On this day in Alabama history: Cunningham became acting governor

On this day in Alabama history: Cunningham became acting governor
Physician and Lt. Gov. Russell McWhortor Cunningham briefly took over as governor of Alabama in 1904, when William D. Jelks was forced to relinquish his duties while recuperating from tuberculosis. Prior to serving as lieutenant governor, Cunningham was the chief physician at Pratt Mines and served in the state Legislature. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives and History)

April 25, 1904

You could say that Dr. Russell Cunningham wouldn’t have advanced his career without “consumption.”

Born in Lawrence County, Cunningham earned his medical degree from Bellevue Medical College in New York City. After returning to Alabama, he served as surgeon for the state penitentiary in Wetumpka, and later to the Pratt Mines Prison in Pratt City. While there, he documented cases of pneumonia and tuberculosis, and made suggestions that brought down the mortality rate among Pratt City inmates from 18 percent to 3 percent.

Elected as lieutenant governor in 1903, tuberculosis advanced his career again. Gov. William Jelks left the state in 1904 for nearly a year, seeking treatment for tuberculosis in the New Mexico desert. Cunningham was sworn in as acting governor on April 25, 1904, and carried out the duties until Jelks’ return on March 5, 1905.

Cunningham’s medical career included serving as president of the Jefferson County Medical Society and the Alabama Medical Association, and he taught at Birmingham Medical College.

Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama.

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

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