American Medical Biographies/Isham, Asa Brainerd

Isham, Asa Brainerd (1844–1912)

The Isham family is of English origin. Its ancestry in America has been traced back to 1660 when the first immigrant landed at Cape Cod. One of the descendants was the mother of Thomas Jefferson.

The grandparents of this prominent Cincinnati physician were Asa and Sarah Chapman Isham. His father, Chapman Isham, a merchant and banker, was born in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, February 15, 1814. His mother, Mary Ann Faulkner Isham, was born in Jackson, Ohio, in 1821. Her ancestry in England had been followed as far as the year 1260.

Dr. Isham was born in Jackson, Ohio, July 12, 1844. He received his preliminary education in the public schools of his native town and later graduated from Marietta (Ohio) Academy. After graduation he was employed by the Lake Superior Journal, at Marquette, Michigan, passing rapidly through the stages of printer, foreman and associate editor, his services extending from 1860 to 1862. In the latter year he became city editor of the Detroit Daily Tribune. This training in printing and editing was invaluable as a means of education and in fitting the future physician to spread before the public the results of his experience, both in his military career and in the field of his medical labors.

November 18, 1862, he enlisted as a private in the Seventh Michigan Cavalry and was assigned the duties of postmaster of the regiment, adjutant's clerk and regimental marker. Here began a most honorable military service. In January, 1863, he became sergeant of Company I.

In April and May, 1863, he participated in several skirmishes and on the fourteenth of the latter month was severely wounded in an engagement near Warrentown Junction. Reporting for duty. January 1, 1864, his regiment then forming part of Custer's brigade, he participated in the engagements of the Wilderness, Beaver's Dam Station and Yellow Tavern. At the last place he was wounded again and captured in a charge in which the Confederate General J. E. B. Stuart was mortally wounded. Isham was confined in Libby Prison until June, when he was removed to Macon, Georgia, and in August he was sent to prison in Savannah, whence he was taken to Charleston, South Carolina, and placed under the fire of the Union batteries on Morris Island, being paroled with the sick and wounded, December 10, 1864. Upon again returning to the front he was commissioned first lieutenant and discharged by a board of examiners at Annapolis, Maryland, April 14, 1865.

After the war he engaged in business in Celina, Ohio, and on June 6, 1866, he began the study of medicine with Dr. Alonzo Thrasher Keyt, in Cincinnati, Ohio. The following October he matriculated in the Medical College of Ohio and graduated in 1869 and married the daughter of his instructor, Mary Hamlin Keyt, October 10, 1870. He was professor of physiology in the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery from 1877 to 1880, and in 1880–81 professor of materia medica and therapeutics, translating, as a basis for his lectures, two books from the German. Dr. Isham was pension examiner from July, 1889, to 1893, and from 1886 to 1903 he was a member of the medical board of police examiners of Cincinnati. This was the first board of medical examiners and Dr. Isham rendered his city great service in the reforms he introduced and carried through, working most of his term with his fellow member, Dr. N. P. Dandridge (q. v.). Marietta College conferred on him the degree of A. M. in 1889. He was a member of the board of trustees of the Cincinnati General Hospital from 1901 to 1912 and a member of the Academy of Medicine of Cincinnati from 1889 until his death, being its president in 1902 and a trustee from 1903 to 1912. He was for many years a member of the Literary Club of Cincinnati; of the Marietta Club, of which he was once president, a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows; The Masons; The Grand Army of the Republic; and The Loyal Legion.

Dr. Isham's daughter, Dr. Mary Keyt Isham, a graduate of Wellesley and the eldest of seven children, graduated at the Laura Memorial Medical College, Cincinnati, in 1903, and was interne in the Presbyterian Hospital, Cincinnati, in 1903–1904. She was assistant physician in the Ohio State Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, in 1908, and in 1915, she went to New York City, where she has practised medicine.

On the death of his father-in-law, Dr. Alonzo Thrasher Keyt, Dr. Isham edited the original researches of Dr. Keyt under the title:— "Sphygmography and Cardiography," a work which was received with great interest by the profession.

Dr. Isham was a voluminous writer on subjects both medical and military, a full list of his publications being printed in the Lancet-Clinic, Cincinnati, Mar. 12, 1912, vol. cvii, 333– 339, where there is an extended In Memoriam. Among the tributes there we find this by Dr. Charles Caldwell, his friend and neighbor:—

"In his intercourse with his fellows, Dr. Isham was not what would be called an approachable man. His straightforward steadfast gaze was rather disconcerting to presumptuous efforts at familiarity on the part of those who could not give the countersign, and yet he was by nature diffident and modest to a degree. He was not always at ease with strangers. Perhaps it would be better to say he did not admit people readily to his friendship, nor was he, be it said to his credit, what in the vernacular of the day is called 'a good mixer.' With him, however, once a friend always a friend, and no one having gained his friendship need ever fear an act of disloyalty. Only well substantiated evidence | of unworthiness would lead him to renounce a friend."

Dr. Isham died suddenly at his home in Cincinnati, February 20, 1912.