At a time in everyone’s life, we come to find ourselves in a situation where the music stops, and we must go on.  The unfortunate truth about life is that the unexpected will happen. Some of us learn from it, some of us change because of it and some of us find our life’s calling because of it. The latter was the case for me.  After our dad picked us up from middle school, we spent that afternoon like we had every afternoon that month. We went to the oncology unit at the hospital, where my brother was admitted.



I remember him. I remember the man in the dark blue sarong the same way I remember the lines on back of my own hand. He was hunched over next to a column on a dirty platform at a railway station in Calcutta, India in the middle of the harsh summer sun. His hands were withered, his fingers and toes looked like tiny nubs, and he was completely malnourished and alone. He had opaque blue eyes, as if fog had taken place of his irises and pupils.



I studied insects in college; my favorite insects were the bees (I found them diligent and so helpful to humankind).  One of my favorite classes was about medical diseases caused by insects. My professors noticed my interest in the medical side of things and connected me with a professor who did clinical research. Our work focused on a clinical trial for children with intractable epilepsy and exposed me early on to patient care and patients.


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in 1799, but the first constitution preserved is that of 1821, and he is of the opinion it is likely identical. The minutes of the original Society that survived (1803-1804) are invaluable and consistent with the 1821 documents. (Mayo, 1999, page 37)

Dr. Brown’s reputation exploded upon the state of Kentucky, and his reputation soon spread over the whole state. He was consulted far and wide during the early days of Transylvania Medical School. He was the preeminent physician west of the Allegheny Mountains. He was well ahead of New York physicians in the introduction of smallpox vaccination in 1801-1802.

The Lexington Medical Society was not only the first medical society west of the Alleghenies, it was the first student- physician medical society in America in which both medical students and physicians held elected office.

While Lexington started out as the Athens of the West, by the introduction of the steamboat in 1812, Lexington entered a long decline that eventually culminated in the loss of medical supremacy to the cities of Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis. Cincinnati and Louisville both rapidly surpassed Lexington in population.

In 1809, Dr. Ephraim McDowell, an honorary member of the Lexington Medical Society, performed the world’s first successful abdominal operation when he removed a 22-pound ovarian tumor from Jane Todd Crawford. This surgery, done without the benefit of anesthesia or antiseptic means, was previously thought impossible. Dr. McDowell, who studied in Edinburgh with Dr. Brown, became known as the Father of Abdominal Surgery.

The Lexington Medical Society came to an end in 1834. Dr. Brown had previously died in 1830 in Dayton, Ohio. However, before his death, he founded a national medical society, Kappa Lambda, and also the North American Medical and Surgical Journal. The Kappa Lambda Society was the forerunner to the American Medical Association. (Mayo, 1999, page 51)

Dr. Brown, a member of the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, had become quite friendly with Benjamin Rush, M.D. and Thomas Jefferson. He learned of the vaccination for smallpox, and he had vaccinated at least two patients by May of 1801. Letters in existence in 1801 indicate that Dr. Brown had been given access to thread that was infected with cowpox matter that he used to develop vaccination techniques using the Jenner method in the very early days of the 19th century. (Mayo, 1999, pages 105-112)

A series of events in 1819 put Transylvania University among the elite of American medical schools. However, there was a change of presidents and the attrition of Dr. Charles Caldwell (1772-1853) of Philadelphia added to the Chair of the Institutes of Medicine. At the same time, Dr. Samuel Brown was lured away from the invitation to join Dr. Daniel Drake in Cincinnati to take the Chair of the Theory and Practice of Medicine. There was a rapid increase in the number of students at the Transylvania Medical School beginning with 20 students and one graduate in 1817, and then escalating to 200 students and 56 graduates in 1823-1824.

The preamble to the precipitous decline of the Transylvania Medical School and its eventual closing was noted by Daniel Drake, M.D. when he reported by letter to Henry Clay in 1825. He advised Henry Clay that the school had the misfortune to lose Professor Samuel Brown. Many professors at the Transylvania Medical School left to take positions at the University of Louisville, and particularly in 1837-1838, four medical professors left for the school in Louisville. For the 1856-1857 term, only 32 students were present at the Transylvania Medical School. (Mayo, 1999, pages 208-210)

Four years after Dr. Samuel Brown’s death, the Lexington Medical Society came to an end in 1834. The demise of the society and precipitous manner of its closing is described by Porter Mayo, M.D. as “puzzling.” The last evidence of the activities of the Lexington Medical Society was published in the Transylvania Journal of Medicine and the Associate Sciences in 1834. (Mayo, 1999, page 208)

By 1857, the “Athens of the West” lost its last vestige of fame with the closing of the Medical Department of Transylvania University. The 1850s were years of great upheaval of economic and social unrest. It was the eve of the Civil War. The famous Medical Hall of Transylvania built in 1839 by the philanthropic actions of the citizens of Lexington at the cost of $35,000.00, reverted to the City in 1860. It was located at the corner of Broadway and Second Street. This building was commandeered by the federal government during the Civil War as a hospital for Union soldiers, and burned on May 22, 1863, while occupied. (Mayo, 1999, page 222)

Even with these losses to Lexington, the M.D. was so unusual that of the 3,500 practicing physicians in the Colonies during the period of the Revolutionary War, less than 300 had received a medical degree. Most physicians had earned those degrees in Europe, because the Philadelphia Medical College and King’s College (later Columbia University) were the only medical schools available to Americans in their homeland. Thus, the early days of the Transylvania Medical Department were quite significant for the development of medicine and development of physicians in the United States going into the Civil War. (Mayo, 1999)


The material for this essay comes from the classic book written by W. Porter Mayo, M.D., Ph.D., a former Lexington Medical Society member who became a history doctorate after he completed his career as a Lexington surgeon. His book, still today is the greatest book written about the Lexington Medical Society, was commissioned by the LMS and published in 1999 to honor the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Lexington Medical Society. Samuel Brown is credited with developing the society in 1799. (Mayo, 1999)

The story of the Lexington Medical Society begins with Dr. Samuel Brown (1769-1830). He was a native of Augusta, Virginia in Rockbridge County. Dr. Brown began his education under the tutelage of his father. At age 16, he continued his classical education at the seminary conducted by Dr. James Waddle in Virginia, preparatory to his enrollment in Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Subsequent to this, Dr. Brown served an apprenticeship with his distinguished brother-in-law, Dr. Alexander Humphreys of Stanton, Virginia. Another famous Kentucky doctor was an apprentice there as well, young Ephraim McDowell of Danville. After a few months of instruction with Dr. Humphreys, Dr. Brown transferred to the private instruction of Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia. (Mayo, 1999, page 28). Dr. Rush was not only a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the most renowned America physician of the time, but he is the author of Diseases of the Mind (1812), the first psychiatric textbook written in the United States for physicians. His image is on the great seal of the


American Psychiatric Association. (Mayo, 1999, page 28)

Dr. Brown and Dr. McDowell both matriculated to the University of Edinburgh Medical School in Ireland in 1793, and Dr. Brown received his medical degree at the University of Aberdeen. While in Scotland, Dr. Brown, with some other colleagues, entertained the possibility of founding a medical school in America. Brown returned home in 1795 and began practicing medicine in Maryland near Washington D.C. (Mayo,1999, page 30)

The forerunner of the Lexington Herald- Leader announced in 1797 that Dr. Brown was going to practice medicine and surgery in Lexington, Kentucky. Brown’s reputation and skill led to his selection as one of the two medical professors in the newly organized Transylvania College. Brown was the first Professor of Medicine west of the Allegheny Mountains. He was appointed as Professor of Medicine, Chemistry, and Surgery. Dr. Brown announced the opening of his office in Lexington in September 1797, and he quickly became part of the civic life of Lexington. (Mayo, 1999, page 30)

Dr. Porter Mayo notes that we do not have the constitution and bylaws of the LMS


Robert P. Granacher, Jr., MD, MBA practices clinical and forensic neuropsychiaty in Lexington and Mt. Vernon, KY. He is a noted scientific author and past president of the Kentucky Psychiatric Medical Association. He is currently president-elect of the Lexington Medical Society and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.