“Lewis Samuel McMurtry, Pioneer Gynecologist”
Cecil L. Grumbles M.D.
This distinguished physician was an early Kentucky leader in Obstetrics and Gynecology especially the later.
Born in 1850 in Harrodsburg of modest circumstances, he graduated form Centre College in 1870 and from the Medical Department of the University of Louisiana (now Tulane University) in 1873 with an M.D. degree. He later received degrees of A.M. (1875) and LLD (1909) from the University of Louisiana and LLD (1922) from the Centre. After serving an internship at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, he started practice in Danville, Kentucky with Dr. John D. Jackson.
Dr. Jackson was the Chairman of the Ephraim McDowell Monument Committee when he died in 1875. The Kentucky Medical Association then appointed Dr. McMurtry Chairman, and through this task, he achieved international and national prominence. Correspondence with medical leaders such as T. Spencer Wells of England, Samuel Gross, Oliver Wendell Holmes, T. G. Richardson and J. Marion Sims followed, and copies of some of these may be seen at the Filson Club. Finally, in May, 1879 the ceremony was held in Danville to dedicate the granite monument. Dr. Samuel Gross gave the dedicatory address, which is a masterpiece of medical biography; it forever removed any doubts as to the authenticity of McDowell’s epoch making surgery. Indeed, in his earlier correspondence to McMurtry he takes credit for being the first to “espouse the claims of Ephraim McDowell as the Father of Ovariotomy”. Gross was then presented with the door-knocker from McDowell’s house. The President of the American Medical Association then spoke saying, “McDowell has contributed more to the alleviation of human suffering and the prolongation of human life than any other member of the medical profession in the nineteenth century”.
This great-golden event in Kentucky medicine seemed to propel McMurtry to greater heights. In addition to becoming a student of McDowell history, he traveled widely to expand his surgical skills with training in New York, Philadelphia and various clinics in Europe. During this time he became interested in Gynecology, and in 1883 reported his first Ovariotomy – still rarely done. McMurtry’s fame was enhanced by his ability as an orator, innovator, scholar, author and as a gentlemen.
He married Mary E. Bell of Covington, Kentucky in 1879, but she died soon after the birth of their only child, Mary Louise, in 1880. Dr. McMurtry did not remarry but remained very close to their daughter who would frequently accompany her father on his travels. After moving to Louisville in 1881 (1886?) he became a dominant force in the local medical circles. Initially he served as Professor of Anatomy in the Kentucky School of Medicine before moving to the Louisville Medical College, where he became President of the Medical Faculty and Professor of Abdominal and Pelvic Surgery. All this time he made scientific contributions in several areas, and in 1884 (JAMA 4:464) “a clinical note on broncho-pneumonia with special reference to surface refrigeration for controlling high temperature” appeared. Also, articles on urinary tract tumors, intestinal problems, aseptic surgical technique and general medical history were published. The majority of his some ninety publications related to Gynecology and Obstetrics. He wrote a monograph, A Manual of Nursing in Pelvic Surgery and contributed chapters in two texts – International Text Book of Surgery and Reeds Test Book of Gynecology.
Dr. McMurtry’s leadership qualities were widely recognized by his colleagues as evidenced by this impressive life of honors:
President – Jefferson County Medical Society (3 times)
President – Kentucky Medical Association (1888)
President – American Medical Association (1905-1906)
President – Southern Surgical and Gynecological Association (now Southern
Surgical Association) (1890)
President and a Founder – American Association of Obstetricians and
President – Norton Memorial Infirmary Medical Staff (for many years)
President – Kentucky State Board of Health (1919-1924)
Trustee – American Medical Association (1883-1889 and 1893-1896)
Fellow – British Gynecological Society
Fellow – American Surgical Association
Member – American Gynecological Society
Member – American Surgical Association
Founder – International Periodical Congress of Gynecology and Obstetrics
In 1919 he represented the American Medical Association at the 16th International Medical Congress in Budapest, Hungry. On many occasions, he was asked to serve as master of ceremony, or deliver a principal address or give a eulogy as a result of his great speaking ability. Dr. McMurtry played an important role in the 1908 consolidation of five medical schools in Louisville, thereby, strengthening medical education. The Medical Department of the University of Louisville, thus, absorbed four other institutions.
The American Gynecological Society asked Dr. McMurtry to speak at the centennial celebration of McDowell’s Ovariotomy, and in 1920 he delivered the semi-centennial address at the Medico-chirurgical Society of Louisville.
In 1924, seven days prior to his death and while President of the Kentucky State Board of Health, he wrote a Kentucky Medical Journal editorial blasting a proposed law that would change the nonpolitical make-up of the board to a political one. He said a member should be chosen because he is competent and knows what to do, not because he is either Democrat or Republican. He died at his Louisville home February 1, 1924 after a short illness with pneumonia.
The September, 1925 Kentucky Medical Journal was devoted entirely to Dr. McMurtry. Tributes from all sections of the country are, thus, recorded. Included is a touching tribute from his daughter, Mary Louise Woodson. Dr. Howard A. Kelly of Baltimore wrote, “to us northerners, Mac always possessed that charm of manner, that delightful fluency of speech and that winning accent which seemed naturally to emanate from his gracious personality which connotes the Southern Gentlemen”.
Fifty years after his death the Marie Louise Woodson Foundation was established by the daughter shortly prior to her death at age 96.
“The purposes of this trust are to devote and apply the property vested by this instrument in the Board of Trustees, and the income derived there from, exclusively for the educational, scientific or literary purposes by making direct contributions to or for the benefit of the University of Louisville School of Medicine and the Norton Infirmary. The income shall provide fellowships, to be known as the Dr. Lewis Samuel McMurtry Fellowships, primarily in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in school and Infirmary, and when appropriate, in the Department of Surgery and Pediatrics of the school and hospitals.”
There have been nine McMurtry fellows funded from this foundation.
By this magnanimous gift, the memory and good works of this noble Kentucky son will be perpetuated for the benefit of all.
Additional remarks by Mr. Arnold Lynch, Esq.
Cecil L. Grumbles M.D. Nov. 1981