Dr. Irma Smathers, continued

. . . Continuing with the life of Irma Henderson Smathers . . .

After Dr. Irma Henderson settled into her own office, she needed, like all physicians, some medical malpractice insurance. William E. Smathers of Autry-Smathers Insurance Agency sold her the coverage. They married the following year. She liked to say of her malpractice policy and her insurance agent, “I’ve had them for 40 years and been very well satisfied with both.”

The doctor drove a 1934 Chevrolet that she was proud to say she “could drive down creek beds and between trees,” to make house calls during the depression. She charged $1.00 a house call and would deliver a baby at home for $25. She loved delivering babies, finding it more dramatic than surgery. In fact, she delivered more than 6,000 babies. During World War II she once delivered eight babies in 24 hours. She worked endlessly to provide health care for those who didn’t have their own private physician.

She became ill in 1952 and closed her office after 25 years of private practice, but two years later reentered the field in public health medicine as a school doctor. When the city and county offices joined she became director of the city and county school health services. She worked on boards and committees of various local and state organizations all concerned with public health and safety. She retired in 1975, having been a staff member at Aston Park Hospital, Memorial Mission and St. Joseph’s Hospital, where she was the first woman elected at that time as chief of staff in an Asheville hospital. In an interview in 1986, although saying that there had been improvements in the public health sector, her main concern was still “the big gap between those who have and those who have not.” Dr. Smathers died in 1996 age 85.

Irma Smathers00014
“Doctor Says Today’s Children are Smarter,” Asheville Times, August 12, 1986.

In 2009 when Pack Memorial Library was preparing for renovation, the North Carolina Room staff was making a clean sweep of the basement area where non-archived collections had been in temporary storage. We discovered a stack of some 85 photographs of babies in glass frames. Some of the photos were addressed “To my doctor” and followed by the name of the child. If you were born in Asheville during the 1940’s and Dr. Henderson was your mother’s physician, we might have your baby picture.

MS095_001K PH0T0 001
Frederick K. Dashill Jr. born June 12, 1941, the son of Frederick K. Dashill, a sports editor for the Asheville Times.

“Dr. Irma Smathers Winds Up 42 Years of Practice Monday,” by Nancy Brower, Asheville Citizen-Times, June 29, 1975

“Doctor Says Today’s Children Are Smarter,” by Lynne Billings, Asheville Times, August 12, 1986
“Pioneering Doctor Dead at Age 85,” by Jason Sandford, Asheville Citizen-Times, April 15, 1996

Special Collection MS095, The Dr. Irma Henderson Smathers Collection

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian


  1. Thank you for posting this. She was my father’s aunt and I have the most wonderful memories of visiting her before her passing. I love hearing stories about her life. Thank you again for sharing.

  2. Thank you for your article. Irma Henderson Smathers was my aunt, the older sister of my father, Walter Henderson. I grew up hearing her wonderful stories about practicing medicine in the mountains of western North Carolina. She would be so happy to know that you are helping to preserve the history of her beloved Asheville.

    1. Dr. Smathers was my aunt. Her brother, Walter, was my father. We spent countless happy hours on the side porch of her home on Merrimon Avenue listening to her tell of growing up in her beloved mountains and becoming a doctor. My favorite story of her early years as a doctor was of her father insisting on her taking Walter with her on night time house calls. Although she was only five feet tall, what she lacked in height she more than made up for in her commanding, no nonsense presence when the need arose. I always had the impression that she could take care of herself in any situation. (Once after a fall in her home while living alone in her later years, she suffered a broken arm. She set the arm herself while awaiting her rescue.) She respected her father’s wishes and accepted Walter’s service as chaperone on her night time calls…a service not thought about for her male counterparts. My grandfather was satisfied and my daddy got to meet a lot of new folks.

      Concerning the pictures of past patients of my Aunt Irma’s….
      I’ve heard my mother mention many times that Aunt Irma had a photo of my brothers, Tom and Jerry (Logan) enlarged, framed and hung in the hospital. I don’t remember in which room it hung. She said it hung for several years. She delivered them in 1950. The picture showed them lying in the grass together. I believe they were wearing little white caps. If this picture is among those discovered, please let me know. I’m sure my brother would like to have it.

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