The Tracy Family History
Ephraim McDowell, MD
famous surgeon

(Courtesy of McDowell House Museum, 125 South Second Street, Danville, KY)

                        this is the family tree of Dr. Ephraim McDowell; the four generations of Dr. Ephraim McDowell

Michael Woods Sr., of Blair Park, marries Lady Mary Campbell. They have a daughter...

Magdelene, a great beauty and sister to my 6th great grandmother, Martha Woods. Magdelene marries Capt. John McDowell, killed at Balcony Falls. John and Magdelene have a son...

Col./Judge Samuel McDowell, a commander at Kings Mountain, who marries Mary McClung, the most beautiful woman in Virginia. They have a son...

Doctor Ephraim McDowell, one of 11 children. Being McDowells, we find 1 brother with the title of Major and 2 as Colonels, another as Judge. His sister, Martha, married Colonel Buford who commanded at the Battle of Waxhaws, Buford’s defeat.



(Courtesy of McDowell House Museum, 125 South Second Street, Danville, KY)

    What was Doctor Ephraim McDowell’s claim to fame? On Christmas Day 1809, he would perform the world’s first ovarian tumor removal from a 46- year-old woman. So ahead of its time was this procedure that the authorities on the Continent refused to believe it could even be done. It would be years before the world’s greatest doctors would acknowledge his feat.
   It was not long after the Revolutionary War, and the European ruling class still held America in ridicule as a 5th rate, backwoods country that would never amount to anything.
   The surgery was in fact performed by a country doctor on the Kentucky frontier, to which one could travel only by trail, or at the best on a primitive wagon road.
   This operation started the world on the path to abdominal surgery.


                                                       (Courtesy of McDowell House Museum, 125 South Second Street, Danville, KY)

    This is the operating room of the famous surgery. It is remarkable, that without any assistance, not even a nurse, and no precedents to guide him, and without anesthesia, Dr. McDowell removed a 22 ½ pound tumor, and the patient lived for another 30 years.
   As for the patient: She is Jane Todd Crawford, born in Rockbridge Co., Virginia.
   Her marriage is performed by the Rev. Sam Houston. Later she moves to Kentucky. (You see a pattern developing; Rockbridge Co., then off to Kentucky.)
    Some historian say she was second cousin to Mary Todd Lincoln. Others disagree.

    It was the custom at the time, and even until the Civil War, for doctors to be trained by apprenticeship. This was not the case with Ephraim McDowell. His family's aristocratic wealth and privilege would allow him a liberal education.
    Born in Rockbridge Co., Virginia, as a teenager he moves with his parents to the wilderness frontier of Kentucky. Even on the frontier he is educated in Danville and at Bardstown, KY, then Lexington, VA. He studies medicine at the Alexander Humphreys Medical School in Staunton, Virginia. Dr. Humphreys is no hick doctor as he had studied medicine at Edinburgh University in Scotland.
    Where are the world’s finest medical schools? In Scotland, of course. So Ephraim takes voyage to Scotland and for two years studies at Edinburgh University, at the time the world's most famous medical school.
    No fly-by-night school; established in 1583, the school is still teaching medical students today.
    At the University, Ephraim studies under, and forms a friendship with the famed surgeon, John Bell.
    Ephraim McDowell begins practicing medicine in Danville, KY., in 1795. Being a McDowell he of course marries the governor’s daughter.
    Dr. Ephraim McDowell became quite famous and patients come from great distances to be treated by him. However, he does not let the world know of his ground-breaking surgery for some years. He continues to quietly repeat this operation without the world taking notice. It is some years afterwards that he lets the medical establishment know what he has done.
    The great doctors of the time, even in America, refused to believe his claims. It would be even more years before his great feat would be recognized and accepted.
    If he had been other than an American, if he had lived in Europe, then his accomplishment would have been immediately recognized and he would have been given great honor. Dr. Ephraim McDowell would have been accepted into the great scientific societies of the day.
    We are fortunate that the McDowell House has been a museum since 1939. It is even designated a National Historic Landmark.


(Courtesy of McDowell House Museum, 125 South Second Street, Danville, KY)

Dr. McDowell and the President-to-be.

    In 1812, the father was taking his teenage son, James K. Polk, to Philadelphia to see the finest doctor in America. The boy had always been sickly. Too sick to continue the journey, someone recommended Dr. McDowell who was close by.     The operation took hours and historians believe it left Polk sterile as he had no children. There is a letter, still in existence, written by the former President thanking Dr. McDowell, for relieving him of his bladder stone, and apparently also a later operation for a hernia. These operations would leave the eleventh President in relatively good health for the rest of his life.
    Family tradition says that Dr. McDowell was the second for Andrew Jackson in one duel and possibly another. Nothing better than having an on-the-spot surgeon for this sort of activity! They were personal friends.
   The McDowell House Museum is estored, furnished and open to the public, it is owned by the Kentucky Medical Association. It was furnished by the Auxiliaries to the Kentucky Medical Association, by the Colonial Dames of America, by Chapter IX, by McDowell and Shelby family members, (The doctor married a Shelby.) and by other interested groups and individuals. The apothecary shop was restored by the Pharmacists of Kentucky, and by the pharmaceutical giants Eli Lilly Foundation, and Pfizer Laboratories.
    The house is furnished by period pieces and even some artifacts, which belonged to the family. This includes a plate, which tradition says, belonged to Magdelene. “The apothecary shop houses an extensive collection of medical instruments and apothecary ware.”
    The house just had its 200-year anniversary. They have lots and lots of things to do, and the children are not left out. There are plays, family reunions, and genealogical workshops, and lots more. The gift shop has many books, pamphlets, sketches, and other items for sale. This is where you can purchase a copy of the book McDowells in America, A Genealogy, by Dorothy Kelly McDowell.
    You can order a book on the life of Dr. Ephraim McDowell through the museum.
    The staff has been most helpful in providing me with information and photos for this chapter.

McDowell House Museum
125 South Second Street, Danville, KY 

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