From shame to fame: The improbable career of the great anatomist‐surgeon D. Hayes Agnew Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • David Hayes Agnew began his career as a country doctor in rural Pennsylvania in 1838. After a 3-year diversion as a partner in a large ironworks business that went bankrupt in 1846, Agnew, seriously in debt, returned to the medical profession in Cochranville, PA, hoping to focus on surgery. Recognizing that he needed to improve his knowledge of anatomy, he purchased cadavers from Philadelphia and dissected at home in his spare time. When he was finished dissecting, he covertly moved bodies to a nearby pond so he could later collect skeletons after eels had removed the remaining soft tissues. This worked well until Agnew and the townspeople found out that a local fisherman, known for selling the most delicious eels, fished exclusively from this pond. Agnew was asked to leave Cochranville and he moved to Philadelphia, where he purchased the Philadelphia School of Anatomy and worked as a surgeon at Blockley Hospital. During the Civil War, he became renowned for his ability to manage gunshot wounds. Agnew was upwardly mobile in Philadelphia, becoming one of America's most prominent 19th-century academic surgeons. When President James Garfield was shot by an assassin, Agnew was called to care for him. When he retired from his position as the John Rhea Barton Professor of the Principles and Practice of Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, the medical students hired the famous American realist painter, Thomas Eakins, to produce The Agnew Clinic, which became one of the artist's two most important paintings. Clin. Anat. 32:661-671, 2019. © 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

publication date

  • July 2019