Mabel Gilson Cort
By: Margaretta Wells
Mrs. Cort has been with us so recently that there is little I can say that you do not know. Mabel Gilson came out to Siam as a teacher, married a doctor and learned to help him in many ways when he had no other assistant.
When home on furlough she studied nutrition. At first she was concerned with the diets of foreign patients in the hospital and all their food was prepared in her kitchen and under her supervision. Then sh developed Thai diets also.
Two special events that concerned Mabel Cort stick in my mind that you may not remember. First was the time that the Prince of Songkhla, himself an M.D., lived with the Corts and interned in the hospital. At that time, Prince Mahidol of Songkhla was the Crown Prince of Siam. He was just back from Harvard Medical School with his Certificate of Public Health and eager to do some real work.
He tried to work in Bangkok but his rank was so well known and the protocol so rigid that doctors, nurses, orderlies and patients all fell flat on their faces at his approach. Obviously there was a communications problem. What to do? Finally the Prince decided to ask his half-brother, King Prachadipok, for permission to come to Chiang Mai and work in our hospital. At that time (1929) the only government medical work was a Red Cross clinic only open several mornings each week. SO Prince Songkhla, father of the King, came to Chiang Mai. He lived with the Corts and worked in the hospital as a doctor.
My first meeting with him was one morning at the Cort home. As I came into the living room, he was coming out of the kitchen with Mrs. Cort’s eggbeater in one hand and a five-pound tin of KLIM under his arm. He was going to show a new father (who happened to be a local government official) how to mix up feedings for his new twin sons, which the Prince had just delivered. And you can just bet that his instructions were carried out to the letter, for the government official, unlike the local country people, knew very well who the doctor was.
Prince Songkhla was enthusiastic about his work. He ws at the hospital early and late working on routine cases and springing into action in emergencies. One of our students accidentally shot himself in the arm and the Prince worked all night to save Boon Yune’s arm for him.
At other times, Prince Songkhla would come to tea with Dr. and Mrs. Harris, sitting out under the big tree relaxing and talking of Public Health projects he wanted to start. He told Dr. Harris, “I have never been so happy in my life, working for my own people with my own hands.” The Prince planned to rent a suitable house and bring his family to Chiang Mai and spend at leat a year at the hospital, learning about country clinics.
After three months the Prince had to go to Bangkok for the cremation of an uncle. While there he was suddenly taken ill with amebic dysentery and died. It was a real blow to Public Health work in Siam, not to mention a rich and enduring friendship.
Mabel Cort’s real contribution to the health of the Thai was in her experiments with soy beans. She developed a soy bean milk upon which babies thrived. The soy bean and cracked rice cereal became a low cost food and favorite breakfast dish in our family, with its rich nutty flavor. She made soy bean flour and baked delicious soy bean muffins and, tastiest of all, soy bean pancakes. She was invited to Bangkok to lecture and demonstrate ‘soy bean power’ at the medical schools.
Very exciting was one of her ideas for the McCormick Hospital float for one of the Constitution Day parades. On the flat bed of a large timber company truck was a miniature pale yellow and white sala about 6 feet by 4 feet in which was a patient on a cot with a doctor and a nurse. The rest of the truck bed was taken up by four nurses at four charcoal braziers. In the center was one of the hospital cooks whipping up batter and the little nurses were frying pancakes as fast as possible ad passing them out to the crowds and the stream of little boys running along beside the slow-moving truck, hands upraised. McCormick Hospital won first prize that year, and the little sala on the truck became a playhouse for my children.
For the last ten years of Mabel Cort’s service in Thailand, she was plagued by ill health which took the for of severe allergies which you all remember. Still her imagination, ability and devotion place her with these other remarkable women [Sophia McGilvary, Cornelia Harriet ‘Nellie’ Harris, Margaret Alexandra “Allie” McGIlvary, Laura McKean, and Mary Campbell] whose services have made lasting impressions on church and community in Thailand.
Presbyterian Historical Society, Kenneth and Margaretta Wells Collection, “Complete 1950, 1969, 1980s-1995 and Undated ‘Wives of the Six Musketeers of the North and Women of Faith material.’” (Box 7, Folder 13)