American Medical Biographies/Atlee, John Light

Atlee, John Light (1799–1885)

John L. Atlee was born November 2, 1799, and passed practically all of his active life in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he died October 1, 1885. He received the degree of M. D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1820. Although he had a very large general practice, it was in the fields of surgery and obstetrics that he won his chief celebrity. He was engaged in active practice for a period of sixty-five years, during which time he performed 2,125 important surgical operations, including ovariotomy, lithotomy, amputations, operations for strangulated hernia, trephining, ligation of arteries, tracheotomy, and operations on the eye. He also attended 3,264 parturitions.

Dr. Atlee's chief claim to fame, however, is that he was the surgeon who revised the operation of ovariotomy. This operation had been suggested by William Hunter in 1762, and was subsequently alluded to as feasible by John Hunter and by John Bell.

Ephraim McDowell (q.v.), of Kentucky, was so impressed with the teaching of the latter that upon his return to the United States in December, 1809, he successfully removed an ovarian cyst by abdominal section. The operation was, however, regarded with such general disfavor that prior to 1843 but five cases were reported. On the twenty-ninth of June, 1843, Dr. Atlee performed his first operation of ovariotomy, removing both ovaries with complete success. During the period from 1843 to 1883, Dr. Atlee performed the operation of ovariotomy seventy-eight times, with sixty-four recoveries and fourteen deaths.

He was held in the highest esteem both within and without his profession. He was president and one of the founders of both the State Medical Association and the American Medical Association, also professor of anatomy and physiology in Franklin and Marshall College, and president of the board of trustees of the State Lunatic Asylum at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Address delivered before the Lancaster City Medical Association, November 4, 1885, by J. L. Ziegler.
Med. Rec., N. Y., 1885, vol. xxviii.
Med. and Surg. Reporter, Phila., 1882, vol. xlvii.
Trans. Amer. Surg. Asso., Phila., 1888, vol. vi.
Trans. Coll. Phys., Phila., 1886, 3, s., vol. viii (D. H. Agnew).