Roy Hamlin stood but 5-foot-eight, but his sharp intellect and quick wit made his stature seem larger than life.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Dr. Mont. M. Hamlin was a St. Louis physician held in high regard by his colleagues. In 1902, he was appointed by the Missouri governor to fill a vacancy on the State Board of Health. At the time, he was serving as the well-known editor of the American Medical Journal, and was a dean and professor of Materia Medica for the American Medical College of St. Louis.
It was in his capacity as editor of the medical journal that Dr. Hamlin found himself in a legal bind. J.J. Link filed suit against Dr. Montraville Hamlin, who was doing business as the American Medical Journal, accusing him of libel. The core of the dispute was based upon Eclectic vs. Allopathic medicine. Dr. Hamlin was trained as an Eclectic physician. J.J. Link practiced Allopathic medicine, and had purchased a majority share of stock in the American Medical College of St. Louis, from which Dr. Hamlin had earned his medical degree.
The offending article was titled “The Rape of the American Medical College.”
The initial case, tried in the St. Louis Circuit Court, assessed guilt, a fine and damages against Dr. Hamlin. He appealed the case to the Missouri Supreme Court, which reversed the ruling in 1916.
Attorneys successfully representing Dr. Hamlin before the Missouri Supreme Court were his son, Roy Hamlin, 26, of Hannibal, and the firm of Hamlin, Collins and Hamlin of St. Louis.
Roy Hamlin had moved to Hannibal from St. Louis with his young wife circa 1915, and he had opened a legal office on the third floor of the old Hannibal Trust Company building, which was located on the northeast corner of Broadway and Third streets.
While new to Hannibal, Roy Hamlin wasn’t a newcomer to Northeast Missouri. He attended LaGrange College in LaGrange, Mo., (now Hannibal LaGrange University, Hannibal). In 1914 he graduated from the School of Law at Washington University in St. Louis, earning an LL. B degree. He married Mary S. Wallace of Lewis County in September 1914. He first located at Springfield, Mo., and then St. Louis, before the young couple settled at Hannibal and Marion County.
House on Palmyra Rock Road
Hamlin and his wife purchased an historic house and farm situated on the Palmyra to Hannibal Rock Road. The house and barn, located to the west of the Fette Orchard, were purchased in 1917 from Clamor F. Hehmeyer.
Roy and Mary Sue Hamlin had five children during their marriage. As years passed, Mrs. Hamlin started spending most of her time with the children at the Lewis County farm that she inherited from her parents. Roy would visit the family on the weekends, but maintained his own residence in Hannibal. The 1930 census shows the family living in Hannibal, while the 1940 census indicates that Roy is the only family member living in the big, historic house, accompanied only by an 80-year-old male servant, Elijah Moss. Elijah died in 1941, and was buried in Monroe County, where he was born. Elijah’s daughter, Lottie Jackson, continued to cook and clean house for Mr. Hamlin.
In 1949, Roy, represented by his good friend Harrison White, filed for divorce, citing abandonment.
Regardless, there were still family gatherings at both Lewistown and in Hannibal.
Linda Steinbeck is Roy Hamlin’s granddaughter. Her adult role as a military wife took her to many locations throughout her life, but in retirement years, she is making her home in Palmyra.
The daughter of Hamlin’s youngest child, Sue Hamlin Dudgeon, Linda has a wealth of memories stored in about the man who had an enormous impact on politics and legal issues in Northeast Missouri during his lifetime.
Her most vivid memories come from 1959, when her parents, believing that Hamlin would be best served with family around, moved to Hannibal, and they lived with Roy Hamlin for 18 months, until his death. Linda attended school in Hannibal, with friends including Laura Pettibone, Bobby Davidson, Donald Hartley and Margo Hamlin. She finished out the school year in Hannibal before moving back to Lewistown, where her mother still lives.
Her grandfather loved to fish, Linda remembers. “Grandfather Hamlin and Harrison White (another Hannibal attorney) went to Minnesota fishing every year.” Back in Hannibal, “Outside of the barn, on the side facing the garage, were horse stalls. He had tacked up a fish head,” over the door, which later became a fish skeleton. “There was a ladder going up to the hay loft, and he accumulated a lot of things” up there, she says.
She remembers her grandfather driving his Farmall tractor on the 10-acre farm, pulling behind it a small wagon. The old house was never air conditioned, she said, yet the house was always cool. When she was growing up, her grandfather told her that the house was built by the Pennsylvania Dutch, and the walls were thick, serving as insulation.
“He always had a martin house” near the barn, she says. “He loved the martins.” And he had a large grape arbor at the back side of the house.
He drove a big Buick, which he parked in the garage behind the house.
“All the Hamlin kids and their children would come to Grandpa’s house on special holidays and weekends. My Uncle Reynolds showed my dad how to play badminton out by the barn.”
Inside the house, “everybody congregated by the fireplace. I’d sit in front of the fire and polish his shoes,” Linda said, earning a quarter a pair. Everyone used the back door. The only time the front door was used was for his funeral, Linda says. He wanted to be laid out in the front room.
When she was in seventh grade, she was trying to learn to iron. “Mother would not let me iron Grandpa’s handkerchiefs that he put in his jacket pocket. They couldn’t have wrinkles and had to be ironed just right.”
Roy Hamlin used to tell his grandchildren that he bought the farm because his clients were poor, and couldn’t always afford to pay cash for legal representation. So they paid him with chickens or eggs or livestock in exchange for his service. He needed a farm to house what they gave him.
“Grandpa lived a very plain life. He was happy, and enjoyed what he did. Honesty – he had to be honest.”
His office, located on the third floor of the Hornback building (on the northwest corner of Fifth and Broadway) “was awfully dark,” Linda remembers. “It was nothing fancy.”
Roy Hamlin was arguing a contested divorce case at the Ralls County Courthouse when he was stricken. He died later at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.
“I was spending the night with Margo Hamlin and her family,” Linda remembers. “We had green salad with little cherry tomatoes. My mother or father called to say that Grandfather had passed away, then my mother came to pick me up.”
Miss Vivian Link was Roy Hamlin’s long-time legal secretary, working both for his law practice and his legislative office. The daughter of W.Z. Link, a prominent Oakwood businessman. After Hamlin’s death in 1960, Miss Link continued to work in his Hannibal office for a year, in order to settle up ongoing business. In 1925, Vivian’s father was the president of the Farmer’s Bank of Oakwood, and the family lived at 3600 Tilden. The year after Hamlin’s death, she was living at 210 S. Sixth.
Roy Hamlin stood but 5-foot-eight, but his sharp intellect and quick wit made his stature seem larger than life. Following is an excerpt from the Kansas City Star of May 14, 1943, which described Roy Hamlin’s political persona.
“In the old-fashioned rough and tumble sessions of the Missouri Legislature, Roy Hamlin of Hannibal is a 1-man show and a dangerous opponent. In the same breath he can fan the individual prejudices of the hills and the city river wards. Or he can lift the beautiful white hand of personal friendships. When he is short of arguments he throws up verbal dust clouds that leave his opponents scattered and rubbing their eyes. He blasts technicalities away with outraged voice or raises technicalities to the last crossing of a T, all depending on circumstances.”
Two days later, the same newspaper described Hamlin: “Roy Hamlin, minority floor leader of the House, is known as ‘the man who can stop a clock.’ … While Hamlin loudly was debating a point recently the House clock stopped for an hour.”
Speaker of the House
Roy Hamlin was installed as the new speaker of the House in early January 1949.
At the time of his death, Roy Hamlin was a four-time speaker of the Missouri House and a veteran of 14 terms in the legislature.
After Hamlin’s death, the house, farm and personal property were sold at auction. The farm was divided into lots and sold for a development named Hamlin Heights. Dwaine and Betty Pfaff purchased the house and raised their family there. Their daughter, Mary Lynne, and her husband Paul Richards, later remodeled the house, and are raising their family there, as well.
Eclectic medicine was a branch of American medicine which made use of botanical remedies along with other substances and physical therapy practices, popular in the latter half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.
Allopathic medicine refers to mainstream medical use of pharmacologically active agents or physical interventions to treat or suppress symptoms or pathophysiologic processes of diseases or conditions.
Mary Lou Montgomery is a writer, speaker and researcher with a specialty in history. She is the former editor of the Courier-Post.