Ask Doc Knox:

The Remarkable Life of N.E. "Whitty" Logan

Dear Dr. Knox:

Back in the days when kids had newspaper routes, I had on my route a Mrs. Logan. The subscriber information said "Mrs. N.E. Logan." At that time Mrs. Logan was a cheerful, but elderly widow home-bound by age-related immobility. I particularly remember her for her kindness and extreme generosity--in return for bringing the newspaper inside to her, there was a weekly candy bar waiting for me. Mrs. Logan shared the modest suburban home with a 50-something lady, a Miss Margaret Davies, who I was told worked in the downtown Knoxville business of Mrs. Logan's deceased husband. Of course, I grew up and moved on from my early entrepreneurship, but I remembered vividly this lady and her sweet gifts.

Recently, on the City of Knoxville "Fun facts" web page, I was stunned to find the following item: "Mrs. N.E. ("Whitty") Logan was a nurse who worked near the front lines in France during World War I, earned a Medal of Commendation from General Pershing, and helped found the Knoxville Chapter of The Red Cross." My elderly newspaper customer from years ago had evidently led a very interesting life.

If "Whitty" was her nickname, what was her real name? What can you tell me about "Whitty" Logan and her businessman husband, N.E. Logan?


Lofton Peabody 

My Dear Mr. Peabody:

I envy your memory of this remarkable woman.

Ordinarily, we would advise our readers never to trust Fun Facts of any sort. As far as facts go, the more fun, the less fact. That is Dr. Knox's rule of thumb.

But in this case, these particular Fun Facts are, while perfectly fun, also correct.

Mrs. Henry Whitlow Logan was born in 1884 on a tobacco plantation in central Virginia. Henry Whitlow Logan is not the name of a husband. It's her own name.

Her father, Henry Whitlow Steptoe, died before she was born. Her grief-stricken mother apparently wanted to remember her husband without amending his name for gender appropriateness, on the off chance the baby she was carrying was a girl. The daughter's name would be, therefore, Henry Whitlow Steptoe. Her family compassionately allowed her to go by the plausibly more feminine-sounding "Whitty."

Unable to support herself, her mother moved to booming industrial Knoxville, where her parents, the Bettertons, ran a wholesale liquor business. They lived on Armstrong Street in Old North Knoxville, and Whitty Steptoe attended the East Tennessee Female Institute on Main Street, and trained as a nurse.

She was apparently a striking woman, "of medium height and athletic build, and deep blue eyes that had a piercing quality." It's not recorded whether the eyes or the build were more to credit, but something about her caught the eye of one of Knoxville's most eligible bachelors, Nicholas Ernest Logan, son of a prominent judge, and a lawyer himself who was beginning to work in insurance and real estate. A dashing young fellow, he had been one of UT's first football stars, and was also one of the first Knoxvillians to own an automobile.

In 1905, when she was 21 and he was 32, they married. N.E. Logan worked for the Lutz Company on Gay Street, during the time it was on the second floor of the Burwell Building, precisely the chambers now enjoyed by the employees of the weekly journal known as Metro Pulse. He later opened his own real-estate business, which was headquartered for a time in the Holston Building, and later back in the Burwell. He became one of the major early
developers of suburban West Knoxville, especially in Sequoyah Hills and Westmoreland. He was known for encouraging development within natural woodland surroundings, minimizing the erasure of trees. It was, in those days, a rather novel approach. The still-woody areas of Hillvale and Shawnee Wood are credited to Logan's leadership.

The Logans themselves eventually lived on stylish Lyons View Pike. They seem to have avoided procreation, which is often an advantage for ambitious couples. Outdoorsy sorts, they did a lot of fishing and hunting and horseback riding together. On an expedition to Florida, Whitty is said to have landed a 600-pound shark by herself.

She seems to have dropped the name Henry, for general purposes, and went by the name Whitlow S. Logan most of her adult life. In an era when proper married ladies went by their husbands' names, she used her own. Even if it was a middle name.

N.E. and Whitty Logan were instrumental in organizing the Knox County chapter of the American Red Cross, just in time for World War I. Whitty went right to work, supervising the work of 500 women volunteers, making surgical dressings for the soldiers in Europe. Their headquarters, by the way, were in the James Park home at Cumberland and Walnut, now headquarters to the Gulf & Ohio Railroad.

One might expect that a married woman in her 30s in pre-suffrage Knoxville would be content to spend the war stateside, but in fact in 1918 Whitty Logan went to Bordeaux, France, to man a canteen station; the Red Cross later stationed her in Trier, Germany. And yes, indeed she did get a written commendation from General "Black Jack" Pershing.

By 1920, back in Knoxville, she helped organize the city's first public-health nursing service and baby-welfare station.

The middle 1930s brought Whitty unwelcome challenges. In 1935, her husband N.E., then 62, suffered a stroke. While he was hospitalized at Fort Sanders, the Logans' Lyons View home burned. The couple moved into the George Apartments, downtown on Walnut Street near Church, at the very end of the graceful era when that stretch of Walnut was known for urbane residences, townhouses and upscale apartment buildings of stone and brick. Mr. Logan died there late the following year.

That year, Whitty, who had done most of her good work on a volunteer basis, accepted a salaried job as executive secretary of the local Red Cross. In that supervisory role, she took a leading role in responding to the horrific Ohio River flood of 1937, which killed hundreds in Louisville, Kentucky. The camp she set up between Magnolia and Depot sheltered 1100 refugees for several months.

She once ran for public office, that of Knox County welfare commissioner, in 1938, but was defeated. During World War II helped in first-aid training for nurses bound overseas. She after all had some experience in that regard. She led the establishment of a Red Cross headquarters at 507 West Cumberland Avenue, and lived there for several years, in a small apartment in the back.
She seems to have worked full time with the Red Cross until she was about 67, when, citing poor health, she resigned.

Not long afterward, she moved to Centerwood Drive in the Lake Forest area of South Knoxville, where we assume you encountered her. Keeping her company in her last years was her close friend Margaret Davies, who was manager of the real-estate company still operating under the name of the N.E. Logan Co.

Whitty Logan died in 1965 at age 80. At the time of her death, the
extraordinarily long obituary called her "handsome, capbable, generous, spirited, understanding, and generous."

Whitty Logan's 126th birthday would be on Tuesday, July 27; it deserves some sort of commemoration, methinks: a toast, or better yet, a donation to a victim of flood or war, in her honor.

Yr. Obt. Svt.,

Z. Heraclitus KnoxH.M.S., B.S. 

Come one, come all! Dr. Knox answers your questions regarding the history of the Knoxville metropolis. Send all your queries, big or small, to editorATmetropulseDOTcom.

Comments » 1

  • July 23, 2010
  • 12:38 PM
Willers writes:

I guess this explains "Whitlow Logan Park" and "Whitlow Avenue" in Sequoyah Hills!

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Come one, come all! Dr. Knox answers your questions regarding the history of the Knoxville metropolis.