In 1827, an unknown person wrote a description of the medical studies of a young man from Lexington, Virginia, William Alexander Graham (1796-1856). Graham was an 1815 graduate of Washington College, the predecessor of Washington and Lee University, and nephew of its first rector, William Graham. This manuscript currently resides in the Special Collections Division of Washington and Lee’s Leyburn Library.
The hand-written manuscript was transcribed by students in the Spring Term of 2012 for the course Learning about the Body: A History of Anatomy and Medical Education (Biology 195), taught by Visiting Associate Professor Judith Gibber. Students also created this online exhibit, which displays portions of the transcribed manuscript together with brief essays about some of the topics mentioned in it.
After college, William Alexander Graham spent part of a “gap year” traveling to the western parts of Virginia (now West Virginia). Daniel Todd mapped the route he took and summarized the natural history he encountered. Graham was impressed by the nearby mineral springs, thought to have medicinal value, as described by Monette Veral. Many of the people he met along the way were named with a military title, and Elena Dorogy traced their roles in the recently-ended War of 1812.
Aspiring to a career in medicine, Graham began the requisite apprenticeship. Laura Wiseman describes his misgivings about his initial training under a young physician in Lexington, and his decision to enhance his preparation with a second apprenticeship in Abingdon, Virginia.
The fall of 1819 found Graham in Philadelphia. Heather Deisher helps the reader understand why he chose the University of Pennsylvania for medical school, and Ann Morris analyzes his comments about one of his professors, the prominent surgeon, Philip Syng Physick. When a classmate became ill with typhus, Graham observed the treatment of this malady by Doctor Nathaniel Chapman, summarized by Benjamin P. Brams. Graham took advantage of many extracurricular activities as well, viewing Benjamin West’s recently completed painting, “Christ Healing the Sick” (Alex Hoey) and attending Robert Hare’s demonstration of the effects of nitrous oxide (Lucas Andersen).
By the fall of 1820, Graham was ready to set up his own medical practice. Returning to Abingdon, Virginia, he encountered competition from established physicians, but as Randl Dent describes, his success in treating a particularly malignant epidemic helped his practice grow. The manuscript includes with some additional details of his lifestyle (Patrick A. Oley) and his experiences with surgery (Crawford Cox).
Special thanks to Brandon Bucy, Senior Academic Technologist, for his assistance with the website.