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American Medical Biographies/Blalock, Nelson Gales

Blalock, Nelson Gales (1836–1913)

Nelson Gales Blalock, pioneer physician of Washington State, was born in Mitchell County, North Carolina, February 17, 1836, the son of Jesse Blalock. He was of Quaker ancestry and of such rearing and under such influences during boyhood as to develop the characteristics of patience, simplicity, honesty, and industry, which, sustained as they were, by natural power of mind, a devout religious spirit, and constant philanthropy, made him one of the conspicuous leaders both in his chosen profession and in the general activities of his adopted State of Washington.

A summary of his achievements and activities may well be an incentive to the younger members of the profession, as well as to all young men of ambition to attain their highest possibilities in human service. An army surgeon in an Illinois regiment during the Civil War, a physician and surgeon of ability and success in the states of Illinois and Washington, for many years a leading member of the board of trustees of Whitman College as well as of the board of directors of the public schools of Walla Walla, his home city in Washington State, mayor a number of terms, the first to develop wheat land on a large scale and to inaugurate irrigating, fruit raising and gardening in a scientific way, leader in the medical associations of his State, a framer of its constitution, a steadfast and efficient advocate of the development of water transportation throughout the country, gaining through all these manifold services the deep affection and reverent esteem of the thousands of people whom his life touched:—Dr. Blalock was justly deemed at the time of his death in 1913 the foremost citizen of the State of Washington.

Endowed with brains and character, but not with money, Dr. Blalock made his way with his own hands through academy and college in his native state, and then removing to Philadelphia, he completed his medical education at Jefferson Medical College in that city, in March, 1861. He established himself with his wife and infant son in Illinois, but decided within a year to join the Illinois Volunteers as surgeon.

Returning with impaired health, he entered upon the practice of his profession at Decatur, Illinois, and there he made his home and gained success in his profession during a period of twelve years. In 1873 he went west with a wagon train, settling at Walla Walla, Washington, and there he lived during the remainder of his life. He made many journeys during his active life, professional and business, and during the whole of his busy career maintained an interest in political, social, philanthropic, and religious activities. He maintained an extensive and eminently successful medical and surgical practice, often averaging one surgical case a day throughout the year. He was said to have assisted at the arrival of over five thousand babies. While he had a large and what would have normally been a lucrative practice, his kind heart prompted him so often to forego payment for his services that in his last years he had over forty thousand dollars in outstanding bills unpaid.

One marked characteristic of Dr. Blalock was that, even in advanced years he kept abreast of the times with all the latest surgical appliances. He was the first practitioner in Walla Walla and vicinity to install in his office modern electrical equipment, with x-ray appliances.

Deeply interested in education he was for thirty years a trustee of Whitman College and for half that time president of the board.

In 1877 he began a career of business activity, though never diminishing his assiduous attention to his professional labors. He inaugurated the fluming of lumber from the mountains, raising wheat on the uplands, and developing the raising of fruit and vegetables on a large scale at what is still known as the Blalock Orchard.

In connection with these business enterprises, he became interested in large irrigation enterprises, and from these it was an easy transition to water-way improvements, and years of effort, successful in the end, were devoted to securing the proper improvement of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, as well as of other water-ways.

The many services of Dr. Blalock to the public, and his acquaintance with the needs of the State, as well as his patriotic and philanthropic aims made him a natural delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1889, and the traces of his wisdom and political sagacity are visible in the organic law of the State of Washington.

Dr. Blalock was twice married, first in 1858 to Panthea A. Durham, who died in 1864, leaving two infant children, one of whom was Dr. Y. C. Blalock, a physician at Walla Walla, Washington. The second wife was Marie E. Greenfield, and of this union there were two daughters.

Dr. Blalock maintained his professional and other activities to the close of his life, which occurred at the age of 77, March 14, 1913.