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Edmund Andrews, a Medical School Founder

Andrews, Edmund 1887In recognition of the start of the new academic year at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, which officially launches with the celebration of Founders’ Day in mid-August, we share a series of biographies of our school’s founders.

Edmund Andrews (1824-1904) was born in Putney, Vermont. Although as a youth he worked on his father’s farm to help support his family, his first priority was to excel in school. He studied diligently to gain admittance to the sophomore class of the University of Michigan in 1846. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he entered the Medical Department of the University of Michigan as part of its first class. Immediately after receiving his medical degree in 1852, Dr. Andrews became a demonstrator of anatomy, and then a year later was made professor of comparative anatomy at his alma mater.

In 1855, he was appointed demonstrator of anatomy in Rush Medical College, but resigned after one year and devoted himself to medical practice. Soon after his arrival in Chicago he aided in founding the Chicago Academy of Science, and was its first president, serving several times in this capacity. A short time after this, in connection with Dr. Horace Wardner, he helped established a charity dispensary and a private dissecting room, where he taught a class in anatomy.
During his time at the University of Michigan, Dr. Andrews had published several essays in medical periodicals, in which he advocated a graded system of medical teaching and a significant measure of scholarship as a requirement for admission to medical school. These scholarly interests led him to become one of the founders of the Chicago Medical College, which was the first medical college in the United States to adopt the graded system. He was the college’s first professor of surgery, and continued in this position actively or emeritus until his death. He later became chief surgeon at Mercy Hospital, Northwestern’s first teaching hospital, then was a trustee of Northwestern University for a number of years.
Dr. Andrews also served as a major and surgeon-in-chief of Camp Douglas in Chicago during the early years of the Civil War. During his military service, he was the first to keep systematic records of Army cases of disease and injury. These efforts were published in the Chicago Medical Examiner from 1862-1865. His reports to the Surgeon General were used as the basis on which the records of that office have since been kept.
As a surgeon, Dr. Andrews was always in the forefront of progress. He originated a number of orthopaedic appliances and other instruments that contributed to the growth and precision of the mechanics of surgery. He was the first in Chicago to employ Lister’s antiseptic methods and was also a pioneer in surgical anesthesia. His use of oxygen combined with nitrous oxide in anesthesia brought attention to the value of oxygen and initiated a new field in therapy.
A man of many interests, Dr. Andrews was also a geologist of repute, and his work on the early glacial history of North America has been frequently cited. His papers on geologic subjects were published in the Proceedings and Transactions of the Chicago Academy of Science. His work, The Early Glacial History of North America was a widely used textbook.
As a teacher of surgery, Dr. Andrews was profoundly respected. He was not a fluent or graceful speaker, but he was known for his earnestness in discussion and amiable, patient nature. Modest in demeanor, he was generally regarded as one of the most learned members of his profession.
NOTABLE FACT: In addition to surgical achievements, Dr. Andrews contributed largely to medical literature – he collected and published statistics of 92,815 cases of ether anesthesia and 117,078 cases of chloroform anesthesia, showing the relative risk in the use of these two agents.