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CORNICK, BOYD

Mari L. Nicholson-Preuss

CORNICK, BOYD (1856–1933). Boyd Cornick, early San Angelo physician, son of Tully Robinson Cornick and Sophie Kennedy (Boyd) Cornick, was born in Lincoln County, Missouri, on June 1, 1856. While Boyd was still an infant, Tully Cornick moved his family to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he established a law firm with his father-in-law, Judge Samuel Boyd. Cornick received his early education in Knoxville and at the age of fifteen enrolled in East Tennessee University (present-day University of Tennessee). He earned his bachelor’s degree before the age of twenty and was hired as the assistant superintendent of schools for the state of Tennessee. His career in education proved short-lived. Cornick resigned and moved to Troy, Missouri, where he began studying medicine with his maternal uncle Dr. William Hutt. In 1875 he entered the Medical College of the University of Louisville in Kentucky and completed the one-year program required for the M. D. A gifted scholar, Cornick graduated first in his class and received a gold pocket watch commemorating his academic achievements. After graduation he completed a residency at the Louisville City Hospital. In 1878 the members of the Kentucky Medical Society selected him as their delegate to attend the International Congress of Hygiene held in Paris, and Cornick used his year abroad to visit hospitals in France, Germany, and England. He returned to St. Louis and practiced for a short time with another doctor before going into practice alone across the Mississippi River in the German community of Mascoutah, Illinois. While serving as the choir director in the Methodist Church, he met Louise Postel, the daughter of a prominent local businessman, and they married on October 18, 1881. They had six children.

Cornick was thirty-four years old when he received the life-altering diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis in the summer of 1890. Consistent with the prevailing medical advice of the time, Cornick looked to the climate of the Southwest as a means to restore his failing health.  Accompanied by his father-in-law, Philip H. Postel, Cornick traveled first to Carlsbad, New Mexico, but worried about the strain of the altitude and blowing dust on his condition. For six months he searched West Texas for the ideal combination of temperature, low humidity, and elevation. El Paso held promise, but he worried about the city’s future since its water supply appeared uncertain. Initially, Marfa seemed ideal, but its altitude caused Cornick to suffer coughing fits. His quest ended south of San Angelo near the community of Knickerbocker. Cornick rented a house located on the Reynolds, Grinnell, and Tweedy Ranch from the Grinnell family for $10 a month and sent for his wife and children to join him. To support his family, he opened a small medical practice and soon began publishing medical articles on his studies of the therapeutic benefits of the warm arid climate, healthy food, and rest.

Cornick did not believe that the natural environment offered a cure for tuberculosis, but he believed that the disease’s remission depended upon dry fresh air combined with healthy habits. While Cornick was not the first consumptive seeking better health to relocate to West Texas, his personal insight combined with his professional expertise quickly earned him the status of a medical authority on the benefits of the natural therapy. Physicians consulted with him, referrals found their way to him from across the county, and there were many hopeful inquiries about the possibility that he would start a sanitarium.

At first Cornick was ambivalent about opening a sanitarium; however, it became necessary at the turn of the century when he decided to limit his medical practice to tubercular patients. In 1900 he purchased 100 acres of land just outside of San Angelo’s city limits and hired Oscar Ruffini to build a Victorian-style mansion with many windows and a wraparound roofed porch. He relocated his practice downtown and shared office space with Dr. Edward Batts and Dr. Bascom Lynn. Cornick also became involved as a charter member of the Tom Green Medical Society and served as its first vice president in 1901 and its president in 1903.

As the highly infectious nature of tuberculosis became better understood, across the Southwest consumptives became victims of a shift in public opinion. Communities grew fearful, hotels closed their doors, and state health officials warned health seekers that they were no longer welcome. The limited housing options available to the patients expedited the need to provide a facility where their care could be managed. Cornick planned to build a series of one-room bungalows on a piece of property he owned near the Concho River, but the public outcry over the proposed location led him to move it outside of the city limits closer to his home. With a generous financial contribution from his father-in-law, Cornick opened his private sanitarium, known as “The Bungalows” in 1908. 

Cornick’s therapeutic treatments focused on arresting the disease in its early stages and educating the patient in a lifestyle that would keep the disease in remission and prevent it from being spread. Advanced cases were not admitted. Admission to the Bungalows required medical documentation, proof of financial support to cover the charges, and the patient’s willingness to comply with the treatment. Each admitted patient was assigned to one of the approximately thirty south-facing modular bungalows with screened windows where they would spend ninety days. Patients took their meals in a dining hall and shared a bathhouse. Some brought a family member or personal nurse to assist with their care. Once admitted, patients were not allowed to leave the grounds. The treatment plan focused on breaking the debilitating fever associated with the disease and restoring the patient’s health to maintain remission. The daily routine included a medical visit, three meals composed of rich proteins and fats, fresh air, rest, and lectures on hygiene. The success of Cornick’s therapeutic regimen attracted a steady stream of patients to the green-painted bungalows for twenty years. In 1928 Cornick began selling off the bungalows not for the want of patients, but due to his own infirmity and age.

Committed to ensuring that all consumptives had access to the quality of care his private patients enjoyed, Cornick used his considerable professional influence to lobby for the creation of a state tuberculosis hospital. As a member of the Texas Medical Association’s Committee on an Institution for Indigent Consumptives when it was established in 1910, he advocated construction of a modern facility and funds to provide up-to-date therapeutic care to those who could not afford it otherwise. Without concern for the potential competition it might pose to his own practice, he recommended Carlsbad, Texas, as the ideal location for the hospital and supported the appointment of Dr. Bascom Lynn as its first superintendent (see SANATORIUM, TEXAS).

In addition to his work with tubercular patients, Cornick contributed to state level public health and sanitation reforms. Governor Thomas Campbell appointed him to the new Texas State Board of Health in 1909. Cornick served on the board’s subcommittee tasked with drafting a comprehensive sanitation code. The Texas legislature passed the sanitation code that Cornick authored in 1910. At the time of his death, the Texas Medical Association considered Cornick’s work on the sanitation code to be one of his most significant contributions.

Boyd Cornick came to Texas seeking a cure for a disease the medical community deemed hopeless. His efforts to prolong his own life also extended the lives of others living with the disease. He helped codify the state’s public health reforms and played a central role in the development of a state tuberculosis hospital to provide the neediest consumptives with the same quality of care his own patients received. Cornick helped transform the treatment of tuberculosis and ensured San Angelo a prominent place in the history of the disease’s management and cure. Cornick died from a coronary on July 4, 1933, in San Angelo. He was survived by sons Philip and George and daughter Amie. His wife and daughters Louise, Sophie, and Elsie predeceased him. He was buried in Fairmount Cemetery in San Angelo.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Ralph Chase, “Vis Medicatrix Naturae: A Story of Boyd Cornick,” Unpublished paper read before the Tom Green County Historical Society, April 18, 1966, Ralph Chase Papers, West Texas Collection, San Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas. Boyd Cornick Family Papers, Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University. San Angelo Morning Times, July 5, 1933. San Angelo Standard-Times, April 19, 1966. Jimmy M. Skaggs, “Boyd Cornick and the Advance of Medicine in Texas” Unpublished Paper received on November 20, 1978, Ralph Chase Papers, West Texas Collection, San Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Mari L. Nicholson-Preuss, "CORNICK, BOYD ," accessed June 03, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcoad.

Uploaded on April 28, 2020. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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