American Medical Biographies/Post, Wright

Post, Philip Wright (1766–1828)

Wright Post was born at North Hempstead, Long Island, on the nineteenth of February, 1766, and was educated at home under a private tutor, Dr. David Bailey, at the age of fifteen beginning his medical studies with the celebrated surgeon, Dr. Richard Bayley (q. v.). After four years of hard work, he went to London to continue preparation under Dr. John Sheldon, a celebrated teacher of anatomy and surgery, with whom he lived two years, attending lectures and working in the London Hospital.

In 1786 he returned to New York and began to practise, and in 1787 delivered a course of lectures on anatomy in a spare room of the New York Hospital, where Dr. Bayley was teaching classes in surgery. This course was interrupted by the "doctor's mob," which, excited by some scandalous reports concerning "body snatching," broke into the building and destroyed a valuable collection of anatomical and pathological specimens. In 1792 the professorship of anatomy and surgery in the college medical school, then held by Dr. Bayley, was divided into two parts, and Dr. Post was made professor of surgery. Meanwhile he visited Europe and collected materials for a museum. For half a century this remained one of the largest anatomical cabinets in America. Dr. Post performed several important surgical operations, the most distinguished of these was the tying of the subclavian artery above the clavicle. In 1792 Dr. Bayley exchanged chairs with Dr. Post, who remained professor of anatomy till 1813. When the medical school of Columbia became consolidated with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, he became professor of anatomy and physiology in the new faculty.

He received an honorary M. D. from the University of the State of New York in 1814. His reputation lies almost entirely in his surgical achievements, for he published few papers of importance. He held a surgeoncy to the New York Hospital; was an active officer of the New York County Medical Society; and from 1820–26 was president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The following account of Post by Valentine Mott gives some idea of the character of the man:

"Wright Post was at that time a man of about forty years of age, tall, handsome, and of fashionable exterior, wore long whiskers and his hair powdered and tied back in a queue. Those who recollect his thin worn figure in later years, wrapped in a furred surtout, could scarcely have recognized in him the elegant gentleman of my early days. Dr. Post had at this time attained to the very highest rank in his profession, both as a physician and surgeon, and although equalled in the extent and renown of his surgical practice by his distinguished colleague in the New York Hospital, Dr. R. S. Kissam (q. v.), he stood, perhaps, alone in its lucrative practice and in the estimation and confidence of the higher walks of society. He was unrivalled as an anatomist, a most beautiful dissector, and one of the most luminous and perspicuous teachers I have ever listened to, either at home or abroad. His manners were grave and dignified; he seldom smiled, and never trifled with the serious and responsible duties in which he was engaged, and which no man ever more solemnly respected. His delivery was precise, slow and clear, qualities inestimable in a teacher, and peculiarly adapting his instructions to the advancement of the junior portion of the class. He was one of the first American pupils (preceding Dr. Physick) of the celebrated John Hunter, of London, from whose lips and those of Mr. Sheldon, he imbibed those principles of practice which he afterwards so ably and usefully applied.

"Two great achievements are on record to attest his powers. He was the first in this country to tie, successfully, on the Hunterian principle, the femoral artery for popliteal aneurysm. On the second memorable occasion, I had the honor to assist him; it was a case of ligature of the subclavian artery above the clavicle, without the scaleni muscles, for an aneurysm of the brachial, involving the axilla. The patient came to me from New Haven, in company with an intimate professional friend of mine, the late Dr. Gilbert; the aneurysm was cracked and oozing, and supported by layers of adhesive plaster, by which its rupture was prevented, and life maintained until the time of the operation. The brother of the patient, a merchant of New York, whose family Dr. Post attended, naturally preferred that he should perform the operation, as I was then quite young. To this wish I cheerfully acceded, but lost thus the chance of gaining a surgical laurel for my brow—the operation never having been performed in this country before, and but once in Europe, and then unsuccessfully, by its first projector, Mr. Ramsden, of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London. This is now, happily, a well recognized surgical procedure, which six times I have successfully performed. In this operation, the American needle for the ligature of deep-seated arteries was first used in New York, and it belonged to me.

"He married Miss Bailey of New York in 1790. After a career of forty years as a professor of anatomy, he retired into private professional life, in which he continued active, with occasional intervals of ill health, until his death, in the sixty-fourth year of his age. He died on the fourteenth of June, 1828, at Throg's Neck, New York, universally esteemed, deeply regretted, and leaving a good posterity."

Valentine Mott's Address, College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, 1850.
Amer. Med. Biog., S. W. Williams, 1845.