Reminisce: Dr. Beam opened practice in Lima in 1890s (2024)

He was Lima’s first Black physician – unless he wasn’t. He was run out of Lima by the city’s Black citizens in 1909 – or he was fleeing a white lynch mob.

The truth about Dr. Ulysses S. Beam, buried in often-biased reports in turn-of-the-century newspapers, can be difficult to discern. Whatever the truth, Beam almost certainly lived a more interesting life than is conveyed in his 1942 obituary.

“Dr. Ulysses S. Beam, 76, physician and surgeon in Lima for 49 years, died at 6 a.m. Sunday at his residence, 122 E. Elm St., after an illness of 19 months,” the Lima News wrote October 12, 1942. “He was the first colored physician to practice in Lima, coming here from Muncie, Indiana, a half century ago. Dr. Beam, a member of the Masonic lodge, practiced until his last illness forced him into retirement. He maintained offices at his residence and had previously had offices on South Main Street and West Spring Street.”

In a chapter in the 1976 history of Allen County on the contributions of blacks, Rolland Moxley wrote that a physician and surgeon named Patrick Howard practiced in Lima from the 1850s until his death in the 1870s, decades before Beam’s arrival. Little is known of Dr. Howard. Not so Dr. Beam.

Ulysses S. Beam was born in Nelson County, Kentucky, in 1868 (the year Ulysses S. Grant was elected president), the son of Hines and Maria Lyons Beam. Beam’s father, the Frankfort (Kentucky) Roundabout wrote in October 1891, “is one of the leading citizens of his community and owns considerable property. He is a man of fine sense, good judgment and of a thoughtful turn.”

He also, according to the newspaper, took an active interest in the education of his children, three of whom, including Ulyssess, were in the State Normal School for Colored Persons (now Kentucky State University). “If all parents who send their sons and daughters to school would exercise a like interest, we feel that it would have a favorable effect upon their children, those with whom they are left and the professors to whose charge they are submitted,” the Roundabout wrote in October 1891.

Beam graduated from the Louisville National Medical College (a historically Black medical school that closed in 1912) and, after a brief stint in Muncie, Indiana, moved to Lima, joined eventually by younger brothers Augustus and John. Augustus, a physician, briefly had a Lima medical practice with his brother around 1906 before leaving. John was an attorney, who shared an office with Ulysses and would become a notorious local figure, inadvertently endangering his brother.

The Lima that Dr. Beam came to in the 1890s was as segregated as any city in the South, lacking only the “colored only” signs.

Dr. Beam, a white wife in tow, set up his practice in Lima in the 1890s. In July 1898, he was arrested for performing a “criminal operation” (abortion), on, in the words of the Lima News, “a poor girl, an outcast in the world.” The girl, who was white, subsequently died and Beam was charged.

Beam told the News the operation was necessary and that he would clear his name. “Public feeling is very strong against the doctor, however, and it is to be hoped he can clean his skirts of the miserable affair,” the News wrote July 18, 1898. “He is a young man, recently located in this city, and has already won the esteem of his people, and was in a fair way to succeed, but he will be ruined forever here unless he can establish his innocence.”

He was acquitted of all charges in the woman’s death in December 1898. “The jury reached this verdict after being out two hours, and after it was read a round of applause went up from the audience, and the court ordered the sheriff to clear the courtroom,” the News wrote.

Lima’s newspapers should have joined in the applause as Beam soon became a steady source of stories and gossip. In July 1904, Anna Beam, his second wife, sued for divorce, citing infidelity and physical abuse as well as Beam’s refusal, the Allen County Republican-Gazette reported, “to entertain her relatives at their home” and denying “his wife the pleasure of using the horse and buggy for riding about the city.” The divorce case, the newspaper added, “promises to develop some sensational testimony.” Unfortunately for the gossipmongers, Anna Beam withdrew the petition. Beam quietly divorced her in February 1907.

In November 1905, Harry Slater, a Michigan prison escapee, who, according to the News, had “made Lima headquarters for many weeks” while participating in robberies with “one of the most desperate gang of burglars ever organized,” was shot by a Lima policeman. Severely wounded, he stumbled into a home on North West Street near St. Rose. The homeowner, a Lima saloonkeeper, gave the man his bed and then called Dr. Beam.

For several days, Dr. Beam treated and tended to Slater while providing updates on his condition to the newspapers. When Slater died after several days, “The floral tributes were many,” the News wrote November 27, 1905, “fully $100 having been expended by friends of the deceased for flowers.” Those close to Slater, however, expended only $30 on Dr. Beam for his services. He sued for $705, eventually being awarded $264.

In 1909, Dr. Beam’s brother John, described by the News as a “negro real estate agent and pseudo-lawyer,” who shared an office with the doctor, was charged with the murder of Estella Maud Diltz, a white woman. Mrs. Diltz worked for John Beam, may have had an affair with him and, according to reports, “knew too much” about criminal activity in which he’d been involved.

While John Beam went to jail to await trial, Dr. Beam fled town. “Some 500 people surrounded the county jail, calling for (John) Beam’s death. It is likely they would have lynched him, too, when the sheriff returned with him in custody,” according to the book “Lynching and Mob Violence in Ohio, 1772-1938 by David Meyers and Elise Meyers Walker. “The mood in Lima was sufficiently ominous that Dr. Ulysses Beam was urged to leave out of fear he might be lynched. That evening, he closed his office and returned to his home in Kentucky.”

The Republican-Gazette, in a May 25, 1909, story, wrote that the Colored Peoples’ Protective Society had demanded Dr. Beam leave town, a supposed move praised by the newspaper. “There is no denying the fact that, owing to conditions which have existed in the past of which the colored people of Lima are aware and which they condemn, in which both John W. Beam and his brother Dr. U.S. Beam have played prominent parts, there was a strong tide of public sentiment against them…” The Delphos Herald clarified what those “conditions” were: “Lima negroes condemn those of their race who live with white women in a married or unmarried state. If there are any other of that character in Lima, they should be invited to move on.”

John Beam was eventually convicted of the murder of Mrs. Diltz and sentenced to life in prison. He hanged himself in his cell in December 1909, soon after arriving at the state penitentiary in Columbus.

Dr. Beam, meanwhile, had returned to Lima less than a week after leaving. Although he was cleared of another charge of performing an abortion in 1915 and sued the Republican-Gazette for libel in 1916 for claiming he had been charged in yet another, his final three decades practicing medicine in Lima were quieter than his first two had been. During the 1930s, Dr. Beam often won praise for his talks on Black health issues at churches and before social groups throughout Ohio.

SOURCE

This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.

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See past Reminisce stories at limaohio.com/tag/reminisce

Reach Greg ho*rsten at [emailprotected].

Reminisce: Dr. Beam opened practice in Lima in 1890s (2024)

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