LOCAL HEROES WITHIN OUR COMMUNITY
Old Town Rock Hill, South Carolina
DR. W. W .
COMPASSIONATE DOCTOR AND ADVOCATE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
Dr. William Wallace Fennell (August 29, 1869-October 11, 1926) was born in Richburg, Chester County, S.C. He graduated from the University of Kentucky in business in 1887. He became a merchant near Edgemoor, S.C. until he saved enough money to enter the South Carolina Medical College in Charleston. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1895 and did post-graduate work at the New York Polyclinic in 1896 and 1897 in operative surgery and operative gynecology. He further studied surgery in Germany and at the Mayo Clinic in 1904 and 1905.
Fennell first practiced in Edgemoor, then moved to Rock Hill in 1989. He operated the first hospital in York county from his home. In 1908, he established the Fennell Infirmary, an excellently appointed facility with fifty beds as well as training schools for nurses. Fennel was a noted surgeon of outstanding ability.
When Fennell Infirmary opened in 1908, Dr. Fennell included large wards for African-American patients at a time when many white physicians would not treat black patients in the same facility with white patients. He was held in such esteem by the black citizens of Rock Hill, according to one source, some called him “Doctor God.”
It was said of him that his generosity knew no bounds and all was given to the glory of God. There are many stories of his generosity to the poorer citizens, both black and white. A poor black patient brought a cow to Dr. Fennell in payment for his medical expenses. Dr. Fennell discovered the gentleman relied on the animal to help sustain his family. The good doctor chose some of his own gurnseys and sent them to the man to start a good herd. The Fennells also took in several orphaned children, both white and black, who were fed, clothed, and educated until they were grown and loved for the rest of their lives.
He treated patients to the best of his ability, with the same care and attention, no matter their race, creed, or economic standing.
When he died on October 11, 1926, Dr. Fennell was universally mourned in the Rock Hill community and beyond. The stores and offices in the city were closed during the hour of the funeral at 11:00 am on Wednesday October 13 as a mark of respect. The Evening Herald noted that “In all his career, Dr. Fennell was never known to turn away, for lack of money, any person in need of medical attention. It has been said by his associates that the world will never know the full extent to which Dr. Fennell served humanity for the love of service, that even his closest friends and members of his family know only a few of his generous acts.”