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American Medical Biographies/Wood, Edward Stickney

Wood, Edward Stickney (1846–1905)

Edward Stickney Wood, chemist, teacher, toxicologist and medico-legal expert, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, was born at Cambridge, April 28, 1846 the second son of Alfred Wood, of Wood and Hall, grocers of Cambridge, and Laura Wood, born Stickney, coming of old New England stock. He was, in fact, a descendant of William Wood, who came from England in 1638, and of William Stickney, who came somewhat later. He received the degree of Bachelor of Arts at Harvard College in 1867, and the medical degree at Harvard Medical School in 1871, though he had completed his medical studies at Harvard the year before. During his course at Harvard, he was house officer in the Marine Hospital at Chelsea, and surgical house pupil in the Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1872 he spent six months in chemical laboratories at Berlin and Vienna, and, on returning to Cambridge, was made adjunct professor of chemistry, the full professor being James C. White (q.v.). In 1876 Dr. Wood was himself elected to the full professorship—a position which he held till his death.

As a teacher Dr. Wood was quite remarkable. Thus an anonymous writer in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (vol. 153, p. 126) says of him: "He had the rare faculty of making a subject, dry by comparison with others, such as surgery, which is capable of more brilliant demonstration, attractive by his method of teaching, resembling in this respect his warm personal friend, the late Oliver Wendell Holmes. He won not only the respect of his students but also their affection, and none will regret his death more than those who have had the rare privilege of having received his instruction. He was most just to all his pupils, and, while he insisted on every man's having a sufficient knowledge of the subject before he could receive his degree, he at the same time exercised a wise and beneficent judgment on the work of each individual man, and he must have been a dull person indeed who, after listening to Professor Wood's instruction, was unable to meet the requirement of the examination paper. His success as a teacher, as well as an expert, was in large measure due to a characteristic manifest even in his earliest years as a student himself. It would probably be extravagant to say that Dr. Wood was a genius, but he had that which counts for more than genius in the long run, a tremendous capacity for work and an infinite power of application, an unremitting insistence on taking pains. He never attacked a subject which he did not master thoroughly. What he knew he knew. This same thing he endeavored to instill into the minds of his pupils, and there are many now who have achieved success in their profession because of having followed his example. As a member of the faculty he was invaluable, and the president of the university held him in the highest regard and relied largely on his advice. He always had the warmest interest in the welfare of the school and was a valuable friend and advisor to its dean. Enthusiastic, but still conservative, his counsel will be sadly missed in the future."

As a medical expert Dr. Wood is also said to have been without an equal. Cool, calm, clear-headed, ever impartial and absolutely just, both judge and jury felt that they could rely implicitly on Dr. Wood. Under cross-examination he was simply imperturbable—rare quality indeed in either a common witness or an expert. In almost all the important murder cases of New England Dr. Wood was an expert witness, and many were the verdicts which were rendered on the basis of his honesty and skill.

Dr. Wood was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Public Health Association, the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Boston Society for Medical Improvement, the American Pharmaceutical Association, and the Massachusetts Medico-Legal Society. He was also a member of the committee for the revision of the Pharmacopoeia in 1880, and chemist to the Massachusetts General Hospital from 1873 until his death.

Among the more important articles by Dr. Wood are the following: "Report on the Sanitary Qualities of the Sudbury, Mystic, Shawsheen, and Charles River Waters" (1874); "Arsenic as a Domestic Poison" (Massachusetts Board of Health Report, 1885); "Examination of Blood and Other Stains," and "Examination of Hair" (Witthaus and Becker's "Medical Jurisprudence, Forensic Medicine, and Toxicology," 1894). The Doctor also translated with Dr. E. G. Cutler Neubauer and Vogel's "Analysis of Urine" (1879) and revised, with R. Amory (q.v.), vol. ii of Wharton and Stillé's "Medical Jurisprudence" (1884) on poisons.

Concerning Dr. Wood as a man, we quote the following from the anonymous writer above referred to: "To those who knew him best, who had the privilege of his close acquaintance, if not intimate friendship, the thing which will hold him longest and best will be his charming personality. Whose greeting so cordial, and so gracious? Dr. Wood was essentially a democrat in the best sense of the word. It was this that made him so universally popular, in no cheap sense but in the sense that the man he honored with his friendship, whatever His walk in life, if he rang true, was sure of kindly recognition. He seemed to be fully in touch with Burns when he wrote 'A man's a man for a' that.' While in Europe he acquired a liking for many of the customs of the German fatherland, which induced him after his return to become a member of the Orpheus Verein, of which he was a most respected and beloved member. Here he was always at home, and it was characteristic of the man that he was as equally at ease, equally happy, 'rubbing a salamander' at the Orpheus as at the council table of Harvard. With artist and artizan, mechanic or musician, professor or publicist, Dr. Wood was always on the same plane, equally happy, equally admired and admiring. It is to be doubted if he had an enemy in the world, and although such a condition generally predicates a nonentity it may be safely affirmed that if he had an enemy that man's enmity was a compliment."

Dr. Wood married, December 26, 1876, Irene E. Hills. Of the union was born his only child, Grace, the wife of Dr. Frederick M. Briggs, professor of surgery at the Tufts College Medical School. The wife soon died, but the Doctor continued to reside at Cambridge until his daughter's marriage, when he removed to Pocasset. On December 24, 1883, he married Miss Elizabeth Richardson. He died at Pocasset, of cancer of the cecum, July 11, 1905.

Bost. Med. & Surg. Jour., vol. cliii,. p. 125.
Bull. Har. Med. Alumni Asso., July, 1905.
Harv. Grads. Mag., Sept., 1905. Portrait.
Who's Who in Am., 1904–05.
Private Sources.