American Medical Biographies/Bobbs, John Stough

Bobbs, John Stough (1809–1870)

The first cholecystotomy was performed by John Stough Bobbs of Indiana June 15, 1867, a surgeon, born of American-German descent, in Greenvillage, Pennsylvania, on December 28, 1809. He was a man well educated in the fundamental branches and had given attention to philosophical writings. When eighteen he read medicine with Dr. Martin Luther of Harrisburg and after this attended one course of medical lectures, then settled in Middletown, Pennsylvania, where he practised for four years. His final location was Indianapolis, Indiana, following on a course of lectures in Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia where he took two courses of lectures and studied with a preceptor, as required in those days.

He soon took high rank both as a physician and surgeon. When the Medical College of Indiana was organized he was elected professor of surgery and later dean of the faculty. As a practitioner one of his contemporaries states there was less sham about Dr. Bobbs than any physician he ever knew. Up to his death he had never given a placebo and always based his treatment on rational lines. Once when called to see a patient suffering from some acute malady he suspended all medical treatment, saying "why give medicine here without reason or purpose?" He believed strongly in an organized and united medical profession and labored to that end. He was first in the work of establishing the Marion County Medical Society in 1847, and prominent in helping to organize the State Society of Indiana in 1849, being elected president of the latter, when his inaugural address was upon "The Necessity of a State Medical Journal and College." His paper on lithotomy of the gall-bladder was published in the same volume as his presidential address. (Transactions Indiana State Medical Society, 1868.)

The latter part of Bobbs' life was devoted mainly to surgery, and as an operator he was bold and original. Dr. Jameson, whom I quote, mentions an operation in which he assisted in which Bobbs removed the superior maxillary bone together with the eye of the affected side for extensive carcinoma. The operation lasted several hours but the patient made a good recovery. The hemorrhage was so well controlled that little blood was lost. He also mentions a successful operation for extrauterine pregnancy and an unsuccessful one for umbilical hernia. He certainly performed all the usual major operations of the surgery of his day.

During the Civil War Bobbs was a brigade surgeon and medical director for the State of Indiana. He distinguished himself when with Gen. Morris of Indianapolis by bringing a soldier off the field under fire.

He must be remembered also as a public-spirited man intensely interested in civic and state affairs, for one year serving as senator and organizing the Indiana Hospital for the Insane. He may truly be considered as one of the founders of scientific medicine and surgery in the middle west.

In person, we learn, he was slender, of height, with striking features, high forehead, dark gray eyes, large nose and prominent chin. He was generally dressed in black broadcloth. He married, in 1840, Catherine Cameron of Pennsylvania and at his death on May 1, 1870, left $2,000 to establish the Bobbs Dispensary to be managed by the Medical College of the Indiana Faculty. He also founded the Bobbs Library which is under the same direction and contains a most valuable collections of medical works.

The First Nephrectomy and the First Cholecystotomy. M. B. Tinker, Johns Hopkins Hosp. Bull., Aug., 1901, vol. xii.
Memoir of the Professional Life of J. S. Bobbs.
Trans. Indiana Med. Soc., P. H. Jameson, Indianapolis, 1894, xiv.