American Medical Biographies/Isham, Ralph Nelson

Isham, Ralph Nelson (1831–1904)

Ralph Nelson Isham was one of the original founders in 1859 of the Chicago Medical College, now the Northwestern University Medical School, which was one of the first schools to require a three years' course.

He was professor of surgical anatomy and then professor and professor emeritus of general surgery in the college from its foundation until his death. He was at one time or another connected with the Cook County, Mercy, Presbyterian and Passavant Hospitals.

He was born in Manheim, New York, March 16, 1831. His father, Nelson Isham, M. D., Yale, 1828, served in the field for four years in the 91st New York volunteer regiment. His mother was Delia Snell. Ralph was educated in the Herkimer Academy and graduated from Bellevue Hospital Medical College in 1854, where he afterward served as interne. Tuberculosis of the lungs, acquired during his service, was completely cured by a few voyages to Liverpool on a clipper ship as ship's surgeon.

In 1855 he moved to Chicago and in 1857 married Katherine Snow, daughter of George W. Snow; their children were George S., Ralph, Mrs. A. L. Farwell and Mrs. George A. Carpenter. His start in his profession was made by doing a tracheotomy for quinsy on a son of the leading Presbyterian minister. This locally hitherto unheard of proceeding was seriously opposed by many of the good parishioners as a direct interference with Providence. Whether Providence, not being informed upon surgical methods, had not made the child quite sick enough, is not stated. At the beginning of the Civil War he was actively engaged with the Sanitary Commission and from 1862 to the close of the war was the chief surgeon of the Marine Hospital in Chicago which was changed to a Military Hospital.

He died in Chicago of cancer of the pylorus, May 28, 1904.