American Medical Biographies/Skillman, Henry Martyn

Skillman, Henry Martyn (1824–1902)

Henry Martyn Skillman was the youngest child of Thomas T. and Elizabeth Farrer Skillman. His father, a native of New Jersey, came to Lexington, Kentucky, in 1809 and founded there the largest publishing house in the Mississippi Valley. Sprung as Dr. Skillman was from Puritan and Presbyterian ancestors, he inherited the stern sense of duty and principle that characterized them, and passed a long life without departing from the tradition of his forebears. He began life by spending two or three years at Lexington as an apothecary, but determined in 1844 to study medicine and after three years' diligence graduated from Transylvania University in March, 1847.

Early appreciated, he was appointed in 1848 demonstrator of anatomy in the medical department of his alma mater, a position he filled so ably for three successive years that he was appointed to the chair of general and pathological anatomy and physiology in 1851, a position he retained until elected to the chair of physiology and institutes of medicine in 1856, lecturing before large classes, in these branches until the close of the institution in the summer of 1857.

He was distinguished for the accuracy and clearness of his teachings, was painstaking and apt in his instructions, and his knowledge of the branches which he taught was abreast of his day and generation. He was the last surviving member of the medical department of Transylvania University.

On October 30, 1851, he married Margaret, daughter of Matthew T. Scott, president of the Northern Bank of Kentucky.

Among his other appointments he was contract surgeon for the United States Government; president of the Kentucky State Medical Society, 1869. He was the first president of the Lexington and Fayette County Medical Society, in 1889, and it is claimed that he was the first physician in Lexington to administer anesthesia.

He contributed many papers on topics particularly pertaining to medicine and materia medica to the "Transactions of the Kentucky State Medical Society." His knowledge of practical therapeutics was marvelous, which made him an accurate clinician, and his skill in surgery was great, his office being always an attraction for medical students.

The confidence of the people was unbounded. Some of his admirers said, with Calvinistic logic, if "we're tae dee, we're tae, and if we're to live, we're to live," but all said this for the doctor, "that whether you are to live or die, he can aye keep up a sharp moisture on the skin."

Dr. Skillman was active in all public matters and greatly interested in everything pertaining to the growth and prosperity of his native city. He died at Lexington in March, 1902.