Seale Harris (1870-1957) was a prominent Alabama physician, a path-breaking researcher in the treatment of diabetes, the founder of a renowned clinic, and a prolific writer. The sixth of 10 children of physician Charles Hooks and Margaret Ann Monk Harris, Seale Harris was born in Cedartown, Georgia, on March 13, 1870. He attended school in Cedartown and frequently accompanied his father on visits to patients.
Harris attended the University of Georgia and the University of Virginia Medical School, earning an M.D. degree in 1894. That fall, he moved to Union Springs, Alabama, and opened a practice. He married Stella Baskins, of Union Springs, on April 27, 1897, and the couple had two children. In addition to his practice, during his time in Union Springs Harris held several positions with the Bullock County health department. In 1906 he studied medicine in New York City and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1907 Harris relocated to Mobile to accept a position as chair of the practice of medicine at the Medical College of Alabama (now the University of Alabama School of Medicine). He also purchased the Mobile Medical and Surgical Journal, renamed it the Gulf States Journal of Medicine (now the Southern Medical Journal), and served as editor in chief. When his tenure as chair ended, he remained at the college as a member of the faculty until 1913. Two years later Harris moved to Birmingham and opened a practice in internal medicine. In 1917, at the outbreak of World War I, he was commissioned a major in the U.S. Army and assigned to the staff of General William Crawford Gorgas, surgeon general of the army. He served in Europe from May 1918 to March 1919. Upon leaving service, he was promoted to colonel in the Medical Reserve Corps and stationed in Washington, D.C.
When his official duties were finished in Washington, Harris moved back to Birmingham. He established a nursing home on the second floor of his home and opened another nursing home on Highland Avenue. He then began working to raise funds for construction of a hospital. The G. L. Miller Corporation agreed to sell bonds on behalf of the project, and in 1922 Harris opened the 50-bed Seale Harris Clinic. At this time, Harris also began doing research on diabetes, even traveling to Canada to work with scientists there. In 1924, he discovered that excessive sugar consumption causes hyperinsulinism, and the syndrome, now called hyperinsulinemia, was for some time known as Harris' Syndrome. The Great Depression brought financial hardship to Harris, and in 1934 he was forced to rent the hospital to a local Baptist group. In 1945, Harris reopened the Seale Harris Clinic across the street from his home.
Harris was influential in a number of civic and medical societies. While in Mobile, he helped found the city's Rotary Club and also served as president. He served as both secretary-treasurer and president of the Southern Medical Association and president of both the Jefferson County Medical Society and the Medical Association of Alabama. He also served as president of the American Medical Editors Association and belonged to the American College of Physicians, the American Gastroenterological Association, and the American Diabetes Association. He frequently served as a delegate from the Alabama Medical Association to the American Medical Association's annual meeting. In the early 1950s, he received the American Medical Association's Distinguished Service Medal for his research on diabetes.
He was a prolific writer who produced more than 20 books, pamphlets, and papers. His books include biographies of Frederick Banting, the discoverer of insulin, and J. Marion Sims, a controversial early figure in the field gynecological medicine, and he also wrote on topics as varied as grizzly bears, public health, and temperance. His interest in politics led him to self-publish a book on the Democratic Party and issues surrounding the election of President Harry Truman.
Harris received an honorary LL.D. degree from the University of Alabama in 1950. Harris died on March 17, 1957, in Birmingham.
J. Mack Lofton
Published April 4, 2007
Last updated November 9, 2009