Walter E. Dandy Letters

We are proud to host the transcripts of Walter E. Dandy’s correspondence with his family. These letters illustrate the personal side of this neurosurgical genius, spanning his early college education through senior tenure at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

March 1, 1912

89 Anson Street

Barrow in Furness, England

c. Spring, 1912

My Dear Son,

…Well this a beautiful spring like morning. Wish you could go out and have some exercise. I suppose you would just as soon have bad weather as good, as it is all work work with you, and you have to make good this year. You surely have got a grand opportunity having such great work with such a great man. Glad you get the chance to perform operations. I do hope you have great success in every operation you perform.…

This evening we are going to a Mr. Cranston's. He was a very poor man when we left, working for 25 shillings per week. But he went into the furniture business and made a fortune. They say is has 22 or 23 houses in this town and a nice home in Belfast. He has come back to Barrow to live and is now living in an elegant home on Abbey Road. He is paying one pound a week for it. He has come here to start his son in business. There is plenty of business in Barrow now. They say they have enough work in the shipyard to last 10 years.…

Your loving Mother


March 1, 1912

89 Anson Street

Barrow in Furness, England

c. Spring, 1912

My Dear Son,

…You say we don't give you much news. Well it is because we have not got it or we would surely give it to you. I need Mrs. Battersby or Mrs. Minnier to come in once in a while to give some news.…

We went to Mr. Gornal's funeral. We did not send Jim Gornal a paper or any word to him about his brother. They never answered our letter or card. For that reason I would not trouble to write to them. I am going to write to Annie Craven some of these days. I sent them a card from Belfast and one to Mrs. Battersby.…

I went to Gospel Hall last night and Pa went to hear the Socialist. So as I was coming home on Bath Street I kept looking for him like old times but he was not as quick to show up as of years gone by.…

Your loving Mother


March 1, 1912

89 Anson Street

Barrow in Furness, England

c. Spring, 1912

My Dear Son,

…I must say we were delighted with the success of that operation you performed and trust he will be a living witness to your first great operation. It would be a hard blow on Dr. Cushing.

Don't forget to tell us how your patient is doing and also your rich friends. I would advise you to keep in with them. She might give you some money and if you don't need it or don't want it send it here. I'll take it. Anybody might as well have it and put it to better use than those worthless kind of beings. I would say keep in with her, and if her daughter is a nice young lady you might make a match.

Well I have not seen any nice English or Irish girls that I care for. I think the American is just as nice or nicer than any here. I guess Miss Stanley is about ready to give you up if you won't write to her.

May Todd and her young man came here Friday and stayed till Sunday evening.… He seems to be a nice young man. They are going to be married at Easter. He is a Socialist. I gave them their wedding present, half dozen knives and forks. They want her to teach for 3 months after she gets married. They seem very fond of one another.

Great many idle here on account of the strike. Works shut down. Mr. Todd isn't working. I hope it will soon be over. There are a lot of people without coal. We were at a place for tea last week. They were telling us how Mrs. Battersby acted when she made herself known to them. She exhausted their patience and tempers. They almost insulted her. They thought she was crazy and acted very foolish to meet old friends in such a way. They thought she looked a poor dried up or burned up old woman, never would have known her.

We are going to another place on Wednesday. We get lots of invitations for tea. Got Pa a nice hard hat as nice as yours cost 2s 10p or 75 cents. He looks well in it.…

Had some grand meetings. Wished you could have heard him. I think there were some saved. People would rather go to a theatre than to hear the Gospel. Commit your ways unto the Lord. Have faith in Him at all times.…

Your loving Mother


March 5, 1912

89 Anson Street

Barrow in Furness, England

March 5, 1912

My Dear Son,

…The country is certainly getting in an uproar, everything and everybody dissatisfied. All the miners in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are out on strike for minimum wage. The masters and the goverment both said it could not be granted. The miners said it had to be or no work. The goverment now says they are entitled to it. Must have it and 65% of the owners are willing to conceed it. Wales don't want to give in to them as the Chairman of the Mine Owners and large owner of mines, highly educated haveing an A.M. run against a Socialist in the last election and got beat. And he says if they conceed the minimum wage the next thing they will want the mine. They told him that Nationalism of the mines etc. was their object. And it certainly looks as though it was coming fast.

Well Walter I will enclose you leaflet with picture of Gospel Hall and let me say that the preacher is fine. I never heard his eaqual. As an orator I think no one can touch him. Except my old friend Debs. Of course their subjects differ, for Debs teaches the best you can get on earth and Mr. Dunn teaches the best for Heaven. And wile I conceed Mr. Debs method is fine, I think Dunn is superfine.…

I hope you get good opportunitys to prove your ability in your chosen proffesion by numerrous succesfull operations as I want to see the 3Ds regonized as the leaders in their respective callings, being Dandy, Debs, and Dunn.

Goodbye and may the Great Eternal One guide you.

Your affectionate Father


March 6, 1912

Baltimore, Md.

March 6, 1912

Dear Mother and Father,

Another week passed and about half the year gone. Possibly even more as Dr. Cushing is going to England in June and may be gone all summer. Well everything is about as usual. Work is a little bit easier than it has been the first time since I came on.

Am glad you are enjoying yourselves so well. I am sorry cannot give you any definite information about next year, I should like to stay here and may do so though it is a guess and hard to say. Cushing may want me to go to Harvard but that is guessing again.

Well I did another operation yesterday. An epileptic boy, English by the way, who was deserted by his mother and father when 2 years old. He became a sailor and when at Buenes Aires, South America, fell 30 feet and struck back of his head. Since then he has been having epilepsy. The worst case I ever saw, 40-50 convulsions per day. He fell into hands of friends after being switched around helpless for 2 years. He was sent into the hospital and Dr. Cushing said there wasn't anything to be done for him and they were going to send him to an asylum. I told him I took an interest in the boy and wished he would try and see what he could do. He said well you can try it if you want to. I did and so far the boy is perfectly well, has not had another convulsion. If he should get well it would be a wonderful thing, something which is almost unknown.

It is only 3 days now and while I feel good, am almost afraid to believe it, and hoping. I told Cushing he was doing well and he tried to throw cold water on me but I refuse to yield until shown. I don't think he has ever cured an epileptic. Everyone is astonished at the result so far. But it is too soon to crow. It was a very delicate operation in the most difficult part of the brain, where the largest vessels are present and the very smallest touch improperly placed or slip of the knife would have meant fatal bleeding. But slowly the thing cleared up without any bad effects. It took about 2 hours to free the adhesions which were clinging to the brain and which had to be very carefully separated. Had many an anxious moment, expecting at any time to stir up a haemorrhage which might be fatal. Of course it would look pretty bad for a beginner to have had any serious trouble, and fortunately it pulled out well.

If the result is good, he may be more careful about letting me have any more cases, as it reflects a little on him. He did not expect when he gave me the case, to have me take any such chances as I did, but since he was not there, I went ahead on my own responsibility. I certainly hope the boy gets well. Something which is scarcely known to happen. And which I have never seen happen.

Am going to try an experiment tomorrow which has never been done before on a human being. Am going to remove some water from a babys brain (a big head?baby with water on the brain) and put back some colored liquid in its place and see how long it takes to get out again. Trying to solve the problem on a human which I did last year on animals.

The work is extremely interesting. Only one thing wrong and that is the grub which is fierce. Don't have time to go downtown very often.

By the way we have one of the 400 so called for a patient and it is quite a treat to watch her. She is the daughter of some English duke, her sister is the duchess or something of the kind of some Englishman. Her husband is vice president of the Frisco, on the board of directors of the Katy, Pennsylvania, Rock Island, and a bunch more roads, owns the gas works of St. Louis, the street car lines of St. Louis and Milwaukee, extensive mines in Colorado, big insurance company of New York, etc. etc. They live in the finest residence of St. Louis half of the year and the rest in New York in the finest hotel there, and have a couple of summer residences, a half dozen maids, four or 5 automobiles etc. etc. Always travel in a private car on railroad.

She came to Dr. Cushing for facial neuralgia or tic douloureux, and other imaginary ails. Senator Clarks wife and others visit her. She was not going to stay because there was no suite of rooms fine enough for her. She got the best and then bought a lot of furniture to fix it up, since she could not do any better. Got 10 or 12 extra fine pillows, new brass bed and thick velvet carpet etc. etc. And new silk pajamas every day etc. Always a tale of woe. Always sick, big. fat and flabby 225 lbs. Looks like the devil himself might look. She finally stayed. Day and night nurse and maids and maid to take care of daughter who has a suite of rooms in the finest hotel here.

She became quite attached to me right away because she said I looked like her boy who died, the very picture of him. Wanted me to visit them, hear her daughter who is an excellent musician etc. Wants to take me out in the small foreign automobiles etc. All a lot of rot and a most striking contrast to someone too poor to get something to eat. Like the strikers of the Massachusetts woolen mills, though some sense and she has none. She is going to donate something to the hospital, she says, besides all her recently purchased furniture. She wants an operation and Dr. Cushing does not think it will help her and does not want to do it.

She wants to stay a month and rest up well. She tires out and goes all to pieces and has to be assisted if she walks a couple of blocks. Pathetic as she can be. Well this is a lot of rot to talk about.…

See where the coal strike is pretty effectual in England. Trusting you are in the very best of health as I am at present. I remain,

Your loving son, Walter


March 13, 1912

89 Anson Street

Barrow in Furness, England

March 13, 1912

Well My Dear Boy,

…I was rather surprised to learn in your last letter that you might go over to general surgery. Of course I don't know much about it but it looks to me as though it would be time wasted unless you intend to practice general surgery and if you do I think it would be a more crowded field than brain surgery. However your good judjment knows more than my poor judjment.…

We take good long and pretty walks arround here almost every day. It was blowing hard about a week ago so we went to see the wind play with the Irish sea. Big waves would come rolling in shore and Mama like a little girl would go close to them. Then she would have to run to keep out of the way of the next big one.

Coming home we went by an old settlement of houses built in old style. The natives used to make a living going and plundering and robbing ship wrecked vesels as it is considered very rough coast. We came across one house that was built in 1684 and still looks pretty good.…

Your affectionate Father


March 16, 1912

Baltimore, Md.

March 16, 1912

Dear Mother and Father,

I am again slow answering your letter as usual. I keep putting it off and thinking I will have more time tomorrow and I am always caught after midnight without any time to spare.

Well this has been a great week for me and a hard one for Dr. Cushing. My Epileptic boy has not had any more attacks and is going away tomorrow. Well that woman I was telling you about, who had so much money, heard of him and is going to give him a two months rest in the country and pay all his expenses, buy him a complete outfit of clothes etc. Cost her $75.

Dr. Cushing gave me another big case, one of the hardest and biggest brain operations. It turned out to be the most wonderful case we have seen this year. The boy had nothing but an occasional attack of epilepsy. At operation about ¼ of his brain was a big cyst of water. The most remarkable picture we have seen yet. With all that damage he was only a little backward at school.

The thing that pleases me most was the fact that there were three cases almost alike in the hospital at the same time. Dr. Cushing operated on two and gave me the third to do myself. It consisted in removing the skull from one side of the head and putting it back again, a long, tedious painstaking procedure. He didn't find anything in his 2 cases and I found this most remarkable condition in mine. But the best of it was both his cases did so badly that he had to go in and operate a second time on account of a blood clot formation but mine did splendidly and is still doing so. As you see the big men do not always do the best work. If I had done what he did it would have been sufficient excuse to have never given me anything more to do. But I was very fortunate. He may not give me so much new because they are talking some about the difference which does not look so good to him.

Have a lot of wonderful cases. He goes to Europe June 1. I don't know yet what I will do. I think possibly I will get a chance to go to Boston, though he hasn't mentioned anything as yet. May have a good chance here.

I may come over and see you if you don't come back. You had just as well stay then until I hear something definite.

Well spring is beginning to appear. Kicked a football this afternoon for 2 hours and felt bully.

Everything is proceeding nicely. Seem to please Dr. Cushing OK so far as I can tell. Did a most remarkable test on a baby with hydrocephalus-big head water. First time anything like it has ever been done. Substituted colored liquid for the normal fluid of the brain and determined its excretion all of which harmonized with my previous views very closely and against Dr. Cushing's. The experiment was remarkably good and the baby not injured at all.

That wealthy woman is very anxious to have me visit her during the summer. Another patient also gave me very hearty invitation, wants me to go to St. Louis and practice and be in Washington University. Says he can get me a good job if I want it.

Well I guess this is enough wind jammer. Glad you are feeling so well and having such a good time. Is Mrs. Battersby coming over. I have a lot of papers to send you. Lots of bad politics. Will try and write sooner next time. With much love and best regards to all. I am

Your loving son, Walter


March 18, 1912

89 Anson Street

Barrow in Furness, England

March 18, 1912

Well My Boy,

…Was very glad to get a letter as we missed one last week and expecialy Mama was anxious about her Boy but lo the joy this morning when she came down stairs and got letter from her idol boy. And when we read your letter we both shed tears of joy over your success in the operation of the young English boy and we trust that no ill effects will follow the operation. This is certainly a great boost to your ability and I think will not go unnoticed.

This reminds me of your experience once in the school at Sedalia when your teacher did not grade you right and you told her you could beat her. And I think Dr. C. had better look well to his laurals or robes or they will be placed on the young surgical king that I am well aquainted with.

You have never told us and I have often wondered if the man now in the dog house proved anything contrary to your findings last year when you were in the dog house. I don't think Dr. C. will stay long in England this summer. He may fear a revolution and his asst. be made king in his stead when he returns. These are nice things for us to think of but they will cost you many anxious thoughts for I know in some degree that position brings responsibility and care. But try and not let them press on you to hard. And I trust and pray to the Almighty that absolute guidance of his may ever be your lot in all your undertakings.…

Say by way of advice I trust you can make your self humble enough to cater somewhat to the rich people you mention. As I think it good deplomacy on your part to do so as they might put lots of good things in your way that you might otherwise miss.…

Don't forget to tell us all about the boy you operated on.… Goodbye and may the Great and Wonderfull God Almighty guide you in all things.

Your affectionate Father


March 27, 1912

89 Anson Street

Barrow in Furness, England

March 27, 1912

My Dear Dear Dear Boy,

Your letter of March 16th just arrived and we hasten to reply to it. The news it contains is something wonderfull. I have not got language that will describe my feelings for your success and bright prospects for your future. I wish we could help you. In fact I believe we do help you although we may be thousands of miles away for we invariably appeal to the Great Govener of the Universe to direct the course of our boy. And hitherto we have all much to be thankfull for.…

I had thought of mentioning to you that you should always tell us about the cases of importance you operate on, that is if they get better. Like you did in the little English boy that you mention in this letter. This was the one I was going to ask about. Some of the others you must have forgot. I think we will have to come back so we can talk instead of write. I would like to hear about them every night when you come home for supper.

We are beginning to feel we want to get nearer awer boy. Say I just fancy I see you kicking that ball. You would feel as though you could kick it over the moon, after such great success in your work. Your statement that the biggest men don't always do the best work hardly looks right to me. As I think the biggest man did the best work. The trouble had been with those who had used the tape for measuring. The young giant had never been measured, and like the Queen of Sheba they will still have to say that half as not been told.

Wait till Mama gives you some more good meals. It will be like fuel to an engine and produce lots of good steam. She often wonders how her boy is holding out on the meals he gets.

Well the coal strike is still bad and not being settled as fast as I expected. I thought the mineowners would have conceeded before now, if only as a sop. Just to keep them from deviating from the old paths of unionism that they know they can whip or from trying the new method of syndicalism which to my view looks rather brutal to say the least in order to arrive at Socialism. Of course it would come quicker but not so rational.

You say and I see from these papers that you are haveing lots of dirty politics. I saw yesterday where you are going to have a great time in New York next month with the men and religious movement headed by politicians and Joseph Cannon at the head of it. Is it old Joe Cannon the ex?Speaker of the House? If so he is a fine man to represent Christianity. I see that almost all shades of politics is represented in it except the Socialist. And it is evedently intended for the movement to fight it. The same ideas are prevalent here-anything to beat the Socialist but I think they have started too late or crushed them too hard to ever relinquench Socialism for old politics. As least those who have been wise enough to use there reason rather than blind lambs led to the slaughter. And even as just as English law is administired it is plain to be seen at times that the rich and powerful is let off when the poor is brought to justice.

There is some interesting work in this direction going on now in the Tom Mann case etc. in contrast with Sir Edward Carson, Privy Counceler, great man in the Conservative Party, anti home ruler, who threatened to establish a seperate goverment in western Ireland if they got home rule for Ireland. This was done when we where in Ireland. And everybody amongst the conservatives thought it great idea but as soon as Tom Mann requested solders not to shoot at strikers, he was arrested and refused bail. One of the Labor M.P.s put petitions in the House for Speaker to have the government settle this discrimination and Speaker did not do it claiming he did not think it proper to accuse such a person. Now the Labor Party insists on it being done and getting lots of backing. So much for rotten politics.…

Your affectionate Father


April 1, 1912

89 Anson Street

Barrow in Furness, England

April First, 1912

My Dear Son,

I see in yesterdays paper that Dr. Cushing and I think you have been getting some notoriety. Of course you told us about this before but since then have not told us the results, that is if he got better, and don't forget to tell us about your own cases, especialy the little English boy and the one you described last week.…

I have just been thinking over problems I can't solve and I think you will have the same ones come to you. I have thought you would get an offer to go with Dr. Cushing to Boston. If you did go all you done he would get all the glory for it, but you might get a little more experience. Then I have thought you might get his place at Hopkins. Then I wondered if two brain surgeons so close together would get enough work. Then I have thought that the reputation of Hopkins would give you plenty. This St. Louis proposition you spoke of in last letter looks good and is centrally located which would save the western people long distances of travel. But it would be difficult to build up a reputation.

So after all my thinking I can't help you much. But I think these matters will all clear up as you advance. Then I think what is the use of an old engineer trying to advise a bright young doctor in his proffesion. I suppose it is because I think to much of him and want him to get all the good things. I am not a bit selfish am I.

You did not tell us what Dr. Cushing said when you inserted the colouring matter in the baby with the big head and the results was the same as you got in the dog.…

You will see from the paper that the goverment is weakening in the Tom Mann case. For if they get him they will have to get some big conservatives and liberals who as been guilty of the same offence but never been punished.



I feel lost this week as my Appeal came on Saturday and I just got to look at it and put it away over Sunday as Mama won't let me read then or rather don't like me to and the daughter Kate must have accidently burned it.…

Your affectionate Father


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