Open main menu

Caldwell, Charles (1772–1853).

Charles Caldwell, physician and author, was born in Caswell County, North Carolina, May 14, 1772. His father came to this country from the North of Ireland and Charles probably inherited from his father his tenacity of purpose and possibly a certain belligerency which characterized his whole life. His opportunities for education were very limited, yet so great was his mental ability and activity that at the age of eighteen he was elected principal of a literary academy. Having decided to make medicine his profession, he spent a year and a half with a preceptor and then went to Philadelphia where he entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1792. Here he was pupil and friend of the eminent Dr. Benjamin Rush, but his overweening self-confidence and self-assertiveness finally made a breach in* their friendship and aroused the antagonism of Rush and also of the trustees. He was surgeon of a brigade during the "Whiskey Insurrection" and distinguished himself in the yellow fever epidemic in 1793. In 1810 he filled the chair of natural history in the University of Pennsylvania, and, on moving to Lexington, Kentucky, was professor of materia medica in Transylvania University from 1818 to 1837, the medical department of which he helped to found. His brilliancy as a writer and speaker undoubtedly did much to attract the very large classes which soon gathered at Lexington.

With the increasing facilities for travel Lexington soon felt the keen competition of the rival towns, Louisville and Cincinnati. Public-spirited citizens planned the establishment of medical schools and sought the valuable aid of Dr. Caldwell. He decided upon Louisville and, in 1837, went to that city and by his eloquence and zeal soon secured the active cooperation of leading citizens in founding the Louisville Medical Institute, afterwards merged into the University of Louisville as its medical department. With this institution he continued as professor of materia medica until within a few years of his death which occurred in Louisville on July 9, 1853.

In person, Dr. Caldwell was tall and commanding; a fluent, forcible and graceful speaker; a writer gifted with an unusual vocabulary, singularly clear and incisive. His catalogue of published writings enumerates over two hundred different essays, addresses, pamphlets and books. His bent of mind was controversial and was the cause of the many antagonisms which embittered his life. The strong self-reliance, assertiveness and egotism which perhaps offended many were the necessary elements of character which enabled him to be the "pioneer of medical schools and medical philosophy in the Mississippi Valley and premier in the founding and establishment of two of its most famous schools." A full list of his many writings is given in his Autobiography published by Harriot W. Warner, Philadelphia, 1855.

History of the Medical Department of Transylvania University, Dr. Robert Peter.
Filson Club Publication, No. 20, Louisville, Kentucky, 1905.
Biog. Notice of Charles Caldwell, B. H. Coates, Philadelphia, 1855.
Am. Med. Month., N. Y., 1856.
Richmond and Louisville Med. Jour., Louisville, 1869, vol. vii.
Richmond and Louisville Med. Jour., H. W. Warner. Louisville, 1872, vol. xiv, 349–360.
St. Louis Med. and Surg. Jour., W. L. Linton, 1853, vol. vi.
Trans. Ky. Med. Soc., L. P. Yandell, 1876, vol. xxi.
West. Jour. Med. and Surg., L. P. Yandell, Louisville, 1853, 3. s. vol. xii.