The Vagabond – Dr. Ralls and the first hospital in Etowah County


By Danny Crownover

Gadsden’s historian Will I. Martin wrote extensively about early Gadsden. The following is a sample of his work:

“When the Ralls Sanatorium was opened on Sept. 1, 1906, it had only 16 beds. More important, ‘at the opening of the hospital, a chartered school of nursing was started with six entrants.’ These six [nurses] graduated two years later. In 1912, the curriculum was increased to a three-year period, thus keeping pace with the advance made by the large hospitals of the state.

“After these doctors had built their hospital in 1906, both hospitals burned at about the same time. Dr. Arthur Ralls quickly rebuilt. As founder of Ralls Sanitarium, this Gadsden surgeon began operating a slightly bigger 25-bed hospital. In 1914, the hospital’s bed size was increased to 50.

“In 1929, Dr. Ralls organized a stock company to operate under the name Forrest General Hospital. This continued until 1944, when ill health forced the good doctor to retire. Dr. Ralls sold Forrest General Hospital to the Etowah Baptist Association.

“Dr. Ralls was well-grounded in his profession and had a healthy interest in the welfare of the community, as well as that of his patients. He graduated in 1902 from the Atlanta College of Physicians and Surgeons, later to become Emory University School of Medicine.

“Dr. Ralls was born in Waco, Texas, and brought to Gadsden as a child. His father was the Rev. Hamilton Blount Ralls, a Methodist minister, and his grandfather was Dr. John Perkins Ralls, a physician and minister in Gadsden. Ralls preached, practiced medicine and represented the Gadsden area in the state legislature. When 1861 arrived, he became a member of the Confederate Constitutional Convention and later was a member of the convention that seceded.

In 1904, two years out of medical school, Arthur married Lola Johnson of Gadsden.

In addition to his medical work, Dr. Ralls was deeply involved in civic affairs, having been president of the Chamber of Commerce, president and charter member of the Rotary Club and one of the nine original founders in 1936 of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.

“In the field of community promotion, Dr. Ralls was a key member of the committee that successfully sought to bring Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company to Gadsden. The Ralls farm, which had furnished produce and food stuffs for the hospital, was sold to Goodyear for what was generally conceded a very modest amount.

“Some years later, after the Etowah Baptist Association acquired Forrest General Hospital from Dr. Rails, Goodyear was to return the favor by donating the land on which stands today’s modern medical cen-ter complex.

“The Ralls family came from England, landed in Virginia and settled in Cherokee County. Preacher/physician John P. Rails (Dr. Rails’ grandfather) represented Cherokee County in the Alabama legislature.

“In 1906, Arthur Ralls did post graduate work at the New York Polyclinic. In 1909, he did extensive work in the hospitals of London, Berlin and Vienna. He served one year as captain in the medical department of the United States Army during World War I and had special training at the government department of the Mayo Clinic. He served as ward surgeon in the General United States Hospital in Richmond, Va., and as chief surgeon at Hospital 51 at Hampton, Va.

“In 1915, Dr. Ralls served as president of the Etowah County Medical Association and took an active part in all phases of medical work. During his long career as a doctor and surgeon, he served as president of State Medical Society and Southeastern Medical Society and wrote many papers, which he read before these societies.

“Dr. ralls also was a member of the American Surgical Congress, the Am-erican College of Physicians and Surgeons and the American Medical Association. He was chief surgeon of the Gulf States (Republic) Steel Company for 21 years and was a former director of the First National Bank.

“Dr. Ralls helped locate the Alabama School of Trades in this city and was a member of its original board. A building on the school’s campus is named in his honor. Dr. Rails was written about in “Who’s Who in America.” He was always active in church and charity work and in helping the underprivileged. He boosted the schools and took an active part in the promotion of education in this city. He was a member of the First Methodist Church and served as a steward for 55 years. Dr. Arthur Ralls died April 11, 1962.

“Many honors have come Dr. Ralls’ way, as he promoted his church, his calling and his town, but no more so than the hospital that is now known as Gadsden Regional Medical Center.”

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