The Woman Who Knew Too Much

Alice Stewart and the Secrets of Radiation
By Gayle Greene

University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2001 Gayle Greene
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780472087839


Chapter Two


Dr. Lucy and
Daddy Naish


"It takes two generations
to make a person."


Alice Stewart is daughter to two physicians, Lucy (née Wellburn) and Albert Ernest Naish. Both were pioneers in pediatrics, and both became heroes in Sheffield for their dedication to children's welfare. He was known far and wide as "Daddy" and she was nicknamed "Granny."

    Alice has qualities of both parents, combining Lucy's extraordinary intuition and gift for problem solving with Ernest's keen analytical intelligence and talent for diagnosis. She takes from both an idealism about medicine, a willingness to sacrifice financial gain to devote herself to the prevention rather than the cure of disease, and an ideal of medical science as committed to the betterment of society.

    "I take no credit for having carved out my path in life," she says; "others paved the way for me. I had a flying start in life."


An Unusual Girl

"How on earth my mother ever came, from a remote Yorkshire village, to become a doctor, in almost the first generation of women doctors, is hard to imagine." Alice speculates that the absence of a father may have helped. Lucy Wellburn was raised by three women who had lost husbands while still young.

    Lucy was born in 1876 in Scarborough, a thriving center of trade on the North Sea. Her great-grandfather John Mills was from a family of seafaring men and owned nine sailing ships himself. Her mother, Anne Matilda, married Henry Wellburn, champion weight lifter for Yorkshire, Town Councillor, owner of a wine-importing shop, a grocer's shop, and four farms. A few months before Lucy was born, he died suddenly, lifting a heavy sack of seed, leaving his wife Anne Matilda at age thirty-one, with five small children.

    "It was in the days when a widow's property reverted back to the husband's family," Alice explains. "But my grandmother stood up to her husband's family and took over the family business. It was difficult for her financially and she had to send the two younger children away."

    Lucy was sent to Robin Hood's Bay, an isolated fishing village, to live with her aunt and grandmother, both of whom had lost husbands to the sea. She was eight before she was brought back to live with her mother in a house above the grocery shop in Scarborough. When she was seventeen, in 1892, she was sent to a school in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, where her mother hoped she'd receive a more serious education than she'd be likely to get at the sort of French finishing school that girls of her class were customarily sent to. Returning to England, she sat the College of Preceptors examination, a national examination to qualify for university, and she came out first in the country. The prize she won for this, ten volumes of Chambers Encyclopedia bound in yellow gilded calf, she would cherish for the rest of her life. But after this distinction, she found herself living at home, working as a part-time governess.

    Lucy at seventeen was five foot ten, large boned, and tended to be clumsy because always in a hurry. She had a frank gaze and a forthright way; she was extroverted and outspoken; a teacher described her as "extraordinarily uninhibited for a Victorian young lady." She was vigorous, restless, and so voracious a reader that she'd been advised to take long walks to cure her of this intemperate habit. And she wanted to be a doctor, an ambition her mother was leery of.

    One day during the summer when Lucy was back from school, the family doctor, Dr. Everley Taylor, paid a call, and literally collided with her on the stairs. "The story goes," recalls Alice, "that Lucy sent his top hat rolling to the bottom of the stairs, and there was my grandmother apologizing, saying, `what am I to do with this great boisterous girl of mine? She wants to be a doctor'; and Dr. Taylor replied, 'Well, why not? Why not?' This seemed to be what my grandmother needed to hear. Dr. Taylor was able to help, to give a bit of advice on what was available to a woman wanting to be a doctor in those days."


Becoming a Doctor

There was not a lot available to a young woman aspiring to study medicine in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Before 1877, there were only two women in Britain officially recognized and allowed to practice medicine—Elizabeth Blackwell, educated in America, and Elizabeth Garrett, who earned an apothecary's license before the rules were changed to bar women.

    Elizabeth Garrett and Elizabeth Blackwell had succeeded in founding a women's medical school, the London School of Medicine for Women, having failed in their efforts to gain women admittance to coeducational institutions. Their school was formally placed on the list of registered medical schools in 1874, and agreement was reached with the Royal Free Hospital in 1877 for women to obtain their clinical training there. The Royal Free was the only teaching hospital in London to admit women. In 1893, the year before Lucy came to London to study medicine, women were still barred from the examinations of the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons of England, and as late as 1914, the most prestigious schools at Oxford and Cambridge and the twelve medical schools of London remained closed to them. (England was slower to open coeducational medical training to women than any other major country.) Women began to be admitted during the war years and Oxford conferred its first medical degree upon a woman in 1922, but after the war, many of the schools and hospitals that had admitted women closed to them again. By the end of the twenties, when Alice got her medical degree from Cambridge, there were only two schools in London teaching women—the London School of Medicine for Women and the University College Hospital, which admitted twelve women a year.

    Lucy entered the London School of Medicine for Women in 1897. It took her three years to get in. She'd had no previous training in science, and at age eighteen, began to struggle with biology, chemistry, and physics for the first time. Once she got in, she continued to find the material difficult. She found chemistry incomprehensible and was overwhelmed by anatomy, stunned by the number of Latin names to memorize. Her health was suffering, and her mother insisted on taking her away for a summer holiday, at the end of which Anne Matilda moved to London and took a flat near her daughter. Finally Lucy passed her exams and started her clinical training on the wards at the Royal Free Hospital in 1899.

    The Royal Free, known simply as "the Free" because its founder wanted a hospital for those who had no powerful friends to write referrals for them, as was the usual means of admission to hospitals those days, was a grim place in a poor district. Lucy felt lost and miserable. She didn't know how to help her patients and no one seemed inclined to teach her. She'd recall later how her long skirts, three yards in circumference, would catch and tear on railings and beds. In late 1901, she went to Queen Charlotte's to learn midwifery. During her first week, doctors, students, and nurses hardly spoke to her, and the atmosphere was so hostile that she was not sure she'd be able to stick it out.

    Yet in old age, she'd look back to her days as a medical student as the happiest of her life. She loved London and could be seen on a Sunday out walking with a half dozen dachshund puppies waddling beside her. She bred dachshunds and showed them at Crufts, the leading dog show in England. She was one of the first members of the Ladies Branch of the Kennel Club, founded in 1886.

    The British Kennel Club, like the British medical profession, was closed to women, comments Nora Naish, author of the unpublished biography "Dr. Lucy," from which many of these details are drawn.


The Doctors Naish

While Lucy was doing surgical training at the Royal Free, in 1901, she met Dr. Albert Ernest Naish. Earnest was a tall, lean man, reserved and studious, with sensitive, finely drawn features, a gentle voice, keen blue eyes, and black hair. Lucy was smitten and arranged her time to be on duty whenever he was.

    Albert Ernest Naish had taken his medical degree from Cambridge. Born in 1871, he was the youngest son of a large, well-to-do Bristol family. "They were Quakers, not hard up in the way my mother's family was, but not rich," recalls Alice. "Father's family had made money in cotton, but his father had sold the business and devoted himself to civic life."

    Ernest had become interested in pediatrics while at Great Ormond Street Hospital, one of the first children's hospitals in England. There he met Dr. George Frederic Still, a pioneer in the field. (It was said in London medical circles that the only thing doctors knew about children's diseases in those days was Dr. Still's telephone number. Infantile rheumatoid arthritis was named Still's Disease after him.)

    Ernest and Lucy were drawn together through their work. She assisted him in operations and surgical procedures. They were married in July 1902, six weeks after her final exams. She was twenty-six and he was thirty-one.

    The young couple had the revolutionary idea of practicing medicine together, and Ernest made arrangements with senior partners in Harrogate, a fashionable town in Yorkshire. Ernest put his nameplate on his door, and Lucy, who had been given, as a wedding present, a nameplate engraved Dr. Lucy Naish, put hers on the same door. Two days later, the senior member of the practice stormed in and began railing that he was not having his practice tainted by the presence of a female doctor.

    The next day both nameplates came down and the Naishes left town. They moved to Sheffield, an industrial city with a large working-class population in the northwest midlands, where they bought a practice of their own in the not very fashionable east end of the town.

    "My father was outraged that Lucy had been treated this way, and though it meant losing the money he'd paid for the practice, he determined that they should go elsewhere. My mother was very shaken," recalls Alice. "Years later, the experience could wake her with nightmares. She continued to work as a physician and worked closely with my father, but she never put the nameplate up again. It remained in the attic."

    Lucy was from Yorkshire and found the move to Sheffield easy, but Ernest was never at home in the north: the winters were harsh compared to those in Bristol, and Sheffield was far from the mainstream of medicine. Ernest found family life demanding, and the family grew rapidly: Lucy gave birth to eight children within the next fifteen years. The first, Jean, was born in July 1903, and the last, Charles, was born in July 1918. Alice, the third child, was born in 1906. The baby, Charles, was born when Lucy was forty-two; Lucy worked right up until the time of her delivery, through the smells and sights of the dissecting room.


Infant Welfare in Sheffield

Like other industrial centers in England—Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham—Sheffield had seen a population explosion during the nineteenth century that created dire living and working conditions. Entire families, sometimes several, slept in one room. Tenements were unventilated and refuse and excreta were thrown into yards and streets. The air was black with soot; heaps of horse dung lay about, swarming with flies. Epidemics of cholera, dysentery, and typhoid swept the cities, which the public health services were incapable of handling.

    The cholera epidemic of 1848 killed fifty-three thousand people in England and Wales. In fact, it was this epidemic that gave birth to the new science of epidemiology, the study of the etiology and spread of disease, the branch of medical science that Alice would later help shape. In 1848, Dr. John Snow, a London practitioner looking for the cause of the epidemic, mapped out the cases of cholera in his own neighborhood, Soho, and traced them to a single well where raw sewage was seeping back into the public well. (His paper "On the Mode of Communication of Cholera" became a landmark of epidemiology.) The well was closed and the spread of disease in that area was halted. Snow had difficulty persuading his colleagues of his findings; he published them at his own expense, and they were ignored, then attacked. It took decades before public officials would act on his discoveries: it was not until 1875 that the Public Health Act was passed, which saw to it that drains and sewers were installed that assured clean drinking water. Once they were built, there was a marked improvement in the health of urban populations.

    Yet the infant death rate did not fall. Infants died just as frequently at the beginning of the twentieth century as they had a hundred years before. Throughout the nineteenth century an average of 150 out of every 1,000 died, and in industrial cities, where factory work undermined the health of both mother and child, the death rate was higher. In some areas, it was actually rising—in Sheffield in 1902, it was up to 202.

    In 1875, the year before Lucy was born, William Farr, the founder of the science of vital statistics, wrote a "Report to the Registrar General" in which he noted a clear connection between social class and survival, pointing out that the babies who had the best chances of living were the infants of peers and Anglican clergymen. Unwanted infants were often allowed to starve slowly or languish from disease. It was a regular practice to feed them opiates to keep them quiet and cut down their appetite. They were rarely washed, since running water was not easily available. Illegitimate children were farmed out to foster parents, in a practice known as baby farming. It was estimated by the Infant Life Protection Society that 60 percent of farmed-out babies died.

    Toward the end of the nineteenth century, an infant welfare movement began, and by the early years of the twentieth century it had become a popular cause. Physicians and activists began creating special institutions for children, including orphanages, infant asylums, dispensaries, and the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street. By the 1890s, a group of physicians had carved out a special concentration in pediatrics. But very little was known, there were no textbooks and few studies, and what the Doctors Naish knew, they learned for themselves.

    In 1907, Lucy and Ernest began the first Infant Welfare Clinic in Sheffield, a "School for Mothers" that gave away free milk in the basement of the town hall. The local hospitals refused to allow them to use their premises, so they and a surgeon friend paid for the dried milk and, with the help of the Sheffield Medical Officer of Health, a Dr. Scurfield, got the use of the town hall. When the news spread that milk was being given away, mothers and babies flooded the town hall. The mothers then had to wait for their babies to be weighed, take instructions as to how to prepare the feedings, and agree to admit Health Inspectors into their homes, in exchange for the milk.

    "So began health education in Sheffield," comments Alice. "My parents had quite modern notions of prevention—they realized that teaching people how to raise their children was more important than curing sick children. They got the idea that the medical profession must take some responsibility for this."

    Lucy ran these infant welfare clinics, sometimes doing as many as three clinics a week. In one clinic in one afternoon, she saw 102 new infants. In 1902, the infant mortality rate in Sheffield was 202 per 1,000 births; in 1911, it was 127 per 1,000; and in 1917, when Lucy retired from her infant welfare clinic, it was 100 per 1,000. (Today it is approximately 10 per 1,000.)


Dr. Lucy's Reforms

In 1907 Lucy was approached, by the Liberals, to stand for election to the Sheffield Board of Guardians of the Poor Law. She refused—her family had always been Tories. Within a few days she was approached by the Conservative agent and agreed to stand. She was elected by an overwhelming majority.

    Admission to any hospital at the turn of the century was practically a death sentence for a child, but the Poor Law institutions were the worst. At the Firvale Workhouse, where Lucy had jurisdiction, the infants were tied to commode chairs in order to save time on toilet training and nappie-washing and were never taken outside to the fresh air. Lucy got rid of this practice altogether and arranged for them to be put outdoors for part of each day. She tried—unsuccessfully—to increase allowances for those on the "out-relief" wards, destitute old women, widows, and deserted wives.

    As she'd say, she'd been elected a guardian of the Poor Law institutions, but she soon came to see herself as a guardian of the poor.

    Lucy was dismayed at the way children went about sniffling, dripping, and wiping their noses on sleeves, so she set up clinics to instruct them to blow their noses properly. "She became quite famous for these noseblowing clinics. It wasn't so easy—when the children were reprimanded, they'd tend to sniff in rather than blow out. So she'd produce a little bowl of water with walnut shells floating on it and instruct them how to make the shells move away." Alice demonstrates by holding her teacup to her nose and making snorting sounds, laughing as she recalls, "she had this comical way of teaching."

    Another of Lucy's reforms stands out. The Firvale Hospital required that all drugs and treatments be approved by the Matron. The Matron had complete control over the physician's treatment, including the power to veto a treatment and keep the physician from seeing the patient again. Even Arthur Hall, the most prominent physician in Sheffield, was not allowed to prescribe without her approval.

    Lucy thought something should be done about this and got hold of a copy of the "Special Orders Concerning Poor Law Institutions." There she found written in the regulations, "The Matron is responsible in all matters of hospital administration where the treatment of sick patients is concerned. The Medical Officer must in all cases be consulted." "She took this to bed with her and had one of her brainwaves—she was famous for her brainwaves, we always teased her about her brainwaves," Alice recalls. Her inspiration was that if the period came after the word administration, the orders would read very differently: "The Matron is responsible in all matters of hospital administration. Where the treatment of sick patients is concerned the Medical Officer must in all cases be consulted."

    She pointed this out at the next meeting of the Board of Guardians, when the press happened to be present. Her Majesty's Inspectors from the local government were called and the original documents in the offices in London were unearthed. They found that Lucy had been right—the period in the original was after the word administration. So Lucy's brainwave made a major reform.

    "This was so typical of my mother," says Alice. "She had this quick intuitive sense. She would sense a solution, though she wouldn't necessarily know why it was true or how she knew it. She'd be more often right than not, though not necessarily for the right reasons."

    Alice was to experience similar brainwaves herself.

    In 1920 there was pressure on Lucy to stand for Parliament, but she refused. "She might have been elected, too—she was a good public speaker. She knew how to make people laugh and had a great gift for laughter herself." She wholeheartedly supported the Suffragists and while studying in London had got to know Suffragist leader Dr. Flora Murray. She entertained Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel, founders of the Women's Social and Political Union, the first and largest militant suffrage group in England, when they visited Sheffield. The Pankhurst group had chained themselves to the gates of Parliament, hurled rocks through windows, set fire to mailboxes to get themselves arrested and draw attention to their cause. Lucy was much impressed by their zeal but took no part in the movement herself.

    "When a girl marries she must be prepared to lose her own individuality," she told Nora Naish. Luckily, it was advice she herself largely ignored.


Two-Career Family

"Two more different people than Lucy and Ernest you could hardly imagine," remarked John Emery, a friend and colleague. "Lucy was tactile, extroverted, bouncing and full of energy. She loved children and could get along with anybody. Ernest was timid, shy, reserved, had great difficulty in communicating with people he did not know. He was very critical. He lacked the common touch."

    "He was reserved," recalls Nora Naish, "and though he could be genial among friends and loved real conversation, he did not unbend easily. He was so little interested in money that a colleague once said of him, `he talks as if it's wrong to want to make a living!' He was much admired for his integrity and goodness to patients. Women adored him. His children were in awe of him"

    Alice remembers her father taking her, at age eight, for a walk on a winter's day. She was wearing a sailor's hat and its ribbon had worked loose—the snow clung to it, melted as it touched her face, and froze again in the wind, making an icy little whip that kept striking her ear. They walked seven miles, Ernest striding very fast and talking the whole time, expecting her to keep up with his pace and conversation. It never occurred to her to complain.

    Ernest was not happy as a general practitioner. In England there is a sharp distinction between general practitioners and Consultant Physicians who have positions on the staffs of teaching hospitals, and he felt he was wasting his talents. "He might have had a real career in London," Alice explains. "He'd done medical studies without any sort of backing from his family and had proved to be very gifted. Then he left the whole scene and took up general practice in order to marry and found himself backwatered in Sheffield."

    But he was spotted by Dr. Arthur Hall, a prominent Physician at the Royal Hospital in Sheffield, as someone of promise. Hall persuaded him to take the exams to qualify as a Consultant Physician. In 1911, Ernest decided to sit the membership examination of the Royal College of Physicians, a difficult decision, since the exam had a 20 percent pass rate and he wasn't allowed to practice while taking it. This meant that he had to give up his livelihood and take the risk of not qualifying, at a time in his life when he was the sole support of five children. He passed easily and launched his new career as a Consultant Physician.

    He began by taking an unpaid residency. Since he'd already been without income while taking the exam, this imposed further financial hardship on the family. His new career had necessitated a move to a new house—"the east end would no longer do," Alice explains, "so we took up residence in Sheffield's west end, at 5 Clarkehouse Road, a large Georgian house with a circular drive—posh as Sheffield went, though Sheffield didn't go very posh."

    The family had to make do without such amenities as carpets, lampshades, and curtains (though, Alice speculates, this may also have been because Lucy didn't see the point of curtains—the windows had shutters and the Sheffield soot would have caused curtains to need constant washing.) Lucy furnished the new house with an eclectic assortment of secondhand items. The younger children went about dressed in hand-me-downs, faded and patched, and in the coarse linen Lucy would convert from flour bags to overalls and frocks. A patient was once heard to comment that the doctors' children were wearing sacks.


Factory Doctor and Lady Tutor in Anatomy

Once Ernest became a specialist, Lucy could no longer be a general practitioner. "There was a law intended to prevent conflict of interest—it wouldn't do to have her referring patients to him. The advancement of his career ended hers—yes, well, we all know the story," comments Alice; "from then on she did the sorts of things she could do without clashing with his career."

    When the war broke out—the Kaiser's War, as Lucy called it—Sheffield, the center of steelworks, became the center of armaments, and Firth's Steel Works, expanded and renamed the National Projectile Factory, began to employ women. Six thousand women workers were employed. "It was dangerous work and there were many accidents and someone was needed to provide medical supervision, so Mother went to do this. She loved it, though it meant traveling two hours each way to the factory. She once had to quell a riot—she came into the canteen and found the workers in an uproar because they thought they'd been fed maggots. It turned out some dried haricot beans had sprouted that had been left soaking overnight."

    The armament factory wanted Lucy to work full time, but in early 1917, a domestic crisis forced her to resign. She lost her cook and was suddenly faced with the task of doing the cooking for a family of eight. When she finally found a replacement, she offered her services to the Royal Hospital. Hospitals became increasingly short of medical staff in the course of the war, so the services of women were for the first time welcomed. Lucy received no pay, but she was delighted to be doing "real medicine" again.

    Ernest also happened to be practicing at the Royal. On one occasion Lucy burst into his office and when not finding him, demanded of the group of students, "Where's Daddy?"—which was how the reserved and formal Dr. Ernest Naish came to be known as Daddy.

    Lucy was also, during the war, appointed Lady Tutor in Anatomy at the Sheffield Medical School, which had only recently opened to women students, and she was later promoted to Lecturer in Osteology, with a salary of £100 a year. Each week she gave two lectures in anatomy and spent the rest of the mornings demonstrating dissections to students. Alice recalls boxes of bones lying about the house. "She was famous for carrying her bones around in a battered brown suitcase, which had a tendency to fly open at inopportune moments, scattering the contents about."

    Over the years, Lucy coached hundreds of students, mainly those who had begun the study of medicine late in life and ex-servicemen whose schooling had been interrupted by the war. "She made a point of never charging anybody. She called it her war work, though it went on long after the war. There'd be students coming to stay with us even after my parents had retired, even when she was old and ill. Many years later, when I was at Cambridge and Oxford, I'd run across people who'd tell me, `I'd never have got through my exams without your mum.'"

    Lucy also continued working with Ernest in the children's clinics. "With her organizational ability and his professional know-how, they were a powerful pair," Alice recalls. "He was up on all the new developments, particularly from abroad, but she was the one who knew how to get things done. She could have organized anything."


Lady Great Heart

"She'd been good-looking as a girl but became stout as a woman and never took much trouble with her clothes. She was portly and he was thin. But she had very good eyes—deep set with dark gray coloring. They gave her a thoughtful and intelligent look.

    "She was known far and wide for her acts of generosity. There'd be waifs and strays about the place, lame dogs and other people's children. Some of these children would be foisted on us because they had eating troubles. From my point of view I could never see that they had the eating problems—we had the problem because as soon as they got with our family, they ate our food. Yet there was a certain gruffness to her, too—she'd never tolerate a fool, she could tell a person to buck up and get on with it. She was quick tempered but there'd be no residual—there'd be these flash rows but they'd be over and done with as fast as they'd start. But she'd tolerate vast amounts of foolishness where she thought people couldn't help themselves.

    "She was the one you'd turn to for the small needs of life. My father was scrupulously fair—he took care to see that the girls got the same education as the boys, which was generous of him because we weren't well off. He was an important guiding principle, but he'd starve us of pocket money, send us to school without stockings and that sort of thing. She was the one you'd go to for the pennys and ha' pennys.

    "She'd miss no opportunity to instruct us in scientific principles. On one famous occasion she was dressing a turkey for Christmas and held up the neck to give a lesson on the vocal cords. She sent us to church, but I'm sure it was to get us out of the house—she never had any feeling for religion."

    But she had boundless capacity to extend herself to anyone in need, a bounty that earned her the name Lady Great Heart. She breast-fed all her children and even on one occasion, breast-fed a friend's child who was languishing.

    She had strong opinions on breast feeding, which she expressed at a conference in London on infant welfare and published in the British medical journal Lancet in 1913. In this article, Lucy writes as a physician—and as a woman who has nursed six children. She gives a vivid sense of the pains of nursing: the anguish caused by minute fissures in the nipples, the afterpains caused by the sucking, which are sometimes so strong that they make the mother feel quite faint. She offers women the understanding they are not likely to encounter elsewhere, for "few medical men appreciate these difficulties," and so few can give "the intelligent and sympathetic help which comes from such appreciation." She insists on the importance of her firsthand experience: "Some of the details may seem trivial enough, but my subjective experience ... leads me to believe that neglect of such details will have a profound effect upon the after-course of the feeding." She writes in the hope that if the mother "understands that certain things which appear to her in her weak and aching condition to be unusual and unnatural, are really common and natural," she will persevere in breast feeding.

    Lucy would soon find her maternal energies taxed to the limit by the long nightmare of her son's illness. In 1924, as she leaned over David, age twelve, to tuck him in for the night, he asked, "Mummy, can you stop this arm moving?" Lucy sat in helpless vigil for the next several weeks, as he became increasingly unable to control the twitchings of his arms and legs. David was diagnosed with encephalitis, a virus that destroyed parts of the brain and left him with Parkinson's disease and behavioral disturbances. It was thought to be a residual of the 1918 influenza carried by soldiers returning from Europe, the Spanish influenza that swept across the globe, killing more people than the war had.

    Sheffield had been particularly hard hit—there were over two thousand influenza deaths in the city during the winter of 1918-19. All Lucy's children had it: Ernest, age seven, was ill for several days, and Alice, age twelve, nearly died. Lucy came down with it at the same time as her maidservant and had to crawl about the house caring for her while also feeding her newborn, Charles.

    David was, by popular consent, the sweetest of the Naish children, and now the family had to watch him degenerate physically and mentally. He became prey to emotional disturbances verging on the psychopathic: he once drowned a kitten and, on another occasion, attacked Lucy, grasping her by the throat. In his later years, he became subject to painful seizures and was confined to a wheelchair. Ernest found the whole scene so unbearable that he withdrew emotionally.

    Through this time, Lucy continued to work as a lecturer and tutor at Sheffield University. Sometimes, to attend a meeting of the Anatomical Society, she would take the overnight train to London, arrive in the morning, go to a day of meetings, take the evening train back and walk home from the station the following morning. As exhausting as it was, she saw such work as a lifeline.

    When war was declared, on September 3, 1939—Hitler's War, as Lucy called it—she decided to stay in Anglesey, an island off the northwest tip of Wales where the family had been spending holidays since 1914. She resigned her position teaching anatomy and gave herself over to nursing David. David was then in his late twenties and becoming more crippled physically and more difficult in his behavior. Lucy, in her mid-sixties, had arthritis in her knees and back, yet managed to push the wheelchair and pull him in and out of bed, washing, feeding, and nursing him.

    "Mother nursed him until he died, at age twenty-eight—for sixteen years. Why it didn't kill her, I don't know. This left me," says Alice, "with very strong ideas about how wrong it is to leave families with severely defective children. It is horrible for the siblings. Even with both parents doctors and all the backing we had, it was terrible."

    For five years Lucy remained in Anglesey, and she and Ernest were separated. In some ways this arrangement suited him. It allowed him escape from domestic life, made extremely oppressive by David's situation and what seemed often to be Lucy's obsessive involvement. He was busy with new honors and distinctions. In 1932, at age sixty, he was made Professor of Medicine and Examiner in Medicine for the Royal College of Physicians and for the University of Cambridge. In 1935 he was elected President of the British Paediatric Association, of which he had been a founding member.

    He ventured into artistic and philosophical circles. He founded the Literary and Poetry Society and was a prime mover in a philosophical society, a group comprised of clergy and doctors that met regularly in the Bishop's Palace. He confessed that the happiest years of his life were those after sixty. Nora Naish recalls that Ernest at seventy had "a light step and agile mind."


Family Stories

John Emery tells this story: "For several years, the Literary and Poetry Society met at the Naishes. These meetings would contain forty or so people and would be followed by tea. Tea was prepared in the kitchen and brought forth by Granny. If the lecture was a good one and Granny was interested, she would slip out at the end and the tea would quietly appear. If she thought the lecture had gone on long enough, she would leave and within a minute or so a loud strident whistle would come from the kitchen, announcing that it was over. If you asked about this she'd give one of her gleaming smiles and explain how, by regulating the height of the gas and the amount of water in the kettle, you could make a kettle sing. She played that kettle with wonderful skill."

    Alice tells this one: "After my parents retired, in the late forties, to Anglesey, Mother got a dog, a wild, scrappy mongrel named Mickey. Dearer was Mickey to my mother than husband, children, anything. Once when my parents were traveling by train to Anglesey, my father, who was always a bit restless on trains, was walking about and wanting his lunch, so Mother gave him his sandwiches. But she gave him the wrong packet, she gave him the bread crusts intended for Mickey—which he ate without complaint. When, afterward, it was discovered that Father had eaten Mickey's crusts, it became a great family joke that he knew his place—he didn't question that he should be given Mickey's crusts!"

    John Emery recalls how at Anglesey, the routine centered on reading, writing, and the post. "For a number of years I wrote to Daddy Naish, but I found him an almost impossible person to correspond with because every letter was answered by return post. When the post came at 9 A.M. one or the other of them would collect it and they would each take their piles of letters to their rooms, read them and answer them immediately, and this took the better part of the morning. In the afternoon Ernest would take the dog for a long walk by the sea, post letters, and return to tea. There followed the evening reading. These hours of reading round the fire in this isolated house on the Welsh coast are something I'll never forget."

    Alice recalls, "Lucy had always been a reader—she'd read aloud to her children and to her grandchildren. We gave her a subscription to the London Library and every week a pack of books would be sent back to the library and more books be sent for. She loved biography—she was fascinated by Byron. I always wondered why she didn't disapprove of him, but she didn't—she loved the sounds of his words. I remember she discussed Byron with Empson."

    In 1952, when Daddy and Granny celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary, they received a congratulatory telegram from the Queen. He was eighty-one and she seventy-six. They were both mentally and physically vigorous. All the children and most of the twenty-seven grandchildren attended, along with the first of their forty-five great-grandchildren.

    Shortly thereafter, Lucy developed shingles. She lost strength and progressively lost her sight and taste. During those years, she became dependent on others to read to her. She taught herself braille and turned her attention to the news on the radio. She had children and grandchildren and students in cities all over the globe, and these ties made her follow avidly what was happening throughout the world. She'd listen to reports on market trends because her grandson Michael was working as a rural auctioneer and valuer.

    "People would flock around Granny because she had so many interesting stories to tell. They'd come to hear her stories and catch up with the news. She had this gift—she felt there's a story to be told about everything. She'd get the children to bring out the encyclopedia she kept under the bed, the yellow gilded volume she'd won as a girl, and she'd tell a story. Even when she was bedridden and couldn't see to read, she maintained this gift. She'd keep everybody's interest."

    Ernest read to her every day. But in his last six years his own health failed. "He was operated on for prostate and something happened during the operation," John Emery recalls. "I had seen him a few weeks before and he had been his usual self, but when I visited him after the operation, the fire seemed to have gone right out of him. From that time onwards he became a very old man. All correspondence with him ceased."

    He died in 1964. Lucy died in 1967.

Continues...


Excerpted from The Woman Who Knew Too Much by Gayle Greene Copyright © 2001 by Gayle Greene. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.