A very generous donation of archival materials was given to Becker Library in May 2018 consisting of letters, photographs, case reports, and other papers that had belonged to John T. Hodgen, one of the most prominent 19th century physicians in St. Louis.
Born in Kentucky in 1826, Hodgen spent the majority of his childhood in Pittsfield, Illinois when his family moved there in 1832. Hodgen was a promising student from a young age. He attended Bethany College in Virginia (now West Virginia) for two years, before returning to his hometown in Illinois to study medicine. He served briefly as an apprentice to Dr. Campbell and Dr. Worthington in Pittsfield, before enrolling in medical school at the University of Missouri in 1846. While taking classes at the University of Missouri, located in St. Louis at that time, he studied under the famous Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell, and graduated with his MD in 1848.
Hodgen began his professional career in 1848 at the St. Louis City Hospital, but he worked there for only a few months before traveling to California at the height of the famous “gold rush”. Several letters given to the library in this donation include handwritten notes by Hodgen during his travel to the west coast. Like most “forty-niners”, Hodgen had no luck finding gold, but fortunately, he was able to recoup the cost of his trip by working as a physician to treat the various ailments afflicting the influx of amateur miners.
He returned to St. Louis in 1849, serving as a Demonstrator of Anatomy at the University of Missouri. He was promoted to the Chair of Anatomy in 1854, and he remained in this position until the medical school separated from the University of Missouri in 1857 to become the independently chartered Missouri Medical College, which was led by his former teacher Joseph McDowell. Hodgen remained with the medical school through the transition, but was moved to the Chair of Physiology in 1858. He held this new position until the school closed temporarily in 1862 due to the Civil War.
The outbreak of the Civil War led to a falling out between Hodgen and McDowell, who had been recruited to serve as the Surgeon General of the Confederate Army of the West. Hodgen remained loyal to the Union, and was appointed to the rank of Surgeon General of the State of Missouri in 1862. He also left the Missouri Medical College the same year to join the rival St. Louis Medical College as the Chair of Physiology. Additionally, Hodgen also served as the Chief Surgeon of the 400-bed Western Sanitary Commission in St. Louis during the war. At the conclusion of the war, Hodgen became Dean of the St. Louis Medical College in 1865.
Hodgen excelled in his Deanship at the St. Louis Medical College after the war, becoming one of the most influential and preeminent physicians living in the western United States. He was a member of the St. Louis Board of Health from 1867-1871, President of the St. Louis Medical Society in 1872, Chairman of the Surgical Section of the American Medical Association in 1873, president of the Missouri State Medical Association in 1874, a member of the International Medical Congress in 1876 and 1881, one of the founders of the American Surgical Association in 1880, and President of the American Medical Association in 1881. He died unexpectedly at the age of 56 in 1882.
Once the contents of this wonderful addition to our collection have been sorted and cataloged by the archives staff, they will be added to the library’s John T. Hodgen Collection and open for research.