Antebellum medical reformer William A. Cheatham was born in Springfield in 1820, the second son of Robertson County's General Richard Cheatham (1799-1845) and Susan Saunders (1801-1864). He received his medical degree in March 1843 from the University of Pennsylvania Medical school. In 1847, he married Mary Emma Ready of Murfreesboro and they had two children, Martha Strong and Richard B. Cheatham. Dr. Cheatham was practicing medicine in Nashville when the legislature appointed him superintendent and physician of the newly constructed Tennessee Lunatic Asylum on March 1, 1852.
The hospital was constructed in response to the reform movement which swept Tennessee in the 1830s, in particular to the crusade of reformer Dorothea A. Dix, who stated in 1858 that few institutions anywhere were superior to it. The program, which incorporated the most advanced theories of moral treatment, was praised not only by Dix on her frequent visits there, but also by Dr. W. K. Bowling, editor of the Nashville Journal of Medicine and Surgery. Sterling Cockrill and other trustees, upon unanimously electing Cheatham to a second eight-year term in 1859, gave him much of the credit for the hospital's reputation as one of the best in the nation.
The Civil War and the Union occupation of Middle Tennessee disrupted the work of the institution and its administrator; on July 25, 1862, Andrew Johnson, military governor of Tennessee, informed Cheatham of his dismissal as superintendent. Subsequently, he and Mrs. Cheatham were arrested and ordered to be confined to federal prison in Alton, Illinois. As they journeyed north, however, the order was rescinded due to Mrs. Cheatham's failing health. She died in Nashville on April 27, 1864.
In 1867 Cheatham remarried, choosing Adelicia Acklen, the owner of Belmont, as his wife. He also established a private practice in Nashville, which he continued almost up to the time of his death in 1900.
*Reprinted form The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
Dr. Cheatham other accomplishments included being a founding member the Blood Horse Association (along with William Harding after the Civil War), being a founding member of the Tennessee Horticultural Society (1867), and being a founding member of the Davidson County Agricultural and Mechanical Association (after the Civil War). He was also appointed to the Nashville Board of Health (1868), the Board of Directors for the Second National Bank in Nashville, the Tennessee Committee for the National Centennial in Philadelphia, and the Board of Trustees for the Tennessee Insane Asylum (after the Civil War).