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Autobiography of Henry O. Little, Sr.


On December 15, 1938 my mother and I sailed from Southhampton to New York on a ship called the Empress of Britain. We planned to go on from there to Saskatchewan which is where I had planned to return to all along.
In Southhampton that day the weather was so mild you would have thought that it was summer. Roses were in bloom and the temperature was quite warm. That night, however, after we had stopped to pick up passengers at Cherbourge in France, the weather became rough. As a result, I was sea sick for the next three days and I have no clear recollection of very much that went on the ship. On the fourth day, we went to one of the ship's restaurants. There were only two or three waiters working and hardly any passengers their for breakfast. Sea sickness is not that hard to endure because you just pass out when you get sick and have no consciousness and you feel very weak when you get back on your feet.

On the fourth and fifth days we were apparently in the Gulf Stream and the weather was mild and we enjoyed being on the deck. But there were still very few people around. We arrived in New York at a dock on the Hudson River on December 22nd and the temperature was 22 degrees fahrenheit.

After booking rooms for my mother and I in the Hotel Picadilly, I got in touch with the Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital and there met Dr. David A. Webster who at that time was the chief surgeon director of the hospital and one of New York's leading ophthalmologists. Dr. Webster was from Nova Scotia. His only son had died of typhoid a year or two before. He proposed to me that I work with him at his office on 54th Street until he retired and he would turn his practice over to me. At that time he was 52 years of age.

He had one of the best practices in New York City. His offer sounded good to me but first I had to get up to Winnipeg to see about the things that I had left in storage and to see how my sister was. Mother and I went by train and on the way I stopped and spent a couple of days in Toronto where I met Dr. McCullagh who was Toronto's leading eye doctor. He offered to make me the chief eye doctor for the East Toronto General Hospital. I foolishly choose to stick with my original plan. He was very disappointed when I told him that I had arranged to stay in New York. With tears in his eyes he said "we'd love to have you stay in Toronto and we will make you chief ophthalmologist for the East Toronto General Hospital".

We continued on our way to Winnipeg on the Canadian Pacific for the 1,500 mile journey where the temperature was a gusty 40 below zero. It has made me wonder how I withstood such weather all of my life from the time that I was 18 months old until I was 35 and left for London. I was so satisfied with my idea of taking over Dr. Webster's practice that I forgot to get in touch with Dr. Tharleson, who I mentioned before, I used to assist when I was in Winnipeg for a short time. Well Dr. Tharleson developed a clinic of his own and he has a building on St Mary's Street, eleven floors, and employed from 150 to 200 doctors, all specialists trained in England. I found out later that he was very disappointed that I didn't go to see him. He would have made me his chief ophthalmologist.

I found the furniture and the other odds and ends that I had left in with the storage company was all there except someone had stolen my microscope, which I had foolishly left sitting out by itself.

My sister Dorothy was still working for the Manitoba government in Winnipeg. My mother decided to stay with her until I found a place to live in New York. So I went by myself to New York and on the way on the train I met a young lady about 30. She lived in New York. Although I was thirty seven and had been practicing for ten years, including six years that I was a municipal doctor in Saskatchewan, where I helped close to 1,000 young boys and girls into this world, I was not very experienced with the ladies. This young woman ended up visiting me in room at the Hotel Pickadilly where after a "quickie" episode she remarked "how did you ever learn how to make it feel so good". I heard later that she had gotten married a few days later.

I discovered that the New York Medical Board would not recognize my M.D. certificate from Winnipeg in Manitoba. Not acquainted with anyone else in New York, living in a hotel room in the miserable cold and high humidity of New York, Since I had made up my mind that I was going to practice in New York, I decided to pay my $150 and take the examination. I took the test on the 9th of January. It had been 11 years since I had left medical college and it had been 13 years since I had examined an anatomy book. I had to write 12 three hour examination papers about every thing that I had learned in Medical College. I passed all the examinations without the slightest difficulty. This was attributable not so much to my intellect as to the thorough training in medicine I had received at Manitoba. Perhaps this was the reason why Manitoba was the only Medical College west of the Atlantic Ocean that the British Medical Association would accept doctors from. At my oral exam at Presbyterian Hospital, when I informed them that I had been a house surgeon at Morefields they didn't bother asking me any more questions. After a considerable amount of time I finally obtained the results of my exams and I was given my New York license.

I soon discovered that I was not an American Citizen. Although I had been born in California I had lived in Manitoba since the time when I was 18 months old. They said "you must have voted in Canada". And I said "what does that have to do with it?" and they said that I had lost my citizenship. So I said "I'm not a Canadian, so what am I" ? It dragged on for months. I had to go to the immigration place on Ellis Island once. Someone had left my file on the table (it was about three inches thick) and I thumbed through it and there were reports from almost every part of the United States saying that he had not been in jail here, and that sort of thing. It must have cost the taxpayer a bit of money to make all of those investigations. Finally they told me that I was an American because some little girl had the same experience and had been in Sweden for some time and they granted her American citizenship, so I became an American. This whole process took about nine months.

I was appointed right away to the surgical staff of the Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital and St. Luke's. I was allowed to do surgery but not having very many patients I did not do much.

I was obliged to attend the outpatient clinic at the Manhattan for three afternoons a week and one afternoon a week at St. Luke's. If one of the staff did not attend the outpatients clinic, he lost his privilege of being allowed to operate. So a great many men on the staff would dash into the out patient's clinic and see just two or three patients and then get out as fast as they could. Six years later, when I left the hospital and moved up to Hudson, Ms. Munroe, who kept track of the attendance, informed me that in those six years I had spent three times as many hours working in the out patient's clinic as any other doctor.

I was also on the staff of St Luke's Hospital, a general hospital near the Hudson River a short ways south of the George Washington Bridge. I attended their outpatient clinic once or twice a week.

Dr. Webster had a very pleasant office in the Medical Chambers Building at 140 East 54th Street. The building had been built and designed by doctors. He allotted the large extra room there for my use. It was very up to date and practical. A year or two before I arrived he had had another Canadian who occupied the extra room in his office which was the perfect sized set up for an eye doctor. I went to work for $300 per month, which seemed pretty good pay at that time. That would be the same as $3,000 per month today.

I worked along for several years. In the later part of December 1940, while Dave was down in Florida, I foolishly took off and flew to Vancouver to see my old girlfriend Marjorie. When I came back, or soon afterwards, Dr. Webster had fired me so I was back on the street again. I had paid for the trip by cashing a life insurance policy that I had with the Sun Life of Canada. I previously had been going quite steady with Marjorie for about five years while I had been practicing as a "municipal" doctor in Wishart Saskatchewan. I spent a very pleasant ten days in Vancouver (acting most honorably towards Marjorie). At the end of my visit, Marjorie drove me to the airport. I took a Fairchild 15 passenger plane and flew over the Rocky Mountains all the way to Toronto. The nurse/hostess on the flight was Ms. Maine, a graduate of Winnipeg General. There was only a single pilot. The same plane with the same crew crashed east of Lake Superior just exactly a month later with all lives lost on board. Because I lost my job I took an office in the same building on the floor below and set up a practice by myself. Business was rather slow. I was still good friends Dr. Webster, but my plans for taking over his practice didn't quite materialize. My brother Bob became an intern at the Manhattan Eye and Ear taking a thirty month course in ear, nose, and throat.

I discovered that there was actually very little social life in the city. I became a deacon in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, a church which Dr. John Bonnell, who came from Winnipeg, had built up through his remarkable preaching. Dr. Bonnell's church in Winnipeg had been the Westminster Presbyterian Church, the finest church building in western Canada. Each Sunday he filled the congregation with about 1500 people. When the church became filled up they put the overflow into the sunday school at the back of the church and into the Tivoli Theater on the other side of the street. He literally filled all three of those auditoriums twice each Sunday (11 in the morning and six in the evening) for six years. Dr. Bonnell had quite a personality and was a wonderful man. His full name was John Sutherland Bonnell but people who knew him well just called him Sid. He was a native of Prince Edward Island. He built up this church to be the wealthiest Presbyterian church in the world. After I became a deacon and had to do ushering I had to very careful not to let anyone sit in a certain seat here and there because important people were paying a pretty good price to sit there.

Dr. W.W. Kennedy, an obstetrician, was on the consistory of that church with me. He he used to come to the church every Sunday with his family. When Jane was about to present us with Jimmy, our eldest son, we arranged with Dr. Kennedy to take care of her of December of 1944. I was earning so little from my practice in the Medical Chambers that I had to have my brother pay the hospital's fees for taking care of Jimmy. Dr. Kennedy's daughter later married Mr. Whipple who later was the administrator of the Columbia Memorial Hospital here in Hudson.

I also attended Dr. Webster's church, the Church of the Divine Paternity on the west side of Central Park where we played badminton also went on picnics.

I joined the Canadian Society which met in the club rooms in the Waldorf Astoria of the Canadian Club. They had meetings and I met interesting people. I am now almost becoming an old timer in the society. It is interesting to observe how many Canadians are big shots in New York.

Rev. Dr. John Sullivan Bonnell ("Sid") was president of the society one year. Back in Winnipeg he was pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church where he filled sanctuary seating 1200 people and also the sunday school department and also the Tivoli Theater across the street twice every Sunday for six years. His only son, upon completing high school, volunteered for the American Army. He was, however, so near sighted that he actually could not quite pass the test but I managed to squeeze him through anyway. After the first day of battle in Italy he sent word that he had a slight wound and that he would be alright. Actually a piece of shrapnel had entered his body and it was a very serious wound. He managed to live through it and later became a preacher. His three sisters married preachers upon their return to Canada. Dr. Bonnell built up Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church to such as an extent that it became known as the wealthiest Presbyterian church in the world. As an usher, one was required to retain certain seats in certain pews for very important individuals. The church was built in 1875. Possibly because of its curved ceiling the acoustical effects were quite remarkable. Away at the back of the gallery one could almost make out what a person was whispering at the pulpit. At the rear, an eleven story annex with a beautiful chapel had been bequeathed be a lady of means with the strict understanding that a swimming pool was not to be included in the building.

My younger brother Bob, after completing a 30 month residency in ear, nose and throat at Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital, took over a practice in Hudson, New York. Beginning on the 1st of August, 1943, I traveled up to Hudson for one or two days a week to help my brother.

My mother and I lived in a spacious new four roomed apartment in the Forest Hills section of Queens. It was in a brand new building. The subway ride cost me a nickel and would take you to the corner of Lexington and 53rd Street whereas my office was at the Medical Chambers on 54th Street, just around the corner. It was the perfect medical building built by doctors which has since been torn down to construct a huge many storied monstrosity of an office building, one of many such eye sores of glass and steel which have are making Manhattan such an unpleasant place to live in. Beside nickel subway fares, one purchased a Herald Tribune for two pennies or the New York Daily News for about the same and ice cream cones for about a nickel. Food, in general, was much cheaper, but they called it "the depression" but actually the dollar was worth a lot more and the real depression didn't start until a certain president took us off the gold standard and started robbing the treasury giving us a national debt of three trillion dollars. The purchasing power of the dollar is down to about four cents.

Early in 1944 Dr. Webster did a cataract operation on a man named Theodore Hoffmann. I had met his daughter Jane and as she was leaving the medical building after visiting her father, I asked her where she was going and she said that she was going up Lexington Avenue. I said that I was going that way and I said that I would take her along. So I drove her up Lexington and I became acquainted with her. I got to know her a little better. Her parents were German. Her brother Ludwig was the chief engineer of construction for the United States Maritime Commission.

On May the 10th, four days after my 43rd birthday, Jane and I were married at a little Lutheran church in the Bronx, just a few friends of the family being present. We spent our first night in a large hotel on upper fifth Avenue which has since been torn down. Before leaving for our honeymoon to an inn at Buckhill Falls in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania where we enjoyed perfect weather. The place was opeated by a religious group and no alcohol was permitted. It is amazing how many drinkers came there to sober up.

When little Jimmy came along we decided that New York City was a poor place to bring up children. By that time my brother had started practicing in Hudson and upon visiting him the climate was pleasant, the air so clear, and the people so friendly that in March of 1945 I decided to give up my practice in Manhattan and move up to Hudson.


A last will and testament has no effect because you are still alive. The government appoints a trust co. to manage you estate. In most case it isn't long before your estate has more or less disappeared because the trust company charges such high fees for people to inspect you property or for a farmer to by a new horse and so on. However in Manitoba when one becomes incapacitated due to his mind, the Department for the Estates of the Insane, which is part of the health department takes over. In the great majority of cases, if you do return to private life your estate is in better shape than if you had been running it.

My sister had a phenomenal memory and the keenest eye sight. She very soon was running this Department for the Estates of the Insane, something like 300 estates. For many years she did this until, years later, when I had practiced medicine and been in London, had been trained and been an ophthalmologist in New York City. She decided to move down with us. The people at the department where she worked said "you can't leave us, we can't get along without you. We'll make you any job, we'll make you minister of heath or anything else". Dora came down to New York anyway and right away she looked for a job down on Wall Street and the first place she walked into he said "yes, we need a clerk here". So she went to work thinking she was going to be in some wealthy stock broker's office. It turned out, however, that this was the British Purchasing Agency. The agency was a fake. It was the worlds most fantastic spying system of all time.

Very soon afterward, the agency moved up city to Rockefeller Center and took over 31 floors of the RCA Building. You would think that would cost an awfully lot of money, but it cost them nothing for the next six years. The Rockefeller family, which owned the RCA building, charged them nothing because Nelson was in on the spy ring.

The British spy network was a fantastic organization. Dora wasn't there very long before she began advancing in the organization. She had remarkable eyesight and her brain was like an IBM machine. Soon she had 300 people working for her including a niece of Winston Churchill and various people from the upper class in England.

One Saturday morning in May, I undertook the responsibility of becoming married to Jane at a very private wedding in the Bronx. It was just Jane's father, her brother, his wife and their two sons, my mother and my brother, and my sister. The following monday when Dora went up to her floor in the RCA building the guard said "the chief clerk wants to see you Ms. Little". The chief clerk said "we're sorry Ms. Little we cannot let you in, your brother married a german. They have a spy system alright, my sister was out of job. She held it against me but she got over it after a while.

My brother Bob spent thirty months as a resident in the Manhattan Eye and Ear studying ear, nose and throat. Bob then took over a practice in Hudson. I visited him on two or three occasions. The air was so clear and pleasant and the countryside was so nice and such a fine lot of people that I gave up my practice in Manhattan and came up to Hudson in the spring of 1945 and I'm still here.