Tag Archives: Robert Woodruff

Love in the time of malaria

With summer in full swing, mosquitoes are biting, and with every bite comes the possibility of disease. Nowadays our concerns focus on Zika and West Nile viruses, transmitted by different species of mosquito. As recently as the 1930s, however, the most ravaging mosquito-borne disease in the American South was malaria–still one of the most epidemic infectious diseases in the Southern Hemisphere.

For a region dependent on agriculture and a workforce necessarily exposed to flying pests outdoors, the costs of malaria were high in both human and economic terms. Children missed school, dragging down their academic achievement and future prospects. Farm workers missed days of labor, reducing their income and their families’ well-being. Large-scale employers often hired twice the number of necessary workers, anticipating significant absenteeism.

In Baker County, Georgia, Coca-Cola magnate and Emory philanthropist Robert Woodruff saw the devastating impact of the disease on the men and women who lived around his Ichauway Plantation. He offered to establish a research center to study the spread and potential containment of the disease, and with the help of Emory administrators and physicians, a field station was opened in 1939. This field station, which operated until 1957, arguably was the seed from which both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Rollins School of Public Health would spring. Sean Suarez has told the story in Southern Spaces with the help of archives from the Stuart A. Rose Library.

Photos in the Rose Library photograph collection add richness and humanity to the tale.

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A visiting nurse makes a call on a family near Ichauway Plantation, circa 1940s. Photos courtesy of Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.
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The field station on Ichauway Plantation would later coordinate its efforts with the U.S Office of Malaria Control in War Areas, forerunner of the CDC.
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Field research included monitoring mosquito populations in the marshy areas of Baker County.
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The only good mosquito was a netted mosquito, usually trapped at towers like this one at Ichauway.

During World War II, as U.S. military personnel were deployed to North Africa and the South Pacific–regions where malaria posed a significant threat to military effectiveness–the federal government established the Office of Malaria in War Areas in Atlanta to intensify the kind of work going on at Ichauway. After the war, this office would become the Communicable Disease Center–now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which moved next door to the Emory campus with the help of Robert Woodruff. In time, collaborations between the Emory School of Medicine and the CDC would lead to the founding of one of the top schools of public health in the United States, the Rollins School of Public Health, named for one of the great families of Emory philanthropists.

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Researchers proved their epidemiological chops by mapping the incidence of malaria in Baker County.

Ichauway plaque copy

Gary Hauk

Merry Christmas from the Woodruffs

Emory colleagues Kathryn Dixson and Gretchen Warner have a gift for making material from the archives more eye-catching than a Macy’s store window on 34th Street. They design and mount exhibits in Emory’s Rose Library and Schatten Gallery, and for the last couple of years they have graciously added to their work the display case on the first floor of the Administration Building.

Two weeks ago, in time for the holidays, Kathy and Gretchen created a display of the beautiful Christmas cards that Emory philanthropist Robert Woodruff used to send. In case you can’t get to the Administration Building, I share parts of the display here.

Beginning in 1924, the year after Woodruff became president of the Coca-Cola Company, he and his wife, Nell Hodgson Woodruff, sent annual Christmas cards.

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Robert and Nell Hodgson Woodruff at Ichauway.

Initially graced with holiday images, the cards soon featured photos of Ichauway, the South Georgia plantation the Woodruffs bought in 1929 as a vacation refuge and bird-hunting retreat.

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The Woodruffs’ Christmas card from 1935, featuring the interior of the lodge at Ichauway.

 

In 1941, however, the Woodruffs began a new and magnificent holiday tradition featuring the commissioned paintings of Ichauway’s birds by Italian-born artist Athos Menaboni. By the time of Robert Woodruff’s death, in 1985, Menaboni’s paintings would grace the front of 44 Woodruff Christmas cards. A number of reproductions of these paintings are housed along with Menaboni’s papers in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory. The cards themselves are among the Robert W. Woodruff papers in the Rose Library.

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Examples of Menaboni’s work for the Woodruffs’ Christmas cards.

The card for 1968 bore only Robert’s name on the inside. His beloved Nell had died in January of that year, less than a year after Emory named its school of nursing in her honor. The couple of green-winged teal shown in the card poignantly suggest the long flight of life that Robert and Nell had shared, for more than 55 years.

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1968 Christmas card illustration

The last Woodruff/Menaboni card appeared in 1984, featuring the great blue heron.

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1984 Woodruff Christmas card.

Woodruff died on March 7, 1985, and Menaboni lived another five years, dying on July 18, 1990, at the age of 94.

In the spirit of beauty and grace reflected in the Menaboni cards sent by the Woodruffs, I take the occasion to wish you a merry Christmas and a peaceful, happy new year.

Gary Hauk