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George William Stanley Ish was a prominent black physician in Little Rock (Pulaski County) who cared for citizens of the capital city and inspired members of both races. He graduated from Harvard Medical School and was instrumental in founding both United Friends Hospital and the J. E. Bush Memorial Hospital, primary centers for the medical care of black patients. He was also largely responsible for the inception of the McRae Memorial Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Alexander (Pulaski and Saline counties), the state’s separate black sanatorium. Physicians of both races held him in high regard, and he was a staff member at predominantly white hospitals in Little Rock.
G. W. S. Ish was born in Little Rock on October 28, 1883, in the house that his parents built at 1600 Scott Street. He was the son of Jefferson G. Ish and Marietta Ish, prominent Little Rock educators. Ish attended high school in Little Rock and graduated from Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama, in 1903, with a BA. From Talladega College, he went to Yale University’s Collegiate Department and graduated in 1905 with a second BA. (It is not known if these degrees were in any particular field.) Ish originally wished to go into engineering but knowing the need for healthcare practitioners, he elected to study medicine. He entered Harvard Medical School and graduated with a medical degree in 1909. Ish served an internship at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington DC—renamed Howard University Hospital in 1975—for fourteen months. After that, he returned to Little Rock and entered the practice of medicine. He engaged in general practice with surgery as a specialty.
Ish married Lillie Johnson in 1915, and they had four children, two sons and two daughters. Ish’s first wife died in the late 1930s. He married his second wife, Ercell Tucker, in 1941; they had no children together.
Ish was instrumental in founding the J. E. Bush Memorial Hospital in 1918 and served as administrator and physician there for many years. The hospital was located at 908 Arch Street but went out of business in 1927. Ish also served as director of United Friends Hospital, which was founded in 1922 and was located at 714 West Tenth Street. He was a director of that institution until his death in 1970. He was also active in the Lena Jordan Hospital.
In addition, Ish was largely responsible for convincing the state to build the McRae Memorial Tuberculosis Sanatorium, the separate black sanatorium, located at Alexander. Ish was a member of the sanatorium’s board from its establishment in 1923 until its closure in 1967. Through Ish’s efforts and persuasion, McRae was the first institution in Arkansas—and one of the first in the nation—to use isoniazid and streptomycin in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis.
Ish was a staff physician at the Arkansas Baptist Medical Center and the St. Vincent Infirmary. He was a life member of both the Pulaski County and Arkansas medical societies. He was a school physician and instructor in health education at Philander Smith College from 1934 to 1965. He was esteemed by the white medical establishment, as evidenced by his membership in largely white medical organizations.
Ish lived most of his life in the house his parents built, at 1600 Scott Street. The house was damaged by fire in 1996; efforts to rebuild it were unsuccessful, and the house was damaged beyond repair by a tornado in 1999.
Ish died on March 15, 1970. He is buried in Haven of Rest Cemetery in Little Rock.
For additional information:Harold, Sharese. “Beauty, History Go Up In Smoke at Ish House.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. January 2, 1996. p. 1B, 5.
Liberto, Jennifer. “Ish House on Demolition List.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. October 19, 1999. 1B, 3B.
“LR Surgeon, Hospital Head Dies at 86.” Arkansas Gazette. March 16, 1970. p. 6B.
Manor, Merla. “The Ish House and the Doctor.” Arkansas Democrat Sunday Magazine. June 9, 1968, p. 1
Nichols, Cheryl Griffith. “The Ish House.” Quapaw Quarter Chronicle 17.1 (February–March 1990): 12.
The Quapaw Quarter: A Guide to Little Rock’s 19th Century Neighborhood. Little Rock: Quapaw Quarter Association, 1976.
Richard B. ClarkUniversity of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Last Updated 9/7/2017
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