Title: Ophthalmologist
Birthdate: February 5, 1863
Death Date: December 13, 1939
Plot Location: Section 25, Lot 120

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Among the several unrelated Tait families interred at Mount Moriah there are a number of doctors. This story centers on one particular family with two ophthalmologists, trained to treat diseases of the eye. As so often happens, the sons were most likely influenced to choose their careers by the experiences they had growing up with a father in the same field.

The father in this story, William Tait, actually wasn’t a doctor, but an optician, someone who fills a prescription for eyeglasses, and measures, fits, and adjusts the frames. He and his newly-wed wife came to America from Ireland in 1855. Their first son, William Jr., arrived in 1860, followed three years later by Tom. Both boys started their working lives as clerks. Junior stayed in that field, starting his own family and moving to New York to become a public accountant. Tom chose to attend Jefferson Medical College and graduated in 1888. 

Tom’s mother died the following year, and his father’s  shop was now a father & son business, as shown in this city directory. Their home was where Tom grew up, just south of Market Street between City Hall and Independence Hall. It must have been a “one-stop shop” for eye care, since Tom could perform eye exams, write prescriptions, diagnose problems, and even perform eye surgery.

In 1891 he married Mary Jane Wilson, and two years after that, his father remarried as well. William was 61 in 1894 when his new wife presented him with a son named Edwin. As he grew, Edwin probably looked up to both his father the optician and his half-brother the ophthalmologist, who was 31 years older than him. Unfortunately, William died of a stroke in 1906, when Edwin was just 12. As a medical doctor, Tom signed his death certificate.

He and Mary Jane moved a half-mile away to 320 South 15th, and they never lived anywhere else, practicing medicine there for more than 30 years. They never had children and it was a large house, so they filled it with boarders. The 1910 census listed eight nurses rooming there, with a maid hired to keep up with the housework. Ten years later, three of those nurses were still there.

Tom was on staff at St. Agnes Hospital, shown here, at 1900 South Broad St. and at Methodist Episcopal Hospital at 2301 South Broad. Both were founded in the 1880s. The latter is still in existence as Jefferson Methodist Hospital, a division of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. 

By 1920 the Taits began taking trips abroad. It was brother William who was the first to return to Ireland and trace his roots. He and his wife went on business for a client, combined with visiting relatives. Tom and Mary Jane went to Ireland as well in 1920 and 1923, and made seven more trips to the British Isles over the next decade. This is one of his passport photos.

Meanwhile, Edwin embarked on his own career in vision care, although he got off to a late start. After earning a PhD. from the University of Pennsylvania he practiced as an optometrist. A few years later he went back to school for his medical degree. That was awarded in 1940, and he established his ophthalmology practice in Norristown when he was 46.

Tom would have been proud of his half-brother but didn’t live to attend his graduation. One year earlier, he succumbed to agranulocytosis, a rare condition causing the white blood cells to drop dangerously low, which led to infection. He and Mary Jane, who died in 1953, were buried in Section 25, not far from his parents in Section 9.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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