastor, who knew him intimately, said that the most impressive thing about his

conduct of his great hospital family of 1,100 persons, domiciled by the State at

an expense of over a million dollars, "was its quietness. If Dr. Hill should

hold excited and noisy disputes with employees who displease him the disturbance

would spread like a contagion from the central adminstrative offices to the

outmost wards." No separate mention is made of his uncommon common sense (old

English word, "wisdom"), for it is doubted whether that quality even when

possessed in the highest degree, is in itself distinctively so much an attribute

as it is a blending of characteristics and gifts, of which good judgment, marked

with consistency and accuracy, with the entire absence of extravagance or

eccentricity, forms a part. He sees clearly the relative importance of things.

He seems to divest himself almost entirely of the bids of personal interest,

partiality and prejudice. The thing most frequently remarked about him is his

poise. He is absolutely "unstampedable."


   In his relation to his life work it is these dictates of native good sense,

that incomparable judgment, this happy combination of talents and energies and

the harmonious union of the intellectual and moral frames that mark and

distinguish him. He deliberates slowly but decides surely and usually

irreversibly. In the choice of words to express forcibly and precisely his

meaning he is almost scrupulous. He is imperturbably kind, yet duty is the

ruling principle of his conduct. No one can fellow farther along this line

without soon receiving some suggestion of his very pronounced Christian

character. The writer once noted his use of the peculiar petition that his

administration of the hospital, being carried on in the spirit of the Golden

Rule, might be so conducted that the most unfortunate persons under his care

would be treated as he himself would wish to be dealt with if the conditions

were reversed.


   Dr. Hill is not only a director in the Young Men's Christian Association of

Independence, but he is also an elder in the First Presbyterian Church. He is

never absent from its Sunday morning service or its mid-week meeting unless

forbidden by some contrary duty. The regularity of his life is phenomenal. To a

visitor, in winter, his matinal meal seems a little early, but it appears that a

man can form what habits he pleases and custom will make them easy. He has not

spent a day in bed since he can remember. During his more than twenty-one years'

connection with the hospital he has never been absent from the table at any one

meal.


   His home life is singularly felicitous. On January 9, 1879, he married Miss

Louisa B. Ford, of Lynn, Massachusetts, a young lady whose figure and face,

manners, intelligence and winsome character would mark her in any city of New

England as the conspicuous one among a thousand. The mating of these two people

is characterized by that best of qualities in blended life-genuine and hearty

and affectionate comradeship. Mrs. Hill presides with rare grace and tact at a

table at which governors and philanthropists and persons of the highest position

in church and State are often guests. She is in active sympathy with her husband

in his work for the less fortunate members of the human family, and supports him

in the high religious position from which he views all the duties and

responsibilities of his taxing, exacting life. Their only child, Miss Julia,

bids fair to be worthy of her lineage and of the pains that are being taken with

her education.


   Dr. Hill himself graduated at Iowa College at Grinnell in 1871, and at Rush

Medical College in Chicago in 1874, subsequently taking post-graduate studies in

New York and at Harvard University. The studies of his youth were interrupted by

the service of his country in the field, being a member of Company B in the

Forty-sixth Regiment of Iowa Infantry. He is now a member for life of the board

of trustees of his alma mater, which college, too, conferred upon him in 1891

the honorary degree of Master of Arts. He is a lecturer on insanity in the

medical department of the State University of Iowa at Iowa City. He is honored

also by being appointed one of the building commissioners of the Iowa Hospital

for the Insane at Cherokee. It may not be too much to say that his influence in

securing the establishment of this institution at Cherokee and in determining

the appointment of the three superintendents of existing hospitals as members ex

officio of the building commission was fully equal to that of any other man in

the State. His work in the interest of the insane is not restricted to the walls

of his own institution or to the counties tributary to it. By voice and pen he

has done much to develop in Iowa and elsewhere the principle for which he has

always strongly stood, that all insane persons who cannot be comfortably cared

for in their own homes by their own relatives, having the freedom of the house

and fireside, also eating at the same table with the rest of the family, should

be cared for in State institutions and none of them in county asylums.


   Dr. Hill has been president of the Buchanan County Medical Society for

sixteen consecutive years. He has also been president of the Cedar Valley

Medical Association. He is an honorary member of the Dubuque County Medical

Society and of the Austin Flint Medical Society, also a member of the Fayette

County Medical Society, of the Iowa State Medical Society, of the American

Medical Association, of the American Academy of Medicine; of the Medico-Legal

Society of New York, and of the American Medico-Psychological Association. The

best things in Dr. Hill's life lie ahead. He is now exactly in his prime. His

life hitherto has been, in an important sense, preparative. He is a specialist.

Here experience counts. His life is not yet dwarfed into a reminiscence. He has

the habit of industry, and it will now grow easier to obtain success, after

success has been so organized, to plant the banner on the heights up which it

has been so gallantly carried.
 

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