Thomas A. MacNicholl photo

Thomas A. MacNicholl

Thomas Alexander MacNicholl was born on February 21, 1867, in Admagh, Ireland. He was the eldest son of Robert Turner MacNicholl. The family were Scotch-Irish, descended from the MacNicholls, Dunbars, and Turners of Scotland. The family immigrated to the United States in 1874, coming to New York City.  His father became a well-known clergyman of the New York East Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. 
     MacNicholl was educated in New York City schools.  He studied at the New York City College and the Cooper Institute, then spent three years working as a bookkeeper at New York Publishing House and also working as a general manager for Enterprise Refrigerator Company in New York. 
     MacNicholl then studied medicine at Belleview Medical College (which later became part of New York University) and began practicing surgery in 1891. He received a doctorate in medicine in 1892.  His specialties included diseases affecting women and children, in addition to surgery.   Other interests included health issues regarding children and families, mental illness in children and adolescents, disabled children and adolescents, alcohol use among children and adolescents in New York City schools, and the effects of parental drinking on children and adolescents.
      In one research project, MacNicholl looked at drinking among 30,000 New York City students up to age 19. He found that 58% of them engaged in drinking occasionally or regularly, with 37% drinking beer, and 21% drinking liquor or wine. He found that in some classes, drinking rates were higher than 70%. He claimed that youths who consumed alcohol tended to perform worse in school and had higher risks for various illnesses and injuries. He contended that the problem of youth drinking wasn’t just a problem among poorer households but affected children of all social classes.  He found instances of New York City saloons promoting drinking among children and selling alcohol to children as young as 9.
      In 1909, the City of New York, in response to MacNicholl’s research, was moved to conduct its own study of 10,000 school children. 
      MacNicholl did a study in 1912 on two groups of families, where one group was families where the parents were heavy drinkers and the other group was of families where the parents were total abstainers. He found that children from families where the parents were heavy drinkers were more likely to die in infancy, and were more susceptible to diseases such as tuberculosis. 
     His research gave him prominence.. He delivered speeches at medical conferences and temperance meetings.  Newspapers throughout the country reported his work.  President Theodore Roosevelt selected MacNicholl to represent the U.S. at the 1907 International Congress Against Alcoholism, held in Stockholm, Sweden. 
     MacNicholl produced research reports such as "Heredity a Factor in Mental Deficiency”, “Septic and Suppurative Peritonitis”, and “Alcohol a Cause if Degeneracy”. He held offices such as secretary of the New York State Medical Alliance, vice-president of the American Association for the Study of Alcohol, Secretary of the Board of Education of Sea Cliff, New York, councilor of the Bureau of Scientific Temperance of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and president of the Harlem Athenaeum. He became a member of the Medical Association of Greater New York and a fellow for the British Medical Society for the Study of Inebriety. 
     The Prohibition Party nominated Dr. MacNicholl for Governor of New York in 1910.  MacNicholl gave speeches at Party events throughout the state. The negative effects of alcohol on children and families was a major topic of many of his speeches.
      MacNicholl became a target of anti-alcohol extremists. He reportedly survived three assassination attempts, and there was an  attempt to burn down his house. Yet, MacNicholl persevered. He received 22,295 votes, 1.55% of the statewide vote.
      In 1912, MacNicholl acted as temporary chair for the Prohibition Party’s state convention in Olean. He reportedly gave a rather inspiring opening speech at the convention, and the convention nominated MacNicholl again as the Party’s candidate for governor.  MacNicholl campaigned vigorously again, delivering speeches all around the state. He received 18,990 votes, 1.22% of the statewide vote.
     MacNicholl wrote an article in 1914comparing governments' responses to public health problems such as typhoid with their lack of effective responses to alcohol as a public health problem. “Health boards, armed with police authority, eradicate the carriers of typhoid and quarantine the victims, but alcohol, a thousand times more destructive to health than typhoid fever, continues to destroy. Alcoholic degeneracy is the most important sanitary question before the country, yet health authorities do not take action because alcohol is entrenched in politics.”
     In 1914, New York State held elections to select delegates for the 1915 State Constitutional Convention. This included elections for district-level delegates and 15 statewide at-large delegates. MacNicholl was selected as one of the Prohibition Party’s candidates for at-large delegates.  He received 24,636 votes statewide; the vote for the Party’s other candidates for delegates at-large ranged from 24,367 to 25,562. 
     Dr. MacNicholl died of heart failure in his home in Brooklyn on April  9, 1917.  


     “A Significant Comparison”. Concordia Blade Empire. (Concordia, Kansas). July 31, 1912. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “A Significant Comparison”. Wellington Daily News. (Wellington, Kansas). August 27, 1912. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “Alcohol and Children”. The Democrat. (Wichita, Kansas). July 31, 1909. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “Alcohol Enfeebling Nation”. Keowee Courier. (Pickens, South Carolina). June 12, 1912. Accessed, June 12, 2020. 
     “Alcohol Habit Ruins Children”. The Oregon Daily Journal. (Portland, Oregon). June 27, 1909. Accessed, June 13, 2020.
      “Alexander T. MacNIcholl of New York”. Times Herald. (Olean, New York). September 25, 1912. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     Allen, Martha M. Alcohol: A Dangerous and Unnecessary Medicine How and Why. 1900. Reprint, Frankfurt, Germany: Outlook Verlag GmbH, 2019. 
     “Black Eye for Alcohol”. The Hutchinson Gazette. (Hutchinson, Kansas). July 3, 1912. Accessed, June 12, 2020.
     Bradley, Ellen Bertha. "The Problem of the Feeble-Minded." American Journal of Nursing 14(8) 628-31. (1914) Accessed June 12, 2020. doi:10.2307/3404846.
      “Candidates Nominated by the Prohibition Party" Post-Star (Glen Falls, New York). November 4, 1910. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “Candidates Nominated by the Prohibition Party”. Star Gazette. (Elmira, New York). October 31, 1910. Accessed, June 12, 2020.
      “Candidates Nominated by the Prohibition Party”. Star Gazette. (Elmira, New York). November 1, 1912. Accessed, June 12, 2020.
     Dock, Lavinia L., Sarah Elizabeth Pickett, Clara D. Noyes, Fannie F. Clement, Elizabeth G. Fox, and Anna R. Von Mater. History of American Red Cross Nursing, Part 1. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1922.
     “Dr. MacNicholl Addresses Prohis”. Press and Bulletin. (Binghamton, New York). October 19, 1912. Accessed, June 13, 2020.
      “Dr. MacNicholl at Federation Hall”. Star Gazette. (Elmira, New York). October 26, 1910. Accessed, June 10, 2020. 
     “Dr. MacNicholl Here on Friday”. Press and Sun Bulletin. (Binghamton, New York). October 15, 1912. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “Dr. MacNicholl to Speak Here”. Buffalo Enquirer. (Buffalo, New York). October 31, 1910. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “Dr. Maxwell Defends NY Public Schools”. Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). June 9, 1909. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     Durst, Dennis L. Eugenics and Protestant Social Reform: Hereditary Science and Religion in America, 1860-1940. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2017. 
     Edman, Johan. “Temperance and Modernity: Alcohol Consumption as a Collective Problem, 1885–1913”. Journal of Social History,  49(1):20–52, (2015)
      “Election Notices: Prohibition Party”. Times Union. (Brooklyn, New York). November 2, 1910. Accessed, June 13, 2020.
      “Give Official Figures on Votes for Delegates”. Star-Gazette. (Elmira, New York). November 10, 1914. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     Gordon, Janet Lynne. Message in a Bottle: The Making of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
     Herald and Presbyter. Vol. LXXX. Monfort and Company, 1909. 
     “Inning of Prohibitionists”. Democrat and Chronicle. November 1, 1910. Accessed, June 13, 2020.
      Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 36. Issues 14-26. Chicago: American Medical Association., 1901.
      Kestenbaum, Lawrence. “Index to Politicians: Maclachlan to Maddaloni.” The Political Graveyard. Accessed June 12, 2020. “Liquor Drinking By Children”. Tulare Advance Register. (Tulare, California). October 4, 1909. Accessed, June 13, 2020.
      MacCracken, Henry Mitchell, Ernest Gottlieb Sihler, and Willis Fletcher Johnson. New York University: Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics, with Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Founders, Benefactors, Officers and Alumni. Vol. 2. Boston: R. Herndon Company, 1903.
     “MacNicholl, Alexander T.” Our Campaigns. Accessed June 11, 2020.
     “MacNicholl Gives Reasons For His Confidence”. Buffalo Evening News. (Buffalo, New York). November 2, 1910. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     MacNicholl, T. Alexander”. “A Wave of Degeneracy is Sweeping Over the United States”. Springville Journal. (Springville, New York). July 11, 1912. June 12, 2020.
      “Mortality and Alcohol: An Expert’s Opinion as to Dr. MacNicholl’s Statistics”. The Yearbook of the United States Brewers' Association. New York: United States Brewers Association, 1913.
      Murlin, Edgar L. The New York Red Book.1915. Albany: J.B. Lyon Company, 1915. 
     Northwest Medicine. vol. V. Portland: Northwest Medical Publishing Association, 1913.
      Nursing World, Volumes 19-20. New York, 1897.
     “Obituary”. Standard Union. (Brooklyn, New York). February 23, 1908. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “Other Past Candidates: New York”. Partisan Prohibition Historical Society. Accessed June 9th, 2020.
      “Prohibition Banquet”. Scarsdale Inquirer. (Scarsdale, NY). March 22, 1913. Accessed, June 11, 2020.
      “Prohibition Party Sixteenth Annual Banquet”. The Chat. (Brooklyn, New York). February 10, 1917. Accessed, June 12, 2020.
      “Prohibition State”. Standard Union. (Brooklyn, New York). September 9, 1914. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “Prohibitionists to Hold Mass Meeting: MacNicholl and Chaffin to Speak This Evening”. Democrat and Chronicle. (Rochester, New York). November 3, 1910. Accessed, June 13, 2020.
      “Some Startling Facts Shown by a Scientific Study on the Effects of Alcohol on Children”. The Inquirer. (Lancaster, Pennsylvania). September 16, 1905. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “Statement of Canvas”. Buffalo Enquirer. (Buffalo, New York). January 3, 1913. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “Still Pessimistic About our Children”. The New York Times. (New York City, New York). February 7, 1910. Accessed, June 13, 2020.
      The Correspondence of Alfred Marshall, Economist. Vol. 3. Ed. John K. Whitaker. Cambridge: Royal Economic Society, 1996.
     “Thomas A Macnicholl United States Census, 1910 .” FamilySearch. Accessed June 13, 2020.
      “Thomas Alexander MacNicholl United States Deceased Physician File (AMA), 1864-1968 .” FamilySearch. Accessed June 13, 2020.
      “Wave of Degeneracy is Attributed to the Use of Alcoholic Drink and Narcotics”. The Wilkes-Barre Record. (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania). June 4, 1912. Accessed, June 13, 2020.
      “W.C.T.U. at Manasquan”. The Daily Record. (Long Branch, New Jersey). May 4, 1911. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “W.C.T.U. Column”. Calgary Herald. (Calgary, Alberta, Canada). February 13, 1913. Accessed, June 13, 2020.
     “Will Examine Children: Dr. MacNicholl’s Talk on Alcoholism Has Stirred Up New York Officials”. The Record. (Hackensack, New Jersey). June 11, 1909. Accessed, June 13, 2020. 
     “Women Crusades Movement Began Fifty Years Ago”. Long Beach Press. (Long Beach, California). August 16, 1916. Accessed, June 12, 2020.

-- Contributed by Jonathan Makeley

T. Alexander MacNicholl’s Letter of Acceptance for the 1910 Prohibition Party Nomination for Governor of New York

 Dear Friend, For many years I have been engaged in scientific work and have never desired political eminence, but the spontaneous and unanimous nomination for governor by my fellow citizens of the Prohibition Party in the convention assembled at Cortland, New York, forces me to assume new duties in the interest of humanity.
      The increased per capita consumption of alcoholic drinks and the widespread degeneracy attributed to their use should command the serious consideration and the active participation of every citizen in the efforts of the Prohibition Party to destroy this evil. Alcohol is not a mere matter of temperance or else we could relegate it to the rescue mission and the church. It profoundly effects every department of life, physical, intellectual, moral, social and political and through the organized liquor traffic fosters disrespect for law, consumes the profits of the individual, burdens the state with its victims, and produces an environment in the highest degree prejudicial to the interests of the child.
     While the physician is loth to enter the political arena, here is the question that he is pre-eminently fitted to solve, a question that is woven into the very warp and roof of politics and that cannot be eliminated save by political action. The nomination for governor comes to me unsought and unexpected but I would be recreant to my trust as a medical scientist, false to my duty as a citizen did I not accept this honor.
     May I not depend on your co-operation in securing a solution of this problem. 
     Cordially Yours T. Alexander MacNicholl, M.D.” 


“Dr. MacNicholl at Federation Hall”. Star Gazette. (Elmira, New York). October 26, 1910. Accessed, June 10, 2020.