American Medical Biographies/Hamilton, Frank Hastings

Hamilton, Frank Hastings (1813–1886).

Frank Hamilton was the second son of Calvin and Lucinda Hamilton, born September 10, 1813, in the hamlet of Wilmington, Windham County, Vermont. He came from ordinary people, his father being a farmer and owning a line of stages which ran between Bennington and Brattleboro, across the mountains.

In 1816 his parents moved to Schenectady, New York, where he studied at the Lancasterian School and "The Academy;" in July, 1827, he entered the sophomore class of Union College, and graduated A. B. from this institution. He then studied under Dr. John G. Morgan, of Auburn. During this period he kept bright his anatomical knowledge by painting in oil nearly every part of the human form. A full course of lectures at the Fairfield College of Physicians and Surgeons, in 1831, a license from the Cayuga County Medical Censors, and a formal graduation in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania in 1835, gave him the needed authority for his life work.

"About this time," says the late Dr. Samuel W. Francis (q. v.), "young Hamilton was appointed demonstrator of anatomy, made all the dissections, lectured to attentive students, and subsequently, when Dr. Morgan was called to the professor's chair at Geneva Medical College, in accordance with the wishes of those around him he delivered a full course of lectures on anatomy and surgery. He continued to lecture until the year 1838. On January 23, 1839, he assumed the chair of surgery in the Western College of Physicians and Surgeons, and then again, August 10, 1840, took a corresponding position in the Geneva Medical College. Here he remained for nearly four years, when, his ambition once more getting the better of him, he gave up his chair and went to Buffalo to resume practice as a surgeon. In 1843 and 1844 a visit to Great Britain and the Continent, extending over a period of seven months, supplied materials for a diary, which soon after appeared in the Buffalo Medical Journal.

In Buffalo Hamilton met Dr. Austin Flint, Sr. (q. v.), and the two became great friends. In 1864 they, together with Dr. James Platt White (q. v.), also of Buffalo, added to the University of Buffalo a medical department, which rapidly became one of the features of the institution. Dr. Hamilton became its professor of surgery. For twelve years, from 1846 to November 28, 1858, he retained his position in the University, and then moved to Brooklyn. Hardly had he got fairly settled in his new home, and become the first professor of surgery that the Long Island College Hospital ever had, when he entered the army as a volunteer regimental surgeon, being assigned to the thirty-first New York Infantry. On February 9, 1863, he was appointed, by the president and senate, medical inspector of the United States Army, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. After two years and four months of active service he resigned his commission and returned to New York on September 10, 1863.

In April, 1861, he became professor of military surgery, fractures and dislocations, and professor of clinical surgery in the Bellevue Hospital Medical College. He remained in these positions until May, 1868, when, upon the resignation of Dr. James R. Wood (q. v.), he was made professor of the principles of and practice of surgery and surgical pathology and continued in this capacity until March 15, 1875, when he resigned.

His writings include:

"Life and Character of Dr. T. Romeyn Beck." Published by order of the Senate of New York State, 1856, "Compound Fractures of Long Bones," 1857; "Treatise on Fractures and Dislocations," 1860; Second edition, 1862. "Treatise on Military Surgery and Hygiene." First edition, 1862. Second edition, 1865.

Many articles of his also appeared, at various times, in the Buffalo Medical and Surgical Journal. "A treatise on the Principles and Practice of Surgery" was first published in 1872, a third edition of which was issued a few weeks before his death. "Surgical Memoirs of the War of the Rebellion," edited by him, was published in 1871 under the direction of the United States Sanitary Commission.

Skin-grafting was probably first suggested by Hamilton, then of Buffalo, in 1847. In 1854 he reported a case in which he had successfully grafted a large raw surface caused by a heavy stone falling on a man's leg.

As an inventor and contributor to the armamentarum chirurgicum, he dispensed with the useless and clumsy for the practical and efficacious. He rendered more precise the methods of amputation through the joints by a resort to so-called "keys" and "guides."

In 1855 he was chosen president of the New York State Medical Society; in 1857 was president of the Erie County Medical Society; in 1866 of the New York Pathological Society; in 1875 and 1876 of the New York Medico-Legal Society; in 1878 of the American Academy of Medicine; in 1878 and 1885 of the New York Society of Medical Jurisprudence; from 1880 to 1884 he was vice-president of the New York Academy of Medicine. In 1868 he was made Honorary Associate Member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and in 1869 the trustees of Union College conferred upon him the degree of doctor of laws.

His conduct as consultant in the case of the lamented Pres. Garfield, at whose bedside he was a conspicuous figure, and his candor in joining in the publication of the true causes of the embarrassments in treatment, as revealed by the necropsy, have passed into the noted annals of surgery.

Dr. Hamilton was twice married. His first wife was Mrs. Mary Virginia McMurran, a daughter of Isaac Van Arsdale, a planter, living near Shepherdstown, Virginia. She died on April 8, 1838, leaving one son, Theodore B. He married a second time on September 1, 1840, his bride being Mary Gertrude Hart, daughter of Judge Orris Hart, of Oswego, New York. By his second wife, who died in July, 1885, Dr. Hamilton had three children. His valuable library was purchased by Dr. J. B. Hamilton (q. v.) of the United States Marine Hospital Service, and his unique collection of surgical specimens was bequeathed to the Army Medical Museum in Washington. He died in full possession of his faculties at his home in New York, of fibrous phthisis, on August 11, 1886, after protracted suffering.

Abridged from a biog. in Med. and Surg. Rep., Philadelphia, 1864–5, vol. xii.