Feature Christmas 2012: Yesterday’s World

John Collins Warren (1778-1856): An American surgeon in London

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e8251 (Published 17 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8251
  1. David K C Cooper, professor of surgery
  1. 1University of Pittsburgh, Thomas E Starzl Transplantation Institute, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA
  1. Correspondence to: D K C Cooper cooperdk{at}upmc.edu
  • Accepted 5 November 2012

David K C Cooper finds that the writings of American surgeon John Collins Warren provide an insight into medical practice in early 19th century London

John Collins Warren was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1778, into a family noted for its many eminent medical practitioners (web appendix).1 These included Warren’s uncle, a doctor killed in the early stages of the War of American Independence, and father, one of the founders of Harvard Medical School. Although professionally successful and respected (box), Warren was a reserved and disciplined man, and few in Boston had much affection for him.

John Collins Warren’s medical career

  • 1778: Born 1 August 1778, in Boston, Massachusetts

  • 1797: Graduated from Harvard College

  • 1799-1802: Continued medical studies in London, Edinburgh, and Paris

  • 1802: Entered surgical practice in Boston

  • 1806: Adjunct professor in anatomy and surgery at Harvard College

  • 1810: Lobbied for Harvard Medical School to move from the “college town” of Cambridge over the river to Boston, which had a much larger population of potential patients

  • 1815: Promoted to full professor, on the death of his father. Also gave lectures on physiology and midwifery

  • 1816-19: First dean of Harvard Medical School

  • 1812: A founder (and an editor) of the New England Medical Journal

  • 1819: Honorary medical degree bestowed on him by Harvard University, his only medical qualification

  • 1821: A founder of the Massachusetts General Hospital, serving as its first surgeon

  • 1837: Second visit to London

  • 1845: On 20 January, performed operation under unsuccessful nitrous oxide anaesthesia (administered by Horace Wells)

  • 1846: On 16 October, performed the first operation under successful ether anaesthesia (administered by William Morton)

  • 1847: Presented his collection of anatomical and pathological specimens to Harvard University, forming the basis of the Warren Anatomical Museum

  • 1851: Third visit to London

  • 1856: Died 4 May, in Boston, Massachusetts

Warren began to study medicine …

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