Hyla S. Watters Papers
Hyla Stowell Watters, also known as Hyla Doc, was born on October 13, 1893 Dobbs Ferry, New York to Dr. Philip M. Watters and Ada S. Watters. Her father served as a Methodist clergyman to several churches in New York while Hyla was growing up and attending school, and later as President of the Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia starting in 1914.
Her mother was a schoolteacher but gave up her professional life upon marrying her father. She stayed at home with their three children: Philip S. Watters (later to become Reverend Watters, pastor of Memorial Methodist Church in White Plains, New York), Florence 'Sally' Watters (later to become a missionary in India), and lastly Hyla S. Watters. Hyla Doc always said her mother was her greatest inspiration.
Her childhood was spent very happily. Her family often vacationed by camping in Lake Champlain, New York. Her parents were extremely nurturing and encouraging. When she was 8 she read a story called "Who will open the door for little Ling Ti?" and knew that she wanted to go to China. She and her friends started the Girls Foreign Missions (G.F.M.) to imitate the W.F.M.S. that her mother belonged to (Women's Foreign Missionary Society). Her Father announced the meetings in Church along with those of the WFMS's.
Upon graduating from Yonkers High School in 1911, Hyla Doc attended Smith College as the class of 1915. With a degree in philosophy, she taught for a year at Atlanta University before deciding to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a doctor and going to China. She received her MD from Cornell Medical College in 1921, interned at Bellevue Hospital in New York and Morristown Hospital in New Jersey, and lastly was awarded the Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene by the London School of Tropical Medicine in 1924.
In 1924 she sailed for China and after completing a year of language classes at the Nanking University, settled in her position at Wuhu General Hospital in Anhwei Province on the banks of the Yangtsze River. The Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church appointed this position to her. She devoted the next 24 years of her life to the hospital, mostly acting as head surgeon.
After Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Hyla Doc was interned by the Japanese and taken to Shanghai in 1942 where she continued to practice medicine as much as she was permitted. One of her patients there was Lt. Egar D. Whitcomb. They developed a close friendship and Hyla Doc was a guest of honor at Whitcomb's inauguration as the governor of Indiana many years later. At the end of the war in 1945, she returned to her post in Wuhu, remaining there until 1948 when the Red Regime closed the hospital.
In 1950, Hyla Doc was en route to Ganta, Liberia where she worked for eleven years for the Ganta Mission as a surgeon. She shared a bungalow with Mildred Black, and worked extensively with the local community, learning their language and customs. On of her students there was Wilfred Boayue who went on to become a leading medical physician in Liberia and to work for the World Health Organization. She wrote extensively on her experience "in the bush" and used these memoirs to raise money for her causes.
Hyla Doc returned to Tupper Lake, New York in 1961 where she continued to work as a physician into her eighties. In 1980, at the urging of colleagues who warned her against malpractice suits, she retired at age 87. Until the last year of her life, she lectured to American audiences about her experiences in both China and Liberia.
Hyla Doc won several awards for her dedicated service to humanity. Smith College gave her the honorary degree, Doctor of Science, in 1950. In 1953, she was ordained at the 120th Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church of the Republic of Liberia. She was named "Woman of the Year" by the Women's Medical Society of New York in 1967, the Business and Professional Women of Tupper Lake in 1969, and lastly by the New York State Medical Association in 1971. She died on August 3rd, 1987 in Tupper Lake at the age of 93.
[Biographical note by SSC intern Kayla Ginsburg, 2010]