Charles Karsner Mills was born on December 4, 1845, in Falls of Schuylkill, just outside of Philadelphia, to James and Lavinia Ann (Fitzgerald) Mills. His father was a manufacturer and a native of Wiltshire, England. Charles had three sisters: Elizabeth (later Mrs. John McConnell), Sallie (later Mrs. John B. Dobson), and Ella (later Mrs. Maris Graves).
Mills attended Philadelphia's Central High School. In 1862, his academic career was interrupted when he was called to serve the Union in the Civil War, as was the case for many young men that year at Central, thus earning the term the "War Class." He was a private in the 8th regiment of the Pennsylvania militia and participated in the Emergency Campaigns of 1862 and 1863. Charles was later commissioned 1st Corporal in Company I of the 33rd regiment, and with the 33rd fought against Lee's army during their retreat from Gettysburg. He was discharged from the army in 1863. The following year, Charles graduated from Central High School as a member of the 44th class, ranking fifth out of nineteen graduates. Throughout his life, he maintained his ties with Central High by attending annual alumni meetings. Before beginning college, Charles taught in Philadelphia public schools for several years. He then went on to graduate from the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1869 and received his Ph.D. in Philosophy two years later in 1871, at age twenty-six. Charles was a member of the Mu Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
In 1873, Dr. Mills married Clara Elizabeth Peale (b. March 17, 1851), a descendent of the prominent Philadelphia family, and with her had four children: Harriet Peale Mills (b. 1876 and died just 4 months later in August); Coleman Sellers Mills (b. 1878); Charles P. Mills (b. 1883); and Helen Elizabeth Mills Weisenberg, a recognized artist during her time (b. 1885).
Dr. Mills's long career in the medical sciences is marked by his dedication to instruction, as well as by his commitment to numerous hospitals and organizations. His earliest lectures at the Wagner Free Institute of Science on Natural Philosophy and on Physics were widely attended during the period of 1870 to 1872. He lectured on a variety of medical topics at many other places, including St. Mark's Lutheran Church, the Philadelphia Young Men's Christian Association, the Franklin Institute, the Northern Medical Association of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia School of Anatomy and Operative Surgery, Jefferson Medical College, and the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.
Early in his medical career, Dr. Mills was interested in the use of electricity for the treatment of various maladies, and he published several articles on this topic. In 1877, he began guest lecturing at the University of Pennsylvania in Electro-Therapeutics, and seven years later he participated as an examiner at the International Electrical Exhibition at the Franklin Institute.
Also in 1877, Dr. Mills established the nervous ward of the Philadelphia General Hospital, the first neurological department of any general hospital in the country. He substantiated his studies on the neurology of the criminally insane with findings from the autopsy of Charles Guiteau, who was executed by hanging in 1882 for the assassination of President Garfield; Dr. Mills was invited as a respected physician to participate in the post-mortem examination of this highly publicized case.
During the 1880s, Dr. Mills became increasingly involved in the study of nervous and mental diseases, as evidenced by the shift in 1883 in the subject of his lectures at the University of Pennsylvania from "Electro-Therapeutics" to "Mental Diseases." In 1884, he brought recognition to the city of Philadelphia through the founding the Philadelphia Neurological Society, which was accomplished with Francis Dercum, Wharton Sinkler, and J.T. Eskridge. He was also instrumental in the 1888 establishment of the Congress of American Physicians and Surgeons.
During 1883 to 1885 and again in 1905, he served on a hospital advisory board that surveyed almshouses in Philadelphia and assessed the treatment of the city's insane. The findings were appalling and the study's results initiated major reform, culminating in the eventual closing of the Blockley Almshouse (which consisted of not only that facility, but also the city's hospital and orphan and insane asylums) in 1925, and the construction of new treatment facilities, like the Philadelphia General Hospital and the Byberry Hospital for Mental Diseases.
In 1893, Dr. Mills became a professor of mental diseases and medical jurisprudence at the University of Pennsylvania, and also in that year he served as Honorary Chairman of the Diseases of the Mind and Nervous System for the Pan-American Medical Congress. Dr. Mills was one of the founders of the Philadelphia Polyclinic (now known as Graduate Hospital) and worked there as a professor of diseases of the mind and nervous system from 1883 to 1898. He was also professor of nervous diseases at the Philadelphia Women's Medical College from 1891 to 1902. Many hospitals sought his expertise and he served as a member of the consulting staff of the Orthopedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Diseases, Howard Hospital, Misericordia, St. Timothy's, and the West Philadelphia Hospital for Women.
In 1901, Dr. Mills's title at the University of Pennsylvania changed to clinical professor of nervous disorders, and then again in 1903 to professor of neurology. He also served for several years as the dean of the Auxiliary Faculty of Medicine. In 1915, Dr. Mills retired from the University to concentrate on his work with the Philadelphia Post-Graduate School of Neurology, an institution he helped to create and which he believed would establish Philadelphia as an international center of post-graduate medical study. This innovative school used the wards of various city hospitals as their "classrooms." Dr. Mills also shared his expertise with the U.S. Medical Reserve Corps in 1917 when he trained its members in the treatment nervous disorders resulting from warfare. In 1923, he was elected president of the American Neurological Society.
By the end of his career, Dr. Mills had published over 300 articles on neurological topics. His work in the field of cerebral and spinal localization was groundbreaking and he added to extant knowledge of the functions of different regions of the brain. He increased knowledge of the cerebral representation of the functions of taste and was the first to describe unilateral ascending paralysis due to a unilateral ascending degeneration of the pyramidal tract.
Dr. Mills was also a published poet and an amateur historian, with his primary focus the history of the Falls of Schuylkill, his beloved childhood home.
Dr. Mills's vision began to fail him late in life and it steadily worsened, resulting eventually in total blindness. In spite of his disability, he remained involved in his professional interests up until his death at the age of eighty-five. He died May 28, 1931, in his home on Delancey Street in Philadelphia. It was reported in several newspapers that he died of heart disease, though he was only seriously ill in the few days preceding his death. His wife had died several years earlier.
Scope and content
Dr. Mills's eleven scrapbooks contain materials amassed during the period of 1863 to 1931. They are arranged neatly and chronologically in large volumes. Letters of appointment and reappointment to various organizations, lecture invitations, newspaper clippings, and medical reports comprise the bulk of the materials pasted into the scrapbooks. Transcripts of several of Dr. Mills lectures, oftentimes published in newspapers, are also included. Dr. Mills's professional career is the primary subject of documentation, though his educational and brief army careers are also scantily represented in the first scrapbook. It is unclear who assembled the scrapbooks and over what period of time they were assembled, but the materials and the style in which these materials are presented are fairly consistent from scrapbook to scrapbook. Dr. Mills's obituaries are the last items in the last scrapbook, so clearly someone other than he had a hand in their inclusion.
The earliest scrapbook contains an 1863 certificate of discharge from the U.S. Army and an 1864 Central High School commencement exercises pamphlet, which lists Charles as having delivered a "poetical address." Also in this first scrapbook are several pages of clippings that contain his original poetry, inspired by historical topics and events; these were published in the McClellan Hospital Budget in an unknown year. Charles' time teaching in the Philadelphia public schools is documented with First School District of Pennsylvania certificates from 1865 and 1867 that respectively state that Charles is qualified to be a "Principal Teacher of an Unclassified School" and "Principal of a Grammar School."
Letters of appointment and re-appointment to various organizations comprise the bulk of the scrapbooks. Over twenty medical and scientific organizations are represented, most of them locally based, including the Pathological Society of Philadelphia, the Medical Jurisprudence Society of Philadelphia, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the Northern Medical Association of Philadelphia, the Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania, and the not-locally-based American Neurological Society. Dr. Mills was also a corresponding member of several foreign medical organizations, which are represented in the scrapbook, such as the Gesellschaft Deutscher Nervenärzte, the Société de Neurologie de Paris, the Section of Neurology of the Royal Society of Medicine, and the Dutch Society of Neurology and Psychiatry.
In addition to the courses he taught at the University of Pennsylvania over the period of 1877 to 1915, Dr. Mills frequently delivered lectures before various other groups and associations, many of which he was a member. These lectures are well documented in the form of small invitations, which contain basic information regarding the time and place of the meeting, the subject(s) for discussion, and oftentimes the name of the organization's secretary. Transcripts of many of Dr. Mills's "Lectures on Insanity" at the University of Pennsylvania, published in The Medical and Surgical Reporter under the title "Hospital Reports," have been pasted into the scrapbooks. The University of Pennsylvania Medical Department's course listings for the thirty-eight years Dr. Mills taught there are also pasted throughout, and contain the names of the other lecturers and auxiliary faculty members, as well as the student fees required in a given year.
As reported in several 1910 articles from The Press and The Ledger, there appears to have been a controversy when the university initiated a shift from hiring professors with extensive experience in private practice to hiring professors with extensive backgrounds in research; some of the older professors were forced out and much debate ensued. Dr. Mills, however, was not among those who were made to leave, spared ostensibly by the many years of research conducted in the wards of various city hospitals, although in a University of Pennsylvania biography it is noted that he also held a general practice for ten years. A few 1873 newspaper reports from The Philadelphia Medical Times, entitled "Notes of Hospital Practice," provide isolated samples of Mills' work in the St. Mary's Hospital's Dispensary for Nervous Diseases. The monthly journal published by the Polyclinic (now known as Graduate Hospital) also includes reports written by Dr. Mills on his work there. In 1899, Dr. Mills successfully performed the removal of a brain tumor, which is reported in a newspaper as "an instance of successful localization in the superior parietal lobule -- a localization not often successfully made."
Dr. Mill's almshouse and asylum reform work is represented in several newspaper articles that recount the 1885 and 1905 findings of the Hospital Committee of the Guardians of the Poor, on which he served. The committee severely criticized the conditions of Blockley Hospital, the antiquated all-inclusive care facility for the citizenry of Philadelphia: "If an effort has been made to match their hopelessness with an abode suggesting nothing but a blank, it could hardly have been better done," condemns their report. The articles contain direct quotations from this report, which goes into great detail describing Blockley's many shortcomings. The major change recommended by the committee was the immediate separation of Blockley into distinct institutions, including an almshouse, an insane asylum, a general hospital for acute and chronic diseases, and a "lock or venereal hospital for the care of women of bad character." In a later scrapbook, invitations were included for the 1925 groundbreaking ceremonies of the new Philadelphia General Hospital at 34th and Pine Streets and the also new Byberry Hospital for Mental Diseases.
The scrapbooks also contain many of Dr. Mills's published medical reports. These include such titles as: "The Nervous and Mental Phenomenon and Sequelae of Influenza," "Multiple Neuritis and Some of Its Complications," "Neuritis and Myelitis and the Forms of Paralysis and Pseudo-Paralysis Following Labor," "Hysteria," "Intra-Cranial Lesions," "Myotonia and Athetoid Spasms," "Aphasia," "Evolution and the Darwinian Theory of Human Descent Viewed from the Standpoint of a Multiple Primate Ancestry," and "The Cerebellum: Its Functions, Diseases and Encephalic Interrelations." In one of Dr. Mills's most famous reports, "Reflections on Criminal Lunacy, with Remarks on the Case of Guiteau," he pondered criminality by insane persons and calls for the separation of the criminally insane from "the harmless, the innocent, and the refined" insane, which at that time was not common practice. Dr. Mills was invited to conduct the post-mortem examination of Charles Guiteau, who was executed in 1882 for the assassination of President Garfield. Several newspaper clippings recounting this event are included in the scrapbook.
Dr. Mills was also interested in bringing practical applications of neurology to a larger audience outside of the medical profession. He delivered a lecture to the Christian Young Men's Association on "Hints on the Care of the Mind and Nervous System," and in 1884 in Washington he delivered a lecture on mental overwork and premature disease among public and professional men. It was a case study of sixty statesmen and government officials, which concluded that intellectual life does not of itself injure health, but that mental overwork, associated with emotional strain, causes nervous breakdown and premature disease. There are several newspaper articles in the scrapbook that summarize Dr. Mills's findings on this topic. Dr. Mills also contributed to the series "The Art of Living A Hundred Years," published in The Philadelphia Press in 1901, with articles on the benefits of rest.
In following with late nineteenth century interests in personal health and hygiene, Dr. Mills published a textbook on the subject, with special reference to alcohol, tobacco, and other narcotics, for use by school children entitled "First Lessons in Physiology and Hygiene." An advertisement for the pamphlet impressed that the states of Michigan and Louisiana, as well as the Kingdom of Poland, have adopted Dr. Mills's textbook for use in their classrooms. In December 1885, he lectured before the Teachers' Institute of Philadelphia on "Overwork and Sanitation in the Public Schools of Philadelphia." In this lecture, contained in a September 1, 1886, publication of The Annals of Hygiene, he criticized the poor, unhealthful conditions of Philadelphia public schools and called for improved opportunities for physical exercise; he suggested a link between these conditions and potential negative effects on mental health.
In his free time, Dr. Mills pursued interests in poetry and local history. The early scrapbooks contain several of his poems, as well as positive newspaper reviews of his works. Of Mills' "The Schuylkill: A Centennial Poem," written in 1876, The Evening Star raves: "The poetic spirit breathes in its stanzas, which are picturesque, melodious and evidently the inspiration of many a ramble along the river side." Dr. Mills was also a member of the City History Society of Philadelphia. Excerpts from his 1908 book on his cherished childhood home, "The Falls of Schuylkill, Historical Memoranda and Personal Recollections of an Old Village and its Environment," are published in an article from The Philadelphia Press. Materials relating to his research for this book are available at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Collection 830).
Interspersed throughout the scrapbooks are several examples of artwork done by Dr. Mills's daughter, Helen Mills Weisenberg, who was a recognized painter. The majority take the form of holiday greeting cards printed with woodcuts. There is an invitation to a party in honor of Dr. Mills that has a printed woodcut of "Old Blockley Interne's Quarters" done by Helen. There are also newspaper clippings announcing her receipt of an art prize and a loose newspaper page that has a short blurb about Helen with a reproduced photograph of her in her studio by an easel.
The scrapbooks end with Dr. Mills's obituaries, which were published in 1931 in several Philadelphia and New York newspapers.
The collection is open for research.
Gift of Andrew Weisenburg, 1934.
Cite as: [Indicate cited pages and volume here], Charles K. Mills Scrapbooks (Collection 424), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Processed by Kim Massare, December 2003. Processing made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:
Charles K. Mills Collection, Collection 830
At other institutions:
Charles K. Mills, Letters from American and Foreign Neurologists, College of Physicians
Neurology, "Abstracts: McHenry 35(9): 1326,"
(http://www.neurology.org/cgi/content/abstract/35/9/1326, accessed January 9, 2004).
West Philadelphia Partnership, "Blockley,"
(http://uchs.net/Rosenthal/blockley.html>http://uchs.net/Rosenthal/blockley.html, accessed January 9, 2004).