Ephraim McDowell

Ephraim McDowell, b 11 Nov 1771, Augusta Co., VA, d 25 June 1830, Danville, Boyle, KY, buried: McDowell Park @ Centre College, Danville, Boyle, KY

Married: Sarah Hart Shelby, m 29 Dec 1802


The sixth son of Judge Samuel McDowell and Mary 
McClung, Ephraim, was born in Augusta county, now 
Roekbridge, Virginia, November 11, 1771. 

In his early boyhood, he had the advantage of the best schools 
in his native state ; at the age of thirteen years, he came with 
his father across the mountains and through the wilder- 
ness to Kentucky. In Danville, then the seat of the best 
and most intellectual society in the west, and under the 
instruction of scholarly teachers, the remainder of his boy- 
hood was passed. 

At Bardstown, and at the academy in 
Lexington, Virginia, his thorough classical education was 
completed. There followed two years of close application 
in the study of medicine, in Staunton, Virginia, under Dr. 
Humphreys, a graduate of the University of Edinburg. 
Perhaps it was this circumstance that persuaded him to 
take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the abun- 
dant means and liberal ideas of his father to further prose- 
cute his medical studies at the University of Edinburg. 

Thither be repaired in 1793, "94, remaining two years. 
There he had for his preceptor and friend the great sur- 
geon, John Bell, " a man of splendid genius, of high in- 
tellectual endowments, an eloquent teacher, and a bold, 
dashing operator." Xot waiting to take his degree, he 
immediately, upon his return to America, settled at Dan- 
ville, and there entered upon that professional career the 
results of which placed him among the greatest of human 

With the prestige of foreign study, its com- 
mencement was auspicious; the fame of his successful 
operations rapidly spreading, patients flocked to him from 
all parts of the South and West ; he found himself well 
nigh overwhelmed by a large surgical practice demanding 
many of the most difficult and severe operations. The en- 
tire profession now accord to him the credit and praise of 
being the originator of ovariotomy. 

Only twelve years 
after he had entered upon the practice, in 1809, at the 
little town of Danville, upon the person of Mrs. Crawford, 
an heroic Kentucky woman, he first performed that most 
difficult of feats in surgery, the actual removal of an ovarian 
tumor, the patient surviving the operation thirty-two 
years, in vigorous health, and dying at length in her 
seventy-ninth year. This he did without a precedent in 
the Whole history of surgery since the world began ; with- 
out a guide in any of the books, from the experience of 
others or of his own; without the use of anaesthetics; 
without assistants with whom to share the glory of success- 
ful achievement or the responsibility of failure.

Six feet in height, his complexion 
was florid, eyes black, presence commanding, and his ac- 
tivity and muscular power remarkable. He died in 183Q. 
Dr. McDowell was thirty-one years old when he married 
Sarah, daughter of Governor Shelby. 

Historic Families of Kentucky
Copyright, 1889, 
Bv Thomas Marshall Green
May 1913 

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