First Surgical Operation in Madison

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First Surgical Operation in Madison


Many of our students of Kentucky history could tell us that the first successful abdominal ovariotomy surgery in the world was performed by Dr. Ephraim McDowell in 1809, in his Danville, Ky. office. However; we suspect that few, if any, know of the first pioneer surgical effort along these lines in Madison County.

A middle-aged lady identified by the newspaper accounts as Miss Martha Smith, a resident of Madison County, was a patient of Dr. John M. Foster, a Richmond physician for many years. During the year 1887, Miss Smith noticed a swelling in her abdomen which Dr. Foster diagnosed as an ovarian tumor. By autumn of that year the tumor became so large that the pain and physical handicap made it necessary for something to be done at once.

Dr. Foster called in for assistance, Dr. T.S. Taylor and a Dr. Jennings, both fellow Richmond physicians. The actual surgical operation took place on October 12, 1887. In all probability it was performed in the Main Street office of Dr Foster, although the newspaper did not disclose the location for fear of some repercussions against the physicians, who, by the way, did not even know that their names would be revealed to the public.

The editor of the Climax waited a week to announce that this first surgical operation in the community had taken place, in order to be sure that the patient was recovering. He was well aware that there were many persons of that day who considered the cutting open of a person and poking around in his insides as unnatural or against the will of God.

With crude instruments and experimental methods, these four brave persons entered into the dangerous experience. Chloroform was probably used to render the patient largely unconscious in order for her to stand the pain. After a session of some length, the tumor was removed and the patient was sewed up layer by layer with sterilized thread. Dr. Foster later reported that when they placed it on the scales, the tumor weighed 40 pounds.

Several hours after the operation the patient had regained consciousness and was able to take some nourishment. After about 48 hours, Dr. Foster told Miss Smith's family that the danger was over and that she was sure to recover. The Climax editor exclaimed that those involved "deserve vast praise for undertaking and successfully conducting so rare and hazardous a performance."


Dr. Robert Grise




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Dr. Robert Grise, “First Surgical Operation in Madison,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed May 19, 2024,