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Luke Pryor Blackburn

Luke Pryor Blackburn: Physician, Governor, Reformer

Copyright Date: 1979
Edition: 1
Pages: 138
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  • Book Info
    Luke Pryor Blackburn
    Book Description:

    Deadly epidemics of yellow fever and Asiatic cholera plagued the South throughout the nineteenth century, yet doctors had few effective weapons against the diseases. Luke Pryor Blackburn, a Kentucky-born physician, worked with more success than most to save the lives of those who were stricken and to prevent the spread of infection. He aided towns throughout Kentucky and the Deep South where resident doctors had fled or had fallen ill themselves.

    Blackburn's reputation as a humanitarian soared following his aid to Western Kentucky during the yellow fever epidemic of 1878. A year later he was easily elected governor of Kentucky in spite of his political inexperience and the revelation that he had practiced germ warfare during the Civil War. While in office, he sought prison reform and the relief of the unbelievable overcrowding at the state penitentiary, pardoning hundreds of inmates and drawing bitter criticism from across the Commonwealth. Yet his continued efforts to improve prison conditions set Kentucky on the slow road to penal reform.

    His contemporaries labeled Blackburn a philanthropist, a mass-murderer, a good Samaritan, and an "old loon." Nancy Disher Baird portrays him as a man who stood by his convictions, whether they required strict enforcement of innovative public health measures or unpopular expenditures on behalf of convicts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5036-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-19)

    On a rainy September evening in 1879, newly inaugurated Governor Luke Pryor Blackburn greeted constituents and visiting dignitaries who crowded into Frankfort’s glittering Capitol Hotel ballroom to congratulate him. As he received their good wishes, the corpulent, white-haired governor must have reflected on the strange road that had brought him to this honor and responsibility. A native of Kentucky, he had spent most of his adult life in the Deep South, where he won acclaim as a health officer and humanitarian. What could a physician with little political experience contribute as the commonwealth’s first citizen? Blackburn earlier had announced that...

    (pp. 20-35)

    In the decade before the outbreak of the Civil War, many of Luke’s and Julia’s brothers had moved from Kentucky to Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Within a few months after hostilities began in the spring of 1861, all of them, even those living in Union states, joined the Confederate army. Although he was a states’ rightist and a slave owner, Luke was the families’ exception. His reluctance to enlist may have been due to his age (forty-five) and lack of military experience, but why the doctor did not volunteer his desperately needed skills to the Confederate medical department...

    (pp. 36-59)

    The Blackburns returned to their native state in the early months of 1873 and made their home at Louisville’s finest hotel, the Galt House. The doctor opened an office on West Jefferson and apparently enjoyed a busy and lucrative practice. Because of their family connections and their outgoing personalities, both Julia and Luke became part of the elite social circles of the town. They helped entertain visiting dignitaries, belonged to leading literary circles, and counted among their friends the state’s most influential people.

    Louisville in 1873 was a prosperous commercial and manufacturing center, and her 100,000 residents enjoyed many modern...

    (pp. 60-77)

    Tuesday, September 2, was Blackburn’s inaugural day, and, despite an ominous-looking sky, more than 5,000 of his constituents flocked to Frankfort to participate in the festivities. The swearing-in ceremony was to be held on the State House grounds under the hundred-year-old “inaugural elm tree.” A large grandstand, erected for the occasion, had been decorated by the women of Frankfort with evergreens, floral arrangements, and banners. Business establishments and homes throughout the town also were adorned with banners and bunting, giving the town a bright, festive appearance. Even Frankfort’s two fire engines had been “garnished” for the occasion, but an alarm...

    (pp. 78-102)

    Twentieth-century penologists have called Luke Blackburn the “father” of prison reforms in Kentucky, but the crusade to improve conditions at the Kentucky Penitentiary in Frankfort did not originate with Blackburn. Throughout most of the nineteenth century, penitentiary reports sent to the legislature repeatedly lamented the institution’s swampy site and mentioned the need for a better-located facility. Early in the 1870s Henry Watterson’s editorials urging improvements at the prison appeared from time to time in theCourier-Journal. Republican William O. Bradley stressed the need for prison reforms in his 1875 gubernatorial campaign speeches, and Democratic Governor James B. McCreary urged the...

    (pp. 103-116)

    Although improvements at the Kentucky Penitentiary were Blackburn’s immediate goal, his major interest centered around a plan for beginning a system of small branch penitentiaries or reformatories using the Irish System of prison administration. Blackburn compared the Irish System to Christ’s teachings of forgiveness based on reformation and repentance rather than on vengeance. The object of penal discipline, the governor thought, should be the prevention of crime and the salvation of the offender. Blackburn knew that Kentucky’s system, more than that of any other state, brutalized and degraded its wards.

    In his addresses to the legislature Blackburn urged the lawmakers...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 117-124)
  11. A Note to Readers
    (pp. 125-128)