Medical History of Harold Speakman

Speakman came to Columbia Hospital because he was suffering from undefined abdominal trouble. His primary complaint was digestive, specifically constipation and diarrhea. He took daily doses of mineral oil for what is recorded to have been a life time of constipation. Ironically, after his trip to China in 1920 (where he had a three week bout with dysentery or some similar infection, as well as an appendicitis), he suffered from loose stools and dull cramps. The condition was so distressing, that he experimented with all sorts of cathartics for his constipation, and even sought and found relief through self induced vomiting.

The focus of the operation at Columbia Hospital seems to have been on the appendix area, and the removal of discovered scar tissue between his pelvis and the region between his small and large intestine (i.e., the ileum and caecum). He also had a bit of skin cancer on his right arm forearm, and a half dollar size swelling on the back of his neck due to an old injury. The medical records state that his operation was a success. Apparently, he did not find the relief he had sought.

I have a letter from Speakman to Philip Reed, Sr. dated 9/16/20, towards the end of his China adventure. Speakman left China in early November. In that letter, Speakman does not mention any personal affliction beyond a slight fever, but does say that he was drinking canal water. He refers to his exposure to the full spectrum of disease with a bit of bravado. Just before he left China, he had an appendicitis which required the removal of his appendix in a French hospital. The medical records from Columbia Hospital state that he could not recall if the diarrhea attack occurred before or after the appendicitis. The records also state that Speakman went to the Mayo Clinic in 1925 with the same complaint, but their findings were negative.

A few other notable items showed-up in the medical records. First, Speakman states that his father William died of typhoid fever. There is the following chronology and medical information:

1926: Underwent tonsil and adenoid surgery.
Also suffered from “brites” (possible medical slang for spots or flashes before the eyes?).

1928 (During Far East trip):

  • January, suffered bout with malaria.
  • February, suffered dengue fever while in Burma.

1928: Harold Speakman arrived in Milwaukee in June.

It is probable that the Far East trip began in the fall of 1927, and that he returned to the U.S. in spring1928. Given his bouts with fever and ongoing digestive trouble, and that apparently he did not write a book of his India trip, or finish at least some paintings from that trip, his final nine months must have been personally and artistically frustrating, to say the least (see, Speakman Suicide, September 24, 1928)


  • Hospitalization Records (Columbia Hospital, Milwaukee, Wisconsin), August 13 – 25th, 1928