Guest Blogger: Alice Sloop, Sr. Staff Assistant, E.H. Little Library, “Handling a health care crisis—Now versus Then”

Over this past year, much of our collective attention has been drawn to the health care crisis brought on by the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic.  We have all struggled, personally and collectively, with decisions made to keep ourselves and our communities safe from this deadly virus.  This all-consuming struggle has gotten me to thinking about how health crises were handled in the past here in North Carolina by our ancestors.  One of my ancestors and distinguished Davidson College Alumnus, Dr. Eustace Henry Sloop, gives us a glimpse into medical issues facing our forebearers in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

Eustace Henry Sloop (1877-1961) came to Davidson in 1893; he was the youngest Freshman in his class (only 16 years old). (p.146, Alumni Catalogue of Davidson College)  Early that year, he met the woman he would later marry, Mary T. Martin. Mary’s father, William Joseph Martin, was a member of the faculty at Davidson and hosted a party for incoming Freshman.  Mary describes Sloop as “a tall, slender, shy youngster with light brown hair and the nicest smile”.  (p.17, Miracle in the Hills)  Mary writes in her book Miracle in the Hills that her father came to Davidson “after the war”  to “teach geology and chemistry and serve also as bursar” and that he was “greatly needed.” (p.12, Miracle in the Hills)  William Joseph Martin taught from 1869-1887, became Vice President in 1884, and acting President 1887-88. (p.25, Alumni Catalogue of Davidson College

Sloop graduated from Davidson College in 1897. He continued his education at Jefferson Medical College, earning his M.D., and became a physician to the mountainous community around Crossnore, NC. (p.146, Alumni Catalogue of Davidson College) He married Mary Martin in 1908. (p.21, Miracle in the Hills)  Mary Martin Sloop (1873-1962) had also earned her M.D. and together they served in what was then a very rural, underserved community.  The nearest hospital was in Asheville, NC, “a long ride on a springless wagon over a rough road.” (p.224, Miracle in the Hills)    

The Doctors Sloop traveled to homes on horseback, treating and sometimes operating on patients in their cabins. The image below is from 1917.

Their safest operating space for years was outside under an apple tree.

black and white image of operation under an apple tree

They fought to bring electricity to the community, and Dr. Eustace Sloop constructed a powerhouse (shown below) to bring electricity to Crossnore.

They also sewed cuts shut with hair from the horse’s tail, and grieved for children in pigtails as young as 13 years old starting families of their own in poor conditions.

 Some issues that the Doctors Sloop faced are still part of our COVID-19 story today.  Mary writes of food insecurity, lack of needed medicines, fear of vaccinations, workers making little wages in unsecure jobs, and lack of adequate school facilities. “Simple things… for instance, that people with contagious diseases shouldn’t have visitors…were hard to get across”, Mary writes. (p.224, Miracle in the Hills).  One of Mary’s patients states a typical fear of vaccinations as follows: “I a’int no fool and you can’t tell me that stickin’ a hole in a young’un with a needle can cure diphtheria or keep off typhoid fever”. (p.223, Miracle in the Hills).

 Despite the ongoing health issues described in the story of Doctors Eustice and Mary Martin Sloop that we still face today, their story is also one of great accomplishments. During their service to the Crossnore, NC community, they established the Crossnore School and Hospital.  Their two children also sought higher education.  Daughter Emma became a physician like her parents and ran the Crossnore Hospital for many years, serving people from miles around.  Son, Will, became a dentist.  Today, the school is a boarding school for orphans and children unable to live with their biological parents.  It also includes an active handloom weaving facility that both supports the school economically and employs locals.  Both roads and access to health care are greatly improved. Although the Crossnore Hospital is no longer in operation, the fear of a loved one dying before reaching a hospital is also gone.  This small, mountain community is no longer as isolated, fearful, and uninformed.  As we, too, look forward to healthier days ahead, may we be less fearful, less isolated, and better educated.


  1. Alumni Catalogue of Davidson College 1837-1924. Ed. By Thomas Wilson Lingle. The Presbyterian Standard Pub. Co. 1924.
  2. Miracle in the Hills by Mary Martin Sloop, M.D. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. 1953.


  1. This was great! Thank you for writing this.

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