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About the Department

Positions Held by Samuel M. Smith


Chair of Medical Jurisprudence and Insanity: Willoughby Medical College of Columbus

Dr. Smith's appointment to the Chair of Medical Jurisprudence and Insanity at the Willoughby Medical College of Columbus was not his first medical teaching experience. Eight months earlier, the Columbus Ohio Press announced a four month series of lectures on Materia Medica and Therapeutics delivered by Dr. Smith for the Columbus Medical and Surgical Institute. These lectures began on March 10, 1847 (34). Three of the five faculty named to this Institute--Drs. Smith, Butterfield and Richard L. Howard were members of the first faculty of the Willoughby Medical College of Columbus. There is no record that the Columbus Medical and Surgical Institute had a charter to confer medical degrees, and like a number of antebellum schools of medical instruction in Ohio it most likely had a brief existence.

Surgeon General of Ohio

Dr. Smith held many offices of trust and honor. In 1859 Governor Salmon P. Chase appointed Dr. Smith Surgeon General of Ohio, a position he held again during the Civil War from 1862 to 1864 (28). The responsibilities as Ohio's Civil War Surgeon General required tremendous time and energy. Dr. Smith was in charge of sending expeditions to bring wounded soldiers back to Ohio and of equipping and sending surgeons to the front lines. He made expeditions to Pittsburgh Landing, Nashville, Stone River and Antietam. On one of his returns from the lines, he brought back an oak sapling that was split by a cannonball. He planted it on the grounds of the State Capitol where it remained for over one hundred years, not removed until 1964 when the grounds were reconstructed. During the Civil War, he was also a member of the Board of Examiners of Army Surgeons at Camp Chase, west of Columbus (3, pp. 424-25).

Prison Reform Congress / Institute for Deaf and Dumb / Examiner of Pensions

Dr. Smith was a delegate to the Prison Reform Congress held in London in 1872 (35, p. 428). He is said to be the first physician in Columbus to administer chloroform to a woman in labor (28). He was also a physician at the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Columbus and an Examiner of Pensions (35, p. 428). In this latter capacity, he kept a valuable record of different accounts of Civil War battles from soldiers applying for pensions. In 1871 he was a Republican candidate for the State Senate (19).

Ohio State Medical Society

Dr. Smith was an active member of the Ohio State Medical Society (now the Ohio State Medical Association), serving as its twenty-fifth president from 1869 to 1870. Comments made by Dr. Smith in his retiring presidential address seem as valid today as they did then. Dr. Smith explained:

"With all the advantages of the best organized institutions, equipped in every department with the best selected and most abundant means of illustration, the most profound, eloquent and apt teachers--there are some things they cannot command, cannot furnish; of these, the most desirable, the most essential, are brains ... a capacity to receive instruction, a power to appreciate it, an industry that shall persevere until success is conquered."

He went on to note a "want of precision in language," which interfered with communication between medical men. He also disliked /da want of accuracy and care in observation and experiment." He asked, "Where did you observe, how did you observe, and what right have you to observe; what precaution did you take against deception, and what proof do you have that you are not deceived?"

More important than all others, however, Dr. Smith believed that the lack of love for truth was a most disturbing factor in the medical men of his day. He asked what happened to the zeal of the medical student when he departed medical school and answered,

"His zeal abates, his application flags, his energies fail, his ardor for truth cools and he falls into the rut of routine; or seduced by the glare of untried fancies that are constantly arising in his path, he follows with an unstable fitfulness the phantom of the hour."

He goes on to ask,

"Is there any community of a dozen or more physicians that does not have a well-defined representative of the two extremes: the one iterating, reiterating day after day, month after month--yes, year after year the same medicines in the same questionable combinations for half the diseases, with their diversified character, grade and stage that occur in their practice; the other rarely adhering to one course of treatment in the same disease for half a dozen cases in succession or for as many successive months" (37; 40).


* Taken from Pinta, E.R. (1994). A History of Psychiatry at The Ohio State University, 1847-1993, pp. 3-12