History is all too easy to manipulate. Think how often you see admonishments in the news about “revised history.” The phrase itself reeks of criticism. People tend to disparage the very idea of revisionism. Here is the truth, sometimes history needs revised, fixed if you will, because the people who recorded it the first time jacked it up. Specifically in Josie’s case, the man who jacked it up was Dr. Charles Victor Roman.
In 1932, Dr. C.V. Roman wrote a history of Meharry Medical College. In his 200+ page book, Roman only mentioned Josie when it was absolutely necessary with what appeared to be resignation, which was only on four pages. FOUR. PAGES. Each “compliment,” masked with derision and criticism. “She was really a remarkable woman, and under a more favorable environment might have risen to fame. She was, however, too excitable for administration, and too emotional for impartial judgment. She was, nevertheless, honest, industrious, intelligent and loyal to the right as she understood it. She was a great help to Dr. Hubbard, but her counsel would have been more valuable if checked by a cooler head.” (pg. 107) It was as if he couldn’t stop himself from clarifying each positive remark with a criticism. He was making a distinct point that women were overly emotional and unfit for leadership roles.
Roman didn’t hate women. He was quite complimentary to other female Meharry employees. Of course, they were women working in more acceptable feminine occupations, secretaries and nurses. He recognized that Josie was “remarkable” but said she “added a bizarre touch of sex” to the male dominated medical field. He didn’t even full on fib, he danced around the truth. He said Josie was “the first woman to attempt medical leadership at Meharry.” The objectionable word here is “attempt.” Dude. She was superintendent of two flipping hospitals: Mercy Hospital and then Hubbard Hospital. She ACHIEVED leadership, she did not “attempt” it. He never once gave her the credit for that. He consistently called her Dr. Hubbard’s “assistant,” when contemporary newspaper accounts very clearly referred to Dr. Hubbard as “Dean” and Josie as “Superintendent.”
In fact, Superintendent of Hubbard Hospital was Josie’s achievement Roman had the most difficulty acknowledging. Nor did he further acknowledge her contribution to its construction and success. He duly gave Dr. Boyd all the credit for the idea of building the hospital. In fairness he mentioned Josie was on the Hubbard Hospital Committee as secretary but that’s all. Roman had every opportunity to mention the tireless amount of hours and resources Josie gave in order to see the hospital not only constructed but outfitted and supplied. He chose not to mention this.
Roman very clearly was not intimidated by the success of other men. He described Dr. John T. Wilson with effusive compliments: captivating, genius, congenial. He had almost idol like respect for Dr. R.F. Boyd. In fact, part of me thinks some of his derision towards Josie was because Dr. Boyd respected her and made her superintendent of his hospital. Josie worked her way through medical school as head of the nursing program at Mercy. Boyd would have been quite aware of her work ethic, her dedication and her skill. He wouldn’t not have made her superintendent of his hospital if she was “too excitable” or “too emotional for impartial judgment.”
Josie and Roman were fellow professors, educating the next generation of Meharrians. They were both talented physicians, with very different cores. However, they were equals. Roman had no need to be either intimidated or resentful of Josie. He had a thriving practice and specialized in medicine of the Ear, Nose and Throat. He was celebrated in newspapers and journals for his accomplishments. He wrote often for medical reviews and on top of his medical success he appeared to have had successful business ventures. Although, I dislike trying to assign a psychological evaluation on anyone, Dr. C.V. Roman’s amnesia of Josie’s contributions seem to have stemmed from a slight case of insecurity. For example, the photo below was taken in his office. He had a poster size photo of himself hanging in his office. Is this just me or does this very clearly wave a very vibrant “I have insecurity issues” red flag? Eye Yie Yie. Seriously, maybe because it was an office for an eye doctor? He wanted to make sure all his patients could clearly see his photo? 😉
Roman’s book has been seen as the authority on the history of Meharry Medical College for ninety years. It’s time to revise that. He diminished Josie’s contribution to the history of Hubbard Hospital, Meharry Medical College and Nashville Society. Whether he did it consciously or negligently, he impacted her memory. SO many emotions are rolling through me typing this. Anger for Josie, even though she had passed away before Roman wrote his book. Frustration that he minimized her impact. Mostly sadness, because in minimizing her contribution and impact he made her not matter. Feeling insignificant is a feeling I am uncomfortably familiar with. I refuse to accept that for Josie. She mattered. Bringing Josie’s story to the forefront of history where it belongs, has helped me feel as if my work matters too. As if I matter.
The Nashville Globe, Nashville, TN, Fri 17 Sep 1909, pg. 5 (accessed newspapers.com) Roman, C. V. (Charles Victor), 1864-. Meharry Medical College: a History. Nashville: Sunday School Pub. Board of the National Baptist Convention, Inc., 1934.