American Medical Biographies/Booth, Charles Miller

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Booth, Charles Miller (1830–1906)

Charles Miller Booth was born in Middlebury, Vermont, October 12, 1830. His ancestors came from England in 1640, settling first in Connecticut, afterwards migrating to Vermont. His parents were Ezra Beers and Sarah Ellen Miller Booth. When Charles was twelve years old he came to Rochester, N. Y., and his early education was obtained in the public schools and high school of that city. Later he attended the Vermont Medical College, at Woodstock, Vt., where he was graduated in 1851, before he was twenty-one years of age. Cards of matriculation show that he attended lectures on chemistry and botany by Dr. Chester Dewey (q.v.), and on the principles and practice of surgery by Dr. Edward Mott Moore (q.v.), in whose office he was for some time after he graduated.

An interesting relic of Dr. Booth's early days in the practice of medicine is preserved in the form of a silver Spanish coin, perhaps worth ten cents in our money, but a perforation made it of no commercial value. A note in Dr. Booth's writings says: "This was given me as my first surgical fee for dressing a man's leg in Dr. Moore's office."

In 1852, in company with two other Rochester young men, Dr. Booth went to Valparaiso, South America, making the voyage in a sailing vessel around Cape Horn. Their intention in going was to engage in the preparation of quinine for exportation. Unfortunately, just after the arrival of these young men in South America, the Chilian government forbade the exportation of quinine. Thrown upon his own resources, Dr. Booth engaged in other occupations, conducting a drug and book store, and teaching school, as well as practising his profession. He also worked as an engineer in the mines in Bolivia. In 1861, tiring of the southern country, he returned to the United States.

After his return to Rochester, Dr. Booth bought a number of acres of land on the Culver road, in the town of Irondequoit, on the borders of the city, and engaged in the cultivation of fruit. In this he was eminently successful, as many of his friends could testify, for his kindness of heart and generosity were proverbial. Though it was several miles from his home to the center of the city, he always walked into town, invariably declining all neighborly offers of a ride. His inseparable companion on his trips to the city was a covered willow basket, holding, perhaps about a peck. Many were the gifts of pears, apples, grapes and other fruit which his friends received from him out of this basket, and so closely was it identified with him, that on his death a friend begged it to hang on his wall as a memento.

On December 25, 1867, Dr. Booth married Miss Mary Augusta Baker, of Rochester, who died Nov. 22, 1895. One daughter, Mary Agnes Baker, of Rochester, was Dr. Booth's only child.

Dr. Booth was one of the original members of the Rochester Academy of Science, founded in 1881, and was also a corresponding member of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences.

When quite young he became interested in botany, and after his return from South America devoted much time to this study, and in making collections for his herbarium. Such was his reputation that when, in 1864, it was proposed to found a People's College at Havana, N. Y., he was elected "Professor of Botany and Vegetable Physiology in their relation to Agriculture and Horticulture" in this contemplated institution. The endowment of Cornell University by Ezra Cornell prevented the building of the proposed college at Havana, and thus Dr. Booth lost a position which he would have filled with honor and credit to himself and profit to the cause of education.

Dr. Booth died from the infirmities of age at his home in Irondequoit on January 8, 1906. Since his death his land has been incorporated into the city.

Dr. Booth was a charter member of the Botanical Section of the Rochester Academy of Science, organized in 1881, and was for many years a regular attendant at its meetings and a contributor of papers and material for examination. He was a man of wide reading and extended research, a fine general botanist, and exceedingly careful in determining specimens. He was the first botanist in this country to discover the blossoms of Lemna trisulca L., and is so credited in the Fifth Edition of Gray's Botany. In the List of Plants of Monroe County and Vicinity, published by the Rochester Academy of Science in 1896, he is credited with finding many rare plants, and in the Supplementary List published by the same Society in 1910, he is authority for a large number of species. He was remarkably quick to recognize a new plant; sometimes when walking along the street and apparently not particularly interested in his surroundings, he would quietly step one side and gather an entirely new species. His studies in later years were mostly among the grasses, mosses and algae. His collections along these lines are now incorporated in the herbarium of the Rochester Academy of Science.

One of the greatest charms of Dr. Booth's home was his garden, in which many of our rare native plants were induced to grow and bloom. One rare and interesting specimen which he raised and of which he was very proud, is a large tree, a hybrid between the English Walnut and the Butternut. This tree has attracted the attention of many botanists, and Prof. Charles S. Sargent, of the Arnold Arboretum, Boston, once paid it a visit.

In character, Dr. Booth was one of the most unassuming of men, gentle, quiet and retiring, enjoying to the utmost the freedom of his country life, with its flowers and its fruits and its opportunities for unostentatious deeds of kindness. His neighbors speak of him lovingly as one of the best of men, a reminder of Thoreau, and to many of his friends he will ever be an exponent of the simple life.

A sketch of Dr. Booth was published in the Proceedings of the Rochester Academy of Science, Vol. 5, pp. 39–58.