Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: First LR Council meeting after Civil War

One hundred and fifty two years ago today, Little Rock City Hall resumed functioning after the Civil War.  The City government had disbanded in September 1863 after the Battle of Little Rock.  From September 1863 through the end of the war (on on through part of Reconstruction), Little Rock was under control of Union forces.

Following the April 1865 conclusion of the Civil War, plans were made to restart local government in Little Rock.  Even though Arkansas would not have Congressional representation in Washington until June 1868 (becoming the second Confederate state after Tennessee), the establishment of local government took place in January 1866.

The first City Council meeting took place on Monday, January 8, 1866. The council met again on Tuesday, January 9 and Monday, January 15 as they were trying to establish committees and rules for the new government.

The first post-Civil War mayor was Dr. J. J. McAlmont, who was a physician and pharmacist. Following his service as the city’s chief executive, he would later be a co-founder of what is now UAMS.  The initial aldermen were I.A. Henry (who had been on the City Council when it ceased in 1863), Henry Ashley, M. H. Eastman, Rick Bragg, Dr. P. O. Hooper, G. S. Morrison, John Collins and Alexander George.

Their first action was to approve the bond of Thomas C. Scott as Constable and City Collector.  Vouching for him were S. H. Tucker and John Gould Fletcher.  The Recorder was asked to present his bond and the next meeting.

The Mayor then established several committees of the City Council and named his appointments. Among the committees were Finances, Streets, Ordinances, Mount Holly Cemetery, Fire Department and Police.

That meeting and the following two meetings, the City continued to approve motions, resolutions and ordinances to set up the duties and responsibilities of a government.

Ordinance Number 1 established the rates of Licenses for 1866.  Among those were:

  • $100 for the privilege of selling goods at auction
  • $20 for a one-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $35 for a two-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $50 for a four-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $25 to run a cab or bus (which would have been in some horse drawn conveyance), paid quarterly
  • $40 a month to sell liquor, wine, ale, beer, etc., by the glass or bottle to be consumed in a store, tavern, shop or store
  • $25 each quarter for each billiard table
  • $50 each quarter for each ten pin alley
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Women’s History Month – Dr. Joycelyn Elders

Being the second female and first African American female to serve as Surgeon General, was just another milestone in the career of Dr. Joycelyn Elders.

In 1960, she graduated from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Though not the first African American female to do so, she was very much in a minority for both her race and her gender.  In 1967, she would return to UAMS as a faculty member.

After two decades of service as a physician and educator, Governor Bill Clinton appointed her to lead the Arkansas Department of Health in 1987.  She was the first African American woman to lead that department.  She led that department until 1992.  At that point in time, President Bill Clinton tapped her to be Surgeon General.

Upon leaving the post of Surgeon General, she returned to UAMS as a professor. She is now a professor emeritus.  Dr. Elders is also in demand as a lecturer and panelist.

She has been inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.


Women’s History Month – Dr. Edith Irby Jones

Dr. Edith Irby Jones was the first African American woman to attend and to graduate from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.  At the time she was admitted, she became the first African American to attend any previously segregated medical school in the South.

Though she was admitted to the school, she was not allowed to use the same dining, lodging, or bathroom facilities as the white students.  She later noted that the African American janitorial staff placed a vase of fresh flowers on her table every day in the segregated dining room she shared with the staff.  While at UAMS, she traveled the state to promote the NAACP as a token of appreciation for the work that organization had done to help raise funds for her schooling and lodging.

After graduating from medical school, she practiced medicine in Hot Springs before she and her husband eventually relocated to Texas.  She practiced medicine in Houston for fifty years.


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Women’s History Month – Dr. Ida Joe Brooks, first female medical doctor in Arkansas

Dr. Ida Joe Brooks was the first woman to practice medicine in Arkansas.  In 1920, she became the first woman to be a party nominee for a statewide office.  She was the Republican nominee for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. However, due to her gender, the state Attorney General would not let her name appear on the ballot. (Even though this was the first election in which women could vote.)

In 1877, Dr. Brooks, became the first woman to head a state teachers’ organization. She was president of the Arkansas Educational Association.  After teaching for several years, she wanted to attend medical school.  She had to do so out of state, because the Arkansas medical school would not admit her based on her gender.  In 1914, she ended up becoming the first female faculty member of what is now UAMS.

During World War I, she attempted to enlist in military service.  When she was denied, due to her gender, she was commissioned in the US Public Health Service and served at Camp Pike specializing in psychiatry.  After the war, she was health director for the Little Rock School District.


Little Rock Look Back: J. J. McAlmont (Little Rock Mayor and UAMS founder)

McAlmontJohnJ_fFuture Little Rock Mayor John Josephus McAlmont was born on this date in 1821 in New York state. (Various reports give his birth date as December 22 — but the family reports December 19 as the date.)

After studying medicine in Pennsylvania and Ohio, he arrived in Little Rock in March 1850 with his family.  After practicing medicine in nearby Benton, he returned to Little Rock in 1852.  In addition to being a physician, he was a pharmacist.

During the Civil War, he relocated his family out of Little Rock (to a spot where the present day community of McAlmont bears his name).  Following the war, he moved them back to the City.  In 1866 he was elected Mayor of Little Rock, the first elected Mayor since local government resumed following the Civil War.

In October 1879, he and seven other physicians founded the Arkansas Industrial University Medical Department in Little Rock. This institution has grown into the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.  He served on the faculty of the medical school for several years.

Dr. McAlmont died in September 1896.  He is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.  In addition to the McAlmont community bearing his name, there is a McAlmont street in downtown Little Rock which was named in his memory.


Creative Class 2016: Bryant Phelan

cc16-phelanDesigner and scientist Bryant Phelan has no interest in choosing between his two passions. He is devoted to exploring both of them.

In 2014, Bryant launched O’Faolain (Gealic for The Wolf), a line of handcrafted luxury leather goods which combine modern design with classic quality.  He shows his work at New York Fashion Week.

His handbags, cuffs, and other designs have been featured in ElleNylon, and Bleep among others.Sharon Needles, Goapele, Johnny Cassanova, Alaska 5000, and Mel B are among his growing legion of fans and patrons.

In addition to being a PhD student in Epidemiology at UAMS, he currently holds a position as a biostatistician on a private research team.  He is looking to become a professor after his PhD is earned.


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War Hero Cinema: Gary Cooper and Gregory Peck as LR natives

Dr. WassellThe exploits of two Little Rock natives during World War II have both been turned into Hollywood movies.  One was released during World War II and starred Gary Cooper as Dr. Corydon Wassell. The other was released in the 1970s and starred Gregory Peck as General Douglas MacArthur.

Born in Little Rock on July 4, 1884, Corydon McAlmont Wassell (called “Cory”) was born to Albert and Leona Wassell. A grandson of Little Rock Mayor John Wassell, he graduated from what is now UAMS in 1909. In 1911, he married Mary Irene Yarnell, with whom he would have four children.  In 1914, the couple volunteered to be Episcopal missionaries in China.  He served there until 1927. Following Mary’s death and his remarriage, he and new wife Madeline Edith Day Wassell returned to Arkansas in 1927.

Dr. Wassell resumed his medical practice. Given his experience with malaria in China, he proved to be an asset fighting malaria among Civilian Conservation Corps members in Arkansas. He was subsequently called to active duty in the Navy in 1936 and stationed in Key West.

After the outbreak of World War II, he was stationed in Indonesia. In early 1942, he refused to abandon his patients after the Japanese started invading Indonesia. Instead, he was able to evacuate a dozen severely wounded men over 150 miles to get to a ship. It took ten days for the ship to get to Australia, during which time it was attacked numerous times.  His official Navy Cross citation notes that he disregarded personal safety while caring for others.

He became an instant international hero. During the early days of the war, his heroism was one of the few bright spots. James Hilton wrote a biography of him; President Roosevelt praised him in a fireside chat. James Hilton wrote of Dr. Wassell in a book which was then adapted by Cecil B. DeMille into the 1944 movie starring Cooper.  Originally Arkansan Alan Ladd was wanted to play Cooper’s sidekick, but Ladd was pressed into military service and unavailable.

Thirty-three years after The Story of Dr. Wassell was released, MacArthur was brought to the screen by Universal Pictures.  It was their attempt to capitalize on the success of the movie Patton, including sharing some of the same members of the production team.

macarthur-gregory-peck-1977-everettTold entirely in flashback, it stars Gregory Peck as the fabled World War II general who was born in Little Rock. It focuses primarily on events in 1942 during the war, his dismissal by Truman in 1952, and his famous address to West Point in 1962.

Peck initially did not care for the subject or the script, but eventually stated that he grew to admire the challenges MacArthur faced.  Peck later called it one of his favorites roles, if not one of his favorite movies.

Producer Frank McCarthy, who worked on both Patton and MacArthur once said of Patton and MacArthur: “Both were complex men but General MacArthur was complex on a much broader scale. Patton had no ambition except to be a soldier and to command a field army. He was strictly command.”

Most of the film was shot on the backlot at the movie studio, which impacted the quality of the film.  The production budget simply would not allow for overseas location filming.

The film was released in July 1977.  One of the premieres was held in Little Rock. Peck attended a reception in the Arsenal Building where MacArthur was born. Now the home to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, in 1977 the building still housed the Museum of Science and Natural History (now the Museum of Discovery).  Since MacArthur only spent a few hours in Little Rock as an adult, it is possible that Peck spent more time in the building than the General did.