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Dr. William Rice Farris


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Dr. William Rice Farris


VUMC History, Vanderbilt Alumni


Photographic portrait of Dr. William Rice Farris, Class of 1893-1894.

Dr. William Rice Farris
Class of 1893-94
By Shirley Farris Jones

William Rice Farris was born on Sunday, August 13, 1870, the fifth child of Dr. John and Mary Elizzabeth Austell Farris. He was born at the Austell farm in Prairie Plains, in Coffee County, Tennessee, where his parents and other siblings lived, along with his grandfather, William Austell. He was named for both of his grandfathers, William Austell and William Crane Farris, but would be known by his middle name. Rice attended local schools or academies in the area until enrolling at the Nashville University of Medicine in 1892. He would be the first child in this family to complete the two years of medical school, graduating with the 1893-1894 class, with the hope the he would take over his father’s medical practice one day. When Rice left Coffee County to attend school in Nashville in 1892, he would leave behind his father and two younger sisters, Sue Jennie and Mary Elizzbeth (Maymie). His two older brothers had already left home and were teaching school, Samuel in Alabama and John, Jr., in Texas, although John would return home the next year. Both his Mother and Grandfather Austell had died in 1885, when Rice was 15 , and his eldest sister, along with a younger brother and sister, had preceded them in death. Obviously, his father was quite proud of this young man and had very high hopes for his future. Despite the financial “panic” and hardship of a country doctor in providing the necessities for his family, Dr. Farris always found a way to ensure that his son had everything he needed and could concentrate on his medical studies without worry.

Rice enjoyed his 22nd summer in 1892, being with friends and family, more-or-less carefree, getting ready for the life changing event awaiting him in the capitol city. When Rice left the farm in Prairie Plains in the fall of 1892, he most likely traveled by train, the Nashville, St. Louis, and Chattanooga, from Tullahoma to Nashville. His new home there for the next two years would be at 511 South Market Street. (Market St. today is Second Avenue.) Street cars had been installed on many Nashville streets in 1889, and the very idea of getting around town on one of them had to be an exciting prospect to a young man from a rural area.
Rice probably rented a room in a home that also provided meals, possibly with other students, returning home during the summers, prior to his graduation following the 1893-94 session. He worked hard and was a good student.

In 1893, hard economic times, caused by overbuilding and shaky financing of railroads, resulted in numerous banks failures, proving to be the worst depression the U.S. had ever seen and the “panic” did not go away any time soon. Farms and crops also failed, and times had to have been very difficult for a country doctor trying to support his son in medical school. Rice’s older brother, John, Jr. returned home from Texas that spring and Rice was there during the summer, helping on the farm, and assisting his father with his medical practice.

It was during this time that the requirement for medical students would be changed within the Medical Departments of University of Nashville and Vanderbilt from a two year course of study to three years, although Rice was not affected by this change. He returned to school for the 1893-94 session, and would graduate with his class at the conclusion of this term. In the spring of 1894, just before his graduation, Rice became ill. Despite all, he was able to graduate on time. In the 1893-94 Graduation Class picture, Rice is seen on the extreme right, fourth row from the top. His proud father presented him with a gold Hampton pocket watch, engraved with his initials Following graduation, Rice began his medical career as a practicing physician, staying in Nashville during the next year. And getting the diagnosis he feared.

Despite the excitement of life in the big city and working hard earning his medical degree and establishing a practice, Rice missed his family and they missed him. They kept in close touch with weekly letters, and the camaraderie exchanged by Rice and his siblings, the love exchanged between he and his father, the caring and concern and humor shared by all, are evidence of a strong family bond. How very devastating it must have been when this young man, not quite 24 years old, and with so much promise, was diagnosed with “consumption” or tuberculosis, the same disease that had taken his mother, grandfather, and one younger brother and sister. In Rice’s case, his throat seems to have been affected more than his lungs. He returned home in the spring of 1995, then in late May, went to Hartselle, Alabama for additional medical advice, before deciding to go to Texas, which was recommended as a possible cure for his “condition.” Despite trying various cures and medicines, even relocating briefly in Devine, Texas, there simply was none, and this young man, who had had barely lived a quarter of a century, became yet another victim.

Less than three years after Rice’s death, his two younger sisters, Jennie and Maymie, would also suffer the same fate. His older brother, Sam, would survive until 1909, when he, too, would be yet another casualty. John, Jr., the only surviving son, would enroll in the same school the year after Rice’s death in 1896, earning his medical degree from the University of Nashville Medical Department in 1899. Rice’s engraved pocket watch would be passed on to him. Their father, Dr. John K. Farris, Sr., would retire from the medical profession in 1901, and Dr. John K. Farris, Jr., would continue to serve the needs of the people in Coffee County, particularly in the Hillsboro, Prairie Plains area, until a stroke forced his retirement in 1929. The first born son of Dr. John K. Farris, Jr., in 1900, was named William Rice, in memory of his brother.

Author’s Note: William Rice Farris was my great uncle, the younger brother of my grandfather, Dr. John K. Farris, Jr.

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Mahon and Taylor


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Shirley Farris Jones

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Mahon and Taylor, “Dr. William Rice Farris,” VUMC Through Time, accessed October 26, 2021,

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