Warren, John Collins, 1778-1856

Alternative names
Birth 1778-08-01
Death 1856-05-04

Biographical notes:

John Collins Warren, surgeon and naturalist, was born in Boston in 1778, the son of Harvard physician John Warren and Abigail (Collins) Warren. He graduated from Harvard College in 1797 and began the study of medicine with his father. From 1799 to 1802 he studied medicine in Paris and London. When he returned, he went into practice with his father. In 1809, Warren became adjunct professor in anatomy and surgery at Harvard Medical School and in 1815 succeeded his father as professor, a position he held until 1847. He became the outstanding American surgeon of his day and has become especially known for his role as surgeon in the first public demonstration of ether anesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846. In addition to his medical writings, he was active as a naturalist and comparative anatomist and served for many years as president of the Boston Society of Natural History. His many medical specimens formed the basis of the Warren Museum at Harvard Medical School. Warren died in 1856.

From the description of John Collins Warren correspondence, 1812-1856 (inclusive). (Yale University). WorldCat record id: 702172048

From the description of John Collins Warren correspondence, 1812-1856 (inclusive). (Yale University). WorldCat record id: 703652722

Warren (Harvard, A.B., 1797) taught anatomy and surgery at Harvard.

From the description of Papers of John Collins Warren, 1801. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76972918

Boston surgeon.

From the description of Papers, 1825-1856. (Duke University). WorldCat record id: 35663676

John Collins Warren was born in Boston on August 1, 1778; he was the eldest child in a family of seventeen children. His father, Dr. John Warren, was a founder of Harvard Medical School, and his mother, Abigal (Collins) Warren, was the daughter of a former governor of Rhode Island. Warren attended Boston Latin School before entering Harvard College, where he received an A.B. in 1797. After graduation, he studied with his father for a year before leaving for Europe, where he completed his medical studies. Warren spent time in Edinburgh and Paris, where he trained under one of Napoleon's surgeons. He received an M.D. from St. Andrews University in 1802 and returned to Boston to take over his father's medical practice. Warren married Susan Powell Mason in 1803; upon her death in 1841, he remarried to Ann Winthrop. In 1809, he joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School, where he taught until 1847. He also served as that school's dean from 1816 to 1819. In addition, Warren was appointed visiting surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and institution he helped estabish. He also published many articles and books; Surgical Observations on Tumors, published in 1837, is widely considered his most important publication. On October 16, 1846, Warren performed the first surgery to use ether as an anesthetic. John Collins Warren died on May 4, 1856.

Daniel Appleton White was born to John and Elizabeth (Haynes) White in what is now Lawrence, Massachusetts on June 7, 1776. He received an A.B. from Harvard in 1797, taught at the Medford grammar school from 1797 to 1799, and was Latin tutor at Harvard from 1799 to 1803. He studied law while in Cambridge and was admitted to the bar in 1804. He practiced law in Newburyport until 1817, when he moved to Salem. He was a member of the Massachusetts legislature from 1810 to 1815 and was elected a judge in Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1815; he held this office for thirty-eight years. He was an active member of the Essex Institute and the Massachusetts Historical Society. He served as an Overseer at Harvard from 1842 to 1853. Daniel Appleton White died in Salem, Massachusetts on March 30, 1861.

From the description of Phi Beta Kappa dissertation on the study of history at Harvard, February 21, 1797. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 629696804

John Collins Warren (1778-1856), a surgeon in Boston, Massachusetts, served as Adjunct Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at Harvard from 1809 to 1815; Dean of the Harvard Medical School from 1816 to 1819; Hersey Professor of Anatomy and Surgery from 1815-1847; and Hersey Professor Emeritus from 1847 to 1856. In collaboration with James Jackson, Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic, Warren established the Massachusetts General Hospital, the plans for which were made in 1811, although it was not actually opened until 1821. Under Warren's guidance, the Harvard Medical School was moved from Cambridge to Boston in 1815, accommodating the needs of long-suffering professors who lived and practiced medicine in Boston and who found it increasingly difficult to travel between the two cities. In 1816, Warren was appointed the first Dean of the Harvard Medical School, a new office to oversee the institution and its faculty, and in 1819 he received the first honorary M.D. degree from Harvard. In 1847, Warren donated his anatomical and pathological specimens to Harvard University, forming the nucleus of what became the Warren Anatomical Museum at the Harvard Medical School.

Warren was the first surgeon to operate on a strangulated hernia in the United States and one of the first surgeons to perform operations on the hard and soft palates. He helped introduce a new operation for lithotrity and in 1837 published his landmark Surgical Observations on Tumours with Cases and Operations. Warren is probably most remembered as the surgeon who successfully operated on a patient during the first public demonstration of ether anesthesia in the United States at the Massachusetts General Hospital on October 16, 1846.

The chair of Anatomy and Surgery at Harvard was established in 1782 but was not endowed as the Hersey Professorship until 1791 by the wills of Ezekiel Hersey, Sarah Derby, his widow, and Abner Hersey, his younger brother. The chair was known as the Hersey Professorship of Anatomy and Surgery until 1847 when "Surgery" was removed from the title and the professorship was transferred to the Department of Comparative Anatomy in the College. It was not until 1924, that the Hersey Professor of Anatomy was returned to the Medical School.

From the guide to the Correspondence and reports by John Collins Warren, Hersey Professor of Anatomy and Surgery, 1814-1827 and undated., (Harvard University Archives)


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  • Education, Medical
  • Natural history
  • Medicine, Military
  • Anatomy, Comparative
  • History--Study and teaching (Higher)
  • Tumors--Surgery
  • Anesthesia--History--19th century
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