Early Recollections and Life of Dr. James Still 1812-1885

Lester S. King, MD
JAMA. 1972;220(3):421. doi:10.1001/jama.1972.03200030079037.
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The son of liberated slaves, a "doctor" by courtesy only, James Still wrote in 1877 a fascinating autobiography that serves as important primary source material for both social and medical history of the United States. His parents were desperately poor. James, born in New Jersey in 1812, grew up accustomed to hard work. Although exposed to only minimal formal education, he was ambitious, energetic, and able. He had always wanted to be a physician but the closest he could get to realizing his ambition was to become a "herb doctor." Since he had no license to practice medicine, he could not legally charge patients for medical advice, but he could sell his medicines—a position somewhat analogous to the 16th and 17th century British apothecary. He enjoyed a very active practice, and a lucrative one, too, so that he became quite prosperous.

For the social historian the book presents vividly the


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