Dr. Harris P Dawson Home

harris dawson

Casual passers-by would never look twice at this fading old house at 144 Clanton Avenue, and yet for 50+ years (starting before 1920) it was the immaculately kept home of one of the most remarkable men that ever lived in Montgomery. His name was Dr. Harris P Dawson and I was recently reminded of his story by a Ruth Ott piece in the Independent. Dawson was Montgomery’s first pediatrician, and I believe its best ever. His office was in an old house on the first block of Adams Avenue, across and down from First Presbyterian.  He used two large rooms; a waiting/reception office and an exam/treatment room. Dr Dawson started his office practice each morning at 9:00 sharp and saw more patients over the next three hours than most doctors see all day. At noon he went home for lunch and a good nap.  Every evening would find him and wife Jenny dining in solitary splendor at the Elite or the Country Club.

Every weekday his patients and their mothers would be ushered by family into Dawson’s single treatment room, where he would examine the child, discuss symptoms, then call in his receptionist/secretary (Mrs Shelton, his only staff), and in rapid-fire dictate his diagnosis and instructions for treatment. Predictions of fever breaks and other stages of recovery were included. Mrs Shelton would return to her desk and type the notes as a single continuous, un-punctuated sentence, just as it was spoken, and present the page to the mother. The mother was expected to follow the dictum to the letter. Dawson’s diagnosis, treatment and predictions were uncannily accurate. Many late nights May and I would pour over her page of instructions from him, attempting to insert punctuation and glean  insight.  For woe was she that failed to follow directions, and the man always knew of any dereliction. Dr Dawson was often gruff, feared by careless parents and hospital staffers alike.  . . . but underneath he was as kind as a lamb. My offspring were his patients during the last decades of his practice, but his care and treatment of them was a Godsend; and for his kindness to May and me I will be forever grateful.

I have heard that the alley that ran beside his house (lower left of the picture) was often referred to in the Garden District as “Dawson Street”.

-Charles Humphries

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