During Prohibition, when alcohol was official outlawed, it was legal for doctors to prescribe alcohol to patients for medicinal purposes. In 1912, that was not the case, and it got Dr. C. M. Mahaffey in trouble in Mount Vernon. (Image source: Wikipedia.)

MOUNT VERNON — It’s important to find a doctor to diagnose what ails you and who will provide a prescription to help. But if that’s what happened in 1912, it got Dr. C. M. Mahaffey into a lot of trouble.

In fact, it got him arrested by the Mount Vernon police.

Charles Mahaffey had certainly made his rounds. Born in 1854, he went to Cleveland to attend medical school in 1875 and 1876 at the Western Reserve College.

As early as 1877, he can be found in Mount Vernon, though a city directory of that year still lists him as a medical student, suggesting that he came from Knox County originally and was merely returning home between terms. Soon after that, he became married to Ida Corey.

It isn’t clear where he first set up his practice, but a newspaper notice in 1889 has him leaving a small office in Akron to take over a practice from a retiring physician in Ashtabula. By 1898, we find him in Zanesville, announced as a new assistant to Dr. Wood.

“In obstetrics he cannot be excelled,” the advertisement states. “He is a man of middle age with years of experience. In addition to regular practice, he gives special attention to diseases of women and children, rectal, kidney and bladder trouble. Visits made day or night.”

But before and after these excursions, Mahaffey returned to Mount Vernon. It was here that the doctor ran into trouble with the law. On September 24, 1912, Mahaffey was arrested by no less than the Chief of Police, R. S. Clements, who had sworn out a warrant for Mahaffey’s arrest before Mayor Perrine immediately beforehand.

Arrest by the chief suggests that Mahaffey was held in a position of respect in the community, but his issuance of an improper prescription could not be tolerated.

What was this prescription? The newspaper report says that Dr. Mahaffey wrote a prescription to M Taugher “for intoxicating liquor knowing that it would be used as a beverage.”

The patient is not identified any further, suggesting a reluctance on the newspaper’s part to draw undue attention to the case. Indeed, the whole story was buried fairly deep in the paper, not that the paper was large enough to hide much of anything.

A consultation of period census reports for Mount Vernon do not identify a wide range of potential identities for the patient. The only Taugher with a first name beginning with ‘M’ was Mary Alice Taugher. If this was the patient Doc Mahaffey was plying with liquor, it must have done her good, because she lived over 40 more years.

If Mahaffey was, indeed, prescribing a patient booze, one wonders what his reasons were. If it was a female patient, perhaps he was plying her with alcohol, considering that his own wife had passed away by this point, leaving Mahaffey widowed, according to census reports.

Mahaffey headstone

And he may well have needed company, as the census reports suggest that his home life was very changeable, with almost every census showing him living in a new location, sometimes with his brother or his sister. That’s a bit surprising for a physician, who would usually have been able to make an independent living even in those less medically expensive days. Maybe he was just lonely.

But it is interesting to ponder the possibility that Mahaffey was ahead of his time. Today, a revolutionary new technique that has been coming into the treatment of alcoholism is to prescribe small, controlled amounts of alcohol to patients trying to manage the disease.

The thinking of this new approach is that total renunciation of alcohol tends to fail because the disease causes the patient’s body to require alcohol for basic functioning. Prescribing small amounts can actually help an alcoholic manage the condition by providing functional doses, while restricting the amount to prevent intoxicating and debilitating binges.

Perhaps Doc Mahaffey knew something that researchers would need an additional century to figure out. Whatever the case, it was against the law in 1912, and the doctor paid the price: $250 plus court costs!

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