Twentieth-Century Doctor: House Calls to Space Medzcine. By Mavis P. Kelsey Sr.
(College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999. Pp. xi+407. List of
illustrations, preface, acknowledgments, notes, index. ISBN o-89o96-866-7.
Mavis Kelsey's autobiography provides a personal, detailed account of the life
of a Texas physician, at a time when the field of medicine changed and expand-
ed in amazing ways. A condensation of two earlier books, The Making of a Doctor
(1995) and Doctoring zn Houston (1996), which Kelsey wrote for his family, this
autobiography focuses on the simple story of his life, without as much family his-
tory and personal opinion as in the earlier books. Writing for a broader audi-
ence, Kelsey produces an honest and entertaining chronicle not only of his life,
but the growth and development of medicine in the twentieth century.
Working mostly from memory, Kelsey also utilizes material in his personal
collection of papers and the papers of others, records from the archives of the
Texas Medical Center, printed material from the Texas Medical Center and the
Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, records from Texas A&M University, and printed histo-
ries about the University of Texas Medical branch at Galveston, the Mayo
Clinic, M. D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute, the Baylor University
College of Medicine, and Texas Medical Center. Incorporating information
from these sources into his book, Kelsey provides a useful historical context for
his own experiences.
Beginning with a description of his ancestry and ending in 1998 when Kelsey
was eighty-six years old, the book is divided into three chronological sections;
the 189os-193o0s, the 1930s-1940s, and 1949-present. In the earliest chapters,
Kelsey writes of his boyhood in Deport, Texas, his experiences at Texas A&M
University, and the summer of 1932 when he hitchhiked with a friend to
California for fun during the Great Depression. He then describes his time in
training at Texas A&M University, the University of Texas Medical Branch,
Bellevue Hospital in New York, Scott and White Hospital and Clinic, and the
Mayo Clinic before being drafted into the military during World War II.
In the last half of the book, Kelsey writes about his return to Texas after the
war and his experiences establishing his own practice and then a partnership,
which eventually grew into the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, providing medical care for
NASA. He includes his recollections about practicing medicine over a fifty-year
career, which spanned a time when medical knowledge more than doubled. Of
particular interest are his comments on treating patients before antibiotics
became available in the 1940s and his description of the dreaded disease, polio,
which is now eradicated. Always candid, Kelsey does not attempt to paint a rosy
picture of his life over the years, but includes failures as well as successes.
An important firsthand account on the growth and development of twenti-
eth-century American medicine, Kelsey's autobiography provides a unique look
into his world. Occasionally encumbered with tedious information about the
names and connections of many friends and associates and hampered by the
use of undefined medical terms, the book, overall, is not difficult to read.
Although scholars of medical history may find more in this autobiography to
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/. Accessed March 2, 2015.