American Medical Biographies/Anderson, William

Anderson, William

William Anderson, English surgeon and anatomist, who coming to the United States in 1820, thoroughly identified himself with American medicine, deserves a place in biographies of medical men of this country. He was a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. He lectured in New York on surgical anatomy to a class of students, holding the exercises in Murray Street; he spent some time in Philadelphia, and was professor of anatomy and physiology in the Vermont Academy of Medicine. His associates in New York were Valentine Mott and Wright Post; one of his pupils was David L. Rogers, author of "Description of a New Instrument for exercising the Tonsils" (1831); and "Surgical Essays and Cases in Surgery" (1849).

Anderson's friendship for Valentine Mott is strongly expressed in the dedication to his "Surgical Anatomy" as follows: "Dedication to Valentine, professor of surgery in the University of the State of New York, whose private life is to his credit as a man; whose liberal motives and honourable endeavours to improve his profession, are an example to his brethren, and whose acquirements in the several departments of scientific and practical surgery, are an honour to his country, this volume is presented in testimony of the esteem, respect, and friendship of the author."

The work containing this interesting dedication is: "System of Surgical Anatomy. Part first, on the Structure of the Groin, Pelvis, and Perineum, as Connected with Inguinal and Femoral Hernia; Tying the Iliac Arteries; and the Operation of Lithotomy" (1823). Nine plates are a feature of the book, as four are made by Asher Brown Durand (1886– 1896), and all of them engraved by him. As examples of Durand's work (he was apprenticed to the engraver, Peter Maverick, in 1812) these plates are notable; four of the plates were made by Benjamin A. Vitry who later went to study medicine in Paris, of him Dr. Anderson says: "I think much is to be expected from him from the talent he has evinced in this department of the fine arts." Anderson declared his purpose was to "continue the subject of surgical Anatomy yearly until a Series shall be completed," but this seems not to have been carried out. He instructed his students that "the surgeon be the medical philosopher; he must be the complete physician, he must have the brain of a man of science; for this is the great and high qualification that the operator should possess; he must know when to operate as well as how to operate; and he must be able moreover to anticipate the issue of his patient's case."

He edited John Shaw's "Manual for the Student of Anatomy," the "First American from the Last London edition" (1825).

He edited an edition of Samuel Cooper's "Dictionary of Surgery" (1823), and wrote an appendix to each of the two volumes, giving as one reason the omission in Cooper's work of "some brilliant surgical achievements, that have their origin on this side of the Atlantic."

In 1837 he is shown as being active in the endeavor to establish a hospital in New York, writing to Mayor Aaron Clark of the city a "Project for the Foundation of an Hospital, to Be Called the Samaritan, Proposed to Be Attached to the Medical. Department of the University of the City of New York..." (City Document, August 18, 1837, pp. 287–388.)