J. W. Torbett, physician and poet, was born in Gum Creek near Jacksonville, Texas, on July 12, 1871, son of John Cornelius and Mary (McCaulay) Torbett. His parents were descended from Irish and English ancestors who first settled in Maryland and Virginia; John Cornelius had served in the Eleventh Alabama Regiment during the Civil War and was captured at Gettysburg. The family was known as the "singing Methodists." Torbett attended public schools in Coryell County, taught a year at both Enterprise and Mount Zion, and graduated in 1891 with a B.S. from Centenary College in Lampasas. After two years of teaching at Centenary College and at Olive, he enrolled in Atlanta Medical College, from which he received his medical degree in 1894. He first practiced medicine at Leon Junction. In 1896 he became sick with malaria and moved to Marlin, where he practiced medicine for the rest of his life. He and Dr. J. W. Cook were largely responsible for the development of Marlin as a health resort. In 1898 they built the Bethesda Bathhouse for the treatment of chronic diseases; this institution specialized in physical therapy, preventive medicine, and mineral-water baths. In 1908 Torbett built the Torbett Sanatorium, which in 1940 became the Torbett Clinic and Hospital; Dr. E. P. Hutchings and Dr. Howard O. Smith were partners.
In 1914 Torbett became president of the American Electro-Therapeutic Association, later known as the American Congress of Physical Therapy. In 1924 he joined the American College of Physicians. He was an active Methodist. For twenty-eight years he was a trustee and chairman of the board of the Methodist Orphans Home in Waco. He was also a founder and board member of Southern Methodist University, from which he received an honorary LL.D. Torbett established $10,000 scholarships at SMU and at Southwestern University in Georgetown. He also published several books of verse: Hot-Air Verses from the Hot Water Town (1914), Joy Town Jingles (1928), Pastime Poems of a Busy Doctor (1934), Centennial Songs (1936), and Practical Poems for Daily Use (1941). He contributed verses to Sunshine Magazine and wrote rhymes in black dialect that were published in Dallas, Galveston, Waco, and Greenville newspapers. His autobiography, The Doctor's Scrapbook, was published in 1947. At one time Torbett chaired the board of the American Authors and Composers' Association. On December 26, 1900, he married Nannie King of Caldwell; they had one son. Torbett directed the Marlin National Bank for many years and was a member of the Marlin Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the Knights of Pythias, the Odd Fellows, and the Shrine. He died in Marlin on August 9, 1949.
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Sam Hanna Acheson, Herbert P. Gambrell, Mary Carter Toomey, and Alex M. Acheson, Jr., Texian Who's Who, Vol. 1 (Dallas: Texian, 1937). Falls County Historical Commission, Families of Falls County (Austin: Eakin Press, 1987).
Health and Medicine
Physicians and Surgeons
Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Janet Mace Valenza,
“Torbett, John Walter, Sr.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 06, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
July 1, 1995
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: