Ohio History Journal




with difficulty that we refrain from being surprised at ourselves. And our

culture dwarfs that of our fathers to insignificance. We cannot be expected

to judge values according to the standards of a culture which, to us, ap-

pears so naive, so childlike, so unintelligent and emotionally unstable. But

sometimes, when our present world is a bit too much with me, the strident

voice of the news broadcaster comes to me from long ago and far away,

and I hear, from underneath the trees of a firelit camp-ground, the voice

of a Son of Thunder. He is speaking to me, and what he says makes me


"Open the Pit of Hell, O Lord, and show these snivelling

sinners Thy torments! Show them their brothers and their sisters,

their mothers and their fathers, gnashing their teeth and gnawing at

their chains. Make them believe, O Lord! Knock them down!

Knock them down, and show them Thy wrath to come!"





In December, 1835, a twenty-eight-year-old American naval surgeon

took rooms on a narrow Parisian street near the great French clinics and

hospitals which then were the world's leading teaching institutions for young


Dr. Louis A. Wolfley, assistant surgeon on the U. S. S. Delaware,

had obtained leave2 to devote eight months to furthering his medical educa-

tion begun in Cincinnati in November, 1829, at the Ohio Medical College.3

Born in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania on February 19, 1807, Wolfley had

come to Circleville, Ohio, in 1829 with his brother-in-law, Dr. William N.

Luckey. In Circleville, Wolfley helped Luckey mix drugs and roll pills.

Such apprenticeship had been his only preparation for further schooling in

Cincinnati. There, during the winter and spring terms of 1829, this tall

young man listened attentively to the brilliant anatomy lectures of Jedediah

Cobb, and there also, he received his first formal introduction to nineteenth

century chemistry, pharmacy, materia medica, surgery, and the theory and

practice of medicine.

After his graduation in June, 1830, Wolfley did not return to Athens

where he had previously practiced by rule of thumb, but he opened an office

in Lancaster, Ohio, a community of fifteen hundred persons.4  There he

successfully courted Eleanor Ann Irvin, daughter of Judge William W.

Irvin, member of Congress. Wolfley also became acquainted with Senator

1 This paper, dealing especially with the Parisian phase of Dr. Wolfley's career,

is an abridgment of a more extended article prepared by the author and by Howard

D. Kramer, of the State University of Iowa.

2 Mediterranean Cruise, October 9, 1834, Wolfley MSS.; Woodbury to Patterson,

Washington, March 24, 1835, Wolfley MSS.

3 Registrar's office of College of Medicine, University of Cincinnati.

4 See Wolfley's advertisements in Lancaster Gazette, April 5-19, 1830.




Thomas Ewing. Life and medical practice in Lancaster, even in the com-

pany of such distinguished politicians, palled upon the young physician.

"While I am content at Lancaster," he noted in his carefully kept and

introspective diary, "I still think of Paris. I am young, I believe I could

become a citizen of the world."5

This aspiration to become a "citizen of the world," however, was not

the only motive behind Wolfley's decision to join the navy. The life of a

country doctor required first of all a good constitution, then patience in the

matter of pay. Wolfley had neither of these qualities. At the end of his

first short voyage as a naval surgeon, he explained that he had entered the

navy to put an end to "this riding about through mud and rain, losing sleep

at nights and being called out of a warm bed, to go and attend to some

worthless vagabond."6

With the political aid of Irvin and Ewing, Wolfley received a com-

mission as an assistant naval surgeon on June 22, 1832,7 and soon after was

ordered to duty on the sloop St. Louis. Resigning his office as secretary of

the Thirteenth District of the Medical Society of Ohio, Wolfley went to

Norfolk where the St. Louis was at anchor. Later he was transferred to

the Mediterranean squadron, serving as one of the four medical officers

aboard the U. S. S. Delaware.

But life at sea turned out to be no more pleasant than life in Lan-

caster. "Nothing daunts a sailor," sang Wolfley exultantly on starting his

cruise, but when he said this he had not taken into account seasickness.

"My suffering with this salt water malady almost induces me at times to

forswear . . . all salt water life, and to return to terra firma."8

Graduate study in Paris seemed an ideal solution. He could leave the

sea for a time and also he could avail himself of the splendid clinical fa-

cilities in Paris. He had trouble finding suitable lodgings which would fit

his meager budget of fifty-four dollars a month, the amount of his pay

while on furlough. In his first quarters at No. 7 Rue de Tournon, situated

but a few steps from the entrance to the Luxembourg Gardens, he paid

fifty-five francs monthly for his rooms and 115 francs for his board. Fire-

wood and candles were extra. A month later he succeeded in locating

cheaper lodgings, at forty francs, where he stayed most of the time he was

in Paris. This new address was at No. 18 on the Rue de l'Ancienne

Comedie, a narrow, cobblestoned street lined with gabled houses whose cen-

tury-old balconies jutted out over the thoroughfare. On the ground level

dust-covered shops hid their soiled faces behind veils of iron grilling which

provided protection against the violence of street riots. Across from Wolf-

ley's rooms was the Cafe Procope where he often ate his breakfast, probably

thrilled by the thought that Voltaire and Rousseau and Diderot and other

5 Wolfley to Leon Longuemare, Lancaster, March 26, 1830.

6 West Indies Cruise, December 31, 1832, Wolfley MSS.

7 For copy of original commission, see Wolfley MSS.

8 Undated note, in Wolfley MSS.




beaux esprits of the previous century who had used this famous cafe as a

gathering place might have talked to each other across the same table.9

Paris had been driven indoors by an unusually severe winter when

Wolfley arrived, so it was not until later that he made any attempt to see

the sights of the city. However, before settling down to work he called

on a Monsieur Cutter, a tailor, to be measured for clothes; evidently he had

discovered his mufti inadequate in style and cloth for Paris wear. The

stylish young Parisian felt out of place unless he sported a form-fitting

coat, sometimes laced across the front, which descended nearly to his knees

where it flaired decidedly.  His trousers had to be tailored from  striped

or large-checked material and almost skin tight until they belled at the

ankles.10  It was only natural for Wolfley to reconstruct his wardrobe ac-

cording to the dictates of this fashion.

He applied himself industriously to his studies, oftimes attending as

many as four lectures a day and seldom less than one. Most of the hos-

pitals and schools where the doctors lectured to students were grouped

within a narrow compass on the left bank of the Seine. The Hotel Dieu,

opposite the Cathedral of Notre Dame, was one of the oldest, largest, and

most famous hospitals in the world. Here Wolfley followed Roux,11 the

famous surgeon, as he made his rounds of the wards, intently observing his

technique as he performed bedside operations. The Hotel Dieu in 1836 was

probably the best kept and best managed hospital in Europe. It was neat

and well-ventilated, and the provisions supplied to the sick were plentiful

and wholesome. As many as twenty-seven hundred patients could be ac-

commodated in its thirty spacious wards, and its equipment since the cholera

epidemic of 1832 was, due to the many voluntary contributions made at that

time, more than adequate, judged by the standards of this day.

Leaving the Hotel Dieu, Wolfley could, by crossing the Petite Pont

and proceeding ahead a hundred yards or so, reach the Boulevard St.

Germain upon which the Ecole de Medecine faced. Many mornings as early

as six-thirty he made his way to the classrooms in this building to hear

Gabriel Andral12 talk on skin diseases and rheumatism, and to listen to

Auguste Berard13 deliver his brilliant lectures ridiculing phrenology, where,

on one occasion, he used the recently guillotined head of a murderer to illus-

trate his remarks.  Afterwards a two-minute walk down the boulevard

brought Wolfley to the Hopital de la Charite, where he more and more


9 Georges Cain, A Travers Paris (Paris, 1909), 141.

10 Frances Trollope, Paris and the Parisians in 1835 (New York, 1836), passim.

11 Philibert-Joseph Roux (1780-1854) became surgeon at the Hopital de la Charite

in 1810, and later at the Hotel Dieu. After the death of Dupuytren, in 1835, he was

considered the most eminent French surgeon. He specialized in articulate resections.

12 Gabriel Andral (1797-1876) held the chair of hygiene until 1830, then replaced

the famous physician, Francois Joseph Victor Broussais, in the chair of internal


13 Auguste Berard (1802-1846) became professor of anatomy about 1831. His

brother, Pierre-Honore, was professor of physiology.




frequently called to see Velpeau14 operate and noted down his comments on

cases. These places, as well as the Hopital Necker, Hopital de la Pitie,

and Hopital de la Faculte, were in easy walking distance of his quarters on

the Rue de l'Ancienne Comedie.

Wolfley soon settled into a daily routine which varied little. Awake

and through breakfast at Procope's by seven, or even earlier, he usually

went first to the Hopital de la Charite.   Sometimes he remained here

throughout the day, but more often he left at the end of the morning and

employed the hours from noon to three sitting in on lectures at the Ecole de

Medecine or visiting other hospitals. In the evening he usually accompanied

Gilliss or other American friends to the restaurant at the Palais Royal for

dinner. For forty sous, the menu lavishly listed innumerable dishes from

which to choose four, which undoubtedly was for Wolfley an attractive

feature.  Apparently he considered the food--although served in grim-

looking silver bowls--extremely good, for he ate here often.15 After the meal

Wolfley customarily returned to his rooms to read or study. On rare oc-

casions he saw an opera or attended a party which lasted into the small

hours of the morning. On days following these infrequent dissipations, he

seldom called at the hospitals, but remained at home and rested.

The continental system of medical training undoubtedly proved more

valuable and advantageous to Wolfley, an earnest student, than the more

formal method of prescribed courses given at the Ohio Medical College.

The practice of paying fees for only those lessons and lectures attended

enabled Wolfley to stretch his limited resources in the most effective way,

for he was free to select those courses alone which would do him the most

good. He kept a detailed account of his expenses while in Paris, and the

sum he paid for medical fees was carefully recorded.16 To Armand Velpeau,

the surgeon at the Hopital de la Charite, he gave twenty-seven francs for

the privilege of watching him operate, while a private course in dissecting

cost thirty francs. His personal expenditures were kept at a minimum. His

monthly outlay averaged about three hundred francs, an amount well within

his budget, he noted with satisfaction in April. "Thus far we run before

the wind," he commented.

In Paris he studied under some of the world's outstanding doctors.

To his vexation, however, he found that Surgeon Philibert Roux at the

Hotel Dieu was a chronic mumbler, so much so that Wolfley, his ear as yet

not perfectly tuned to French, had trouble following his discourse.  He

liked Velpeau better, who, in a distinct, well-enunciated tone, took care to

inform his listeners of the reasons for every motion in his operations.


14 Alfred-Armand-Louis-Marie Velpeau (1795-1867), "not a scientific thinker, but

a strong, capable, hard-working teacher and operator."  Surgeon to Hopital St.

Antoine, 1828-30; at La Pitie, 1830-34; at La Charite, 1834-67, and for the same time

professor of clinical surgery at the Paris Faculty. Author of Treatise on Surgical

Anatomy (1823), and Diseases of the Breast (1854).

15 Trollope, Paris and the Parisians, 194.

16 Expense account while in Paris, Wolfley MSS.




In the clinics Wolfley saw countless surgical operations, the majority

confined to amputations, fistulas, cataracts, dropsy, and hernia.17 He learned

from Velpeau himself how to apply the famous bandage for fracture of the

clavicle which that surgeon invented. The hand of the injured arm was

placed on the opposite shoulder, with the elbow brought across the front

of the body, tight bandages maintaining it in this position. Wolfley also

witnessed a great number of amputations performed by Roux at the Hotel

Dieu. After sawing through the bone and severing the limb, adhesive tape

was applied over the face of the stump. Infection, as a result, was ex-

tremely common, for in that day antiseptic was unknown.

Because of the many deaths which followed amputations, Wolfley

criticized both Roux and Velpeau for operating so frequently. Another

thing which astonished him was the opinion expressed by both men that an

amputation of a finger was as dangerous as severing a limb near the trunk

of the body. Wolfley's experience apparently had been just the reverse.

Velpeau in addition held the view that amputations were less likely to be

fatal to the sickly than to the strong and healthy. "In the former," this

physician told Wolfley, "the removal of a limb acts like the lopping off [of]

super-numerary branches of a tree, the life of the whole becomes more

robust." As Velpeau continued to lose patient after patient from infection

following minor operations, he became visibly annoyed, finally blaming his

bad luck on the unfavorable weather conditions for operating.

Wolfley did not agree with Velpeau's weather hypothesis. He noticed

that in deaths which resulted after the removal of a finger there was seldom

any sign of inflammation around the wound and the bone usually seemed

sound, but post mortems showed abscesses on the cerebellum and liver.

Also, an extensive suppuration often appeared in and around the arm joints.

Velpeau, attributed death "to the fluids of the body, to absorption of pus, or

to some unknown cause." Wolfley inclined toward the unknown cause as

the responsible reason, saying:

"There is something very strange in this, to me something unac-

countable. Lately there have been no less than three or four

deaths consecutive to operations of fingers [amputated] in this

hospital. And but a few days ago I saw a man who came into

the Hotel Dieu in the morning, having received an injury which

caused the amputation of three of his fingers. He was a healthy

robust-looking man. In a day or two he was seized with shivering

followed by fever and is now in a state of raging delirium, tied

down in bed. What can be the cause of these unfortunate sym-

toms from simple amputations?"

He would have given much to know the answer, for it puzzled him

considerably. Yet he speculated--and very soundly--on the eventual solution


17 Much of the following is taken from the medical notes and clinical ob-

servations, in Wolfley MSS.




of this mystery. The original cause of many diseases, he felt, was some

foreign matter carried in the blood stream. "Even in acute diseases I be-

lieve there is foreign matter introduced into the blood vessels," he wrote in

his notes. Were not fevers and coated tongues and cloudy urine but efforts

of the body to eliminate or set free this contaminating substance?

Six weeks passed after his arrival in Paris before Wolfley signed up

for any formal course of instruction.   Then he took up the study of

stethoscope technique under Adan Raciborski,18 and a little later operative

surgery under Cesar Robert.19 His career as a naval surgeon doubtlessly

influenced this choice. Tuberculosis and other pulmonary diseases were

chronic ailments of the seaman in the navy,20 and a surgeon who availed

himself of a furlough to advance his professional knowledge was expected

by the navy department to take a course in surgery.

Wolfley devoted little time to anything outside his work. Even his

sight-seeing verged on the "postman's holiday," for his walks usually ended

at the Cluny Museum, where he examined Guillaume Dupuytren's medical

collection, or at the cemetery of Pere Lachaise or the Morgue. This last

place, located behind Notre Dame on the south tip of the Ile de la Cite, was

a low white-colored building where each day were displayed for public view

the bodies of suicides or murder victims caught in the net stretched across

the Seine at St. Cloud for that very purpose. As many as eight or ten

during a day's time were hauled out of the muddy water.21 Wolfley on

entering the Morgue walked down the bare straight corridor until he came

to a lighted window on a side wall behind which the bodies lay on display

as if they were merchandise in a shop window. The corpses were tilted at

an angle on their biers so that the onlooker could see all the features. Due

to a bronze coloration spread over the skin, many of them often appeared

as if still alive.22 Wolfley may have stood here for long periods, watching

the parade of anxious faces which came hesitantly to the large window in

search of a missing friend or child or lover.

Wolfley seemed to find the Chamber of Deputies far less interesting

than the Morgue; certainly he observed little more signs of life there than

at the Morgue on the occasions he attended the debates. However, he fol-

lowed the political developments in France closely, for the dispute between

this nation and his own over payments owed the United States was coming

to a head. The French were preparing for a naval war, he wrote home,

a struggle which they evidently expected to make "short and glorious" by

18 Adan Raciborski (1809-1871) was a Polish surgeon who fled to Paris for

refuge when the revolution of 1830 was put down by Russian troops. In 1834, he

was named chief of the clinic of the Hopital de la Charite. He wrote a treatise on

respiratory diseases in 1841, but mainly he specialized in gynecology.

19 Cesar Alphonse Robert (1801-1862), gave his name to a flattened pelvic con-

dition upon which he made many reports. Unable for many years to obtain a pro-

fessorship, despite his recognized ability, he earned his living by private tutoring.

20 "The Founders of Naval Hygiene," United States Naval Medical Bulletin,

XIV (1920), 619.

21 Trollope, Paris and the Parisians, 194.

22 Ibid., 195.




striking "a death blow to our small force."23 He blamed the late Minister

to France, Edward Livingston, who had crossed on the Delaware with him

and whom he had doctored for a cold on that trip, for the critical situation

of the differences with France. His language had not been very diplomatic

in handling these people, "always sensitive on the score of honor."

The news from America which reached Wolfley through the columns

of the newspapers distressed him even more than the strained relations

between France and the United States. He shook his head sorrowfully as

he glanced through the papers which appeared to contain nothing but ac-

counts "of mobs, riots, election murders . . . even lynchings!" What sad

changes must have taken place since he left home. This preyed heavily on

his mind, and doubtlessly as he sat sipping his coffee at a sidewalk table in

the spring his reflections frequently spanned the Atlantic. To his recol-

lection, he could recall in his time no such lack of respect for law and

order, no such want of political honesty, as was registered daily in the

American papers which fell into his hands. The increase of depravity had

been frightfully rapid within the few years he had been abroad, it seemed to

him. Wolfley loved his country and its institutions too deeply not to be

vitally concerned by what was occurring there; all these "horrible" ac-

counts of disorder made him want to see for himself what had happened

in his absence.

By this time, also, he wished for nothing better than to reach home.

His work was nearly finished. As spring advanced and the date for his

departure approached, he became more and more pleased. Yet it was

with a certain regret that he said good-by to Paris, this city where he had

worked so hard, learned so much and whose hospitality he had so enjoyed.

He left Paris on July 11, arriving at London a week later. In the

short period he was here he did and saw almost as much as during the pre-

ceding months in France. He lodged at 101 Regent Street. Some of his

Paris friends were in London; consequently he lacked no companionship for

his strolls about the city or his excursions into the surrounding countryside.

In early August he traveled to Liverpool, where he engaged a cabin

on the packet Susquehanna, Captain Cropper in command.      Sailing on

August 9, he arrived home in September. As the boat came into harbor,

he undoubtedly had never experienced a more contented feeling than this

one of being home again.

Wolfley, upon his return to active duty, found much use for the

surgical knowledge learned in Paris. He did a tour of duty at the Naval

Asylum in Philadelphia in 1839, and the following year was ordered to sea

on the U. S. S. Dale of the Pacific Squadron. In March, 1843, he was rank-

ing surgeon of the U. S. S. Decatur and sailed to join the Africian Squad-

ron. By this time, he was ill both physically and mentally. Before his

23 Wolfley to unknown addressee, written a month after his arrival in Paris,

Wolfley MSS.




mind gave way completely, Wolfley begged his superiors to grant him leave

and return him to Ohio. Two days later, on May 7, 1844, the surgeon was

admitted to the sick list as mentally deranged.24 When the Decatur put in

at Porto Praya, Wolfley's commander determined to leave him in the hands

of the United States Agent for the Cape Verde Islands.

The town of Porto Praya rests on a table-land, high above the harbor

of St. Jago Island. At the eastern and western limits of the village, the

ground falls off sharply into deep ravines. Near the town, and looking down

upon the ocean, stands a fort.25

Wolfley was lodged in the guard-house of this fort, and keepers were

detailed to watch over him. Early on the morning of July 21, 1844, he

succeeded in escaping from his prison and his guards.26 After making his

escape, Wolfley rushed to the edge of a cliff near the guard-house and hurled

his body into space. His life was crushed out on the rocks, eighty feet


He was buried with full honors in the fort at Porto Praya.27  Many

friends of his in the navy joined with Captain Abbot in regretting the death

of this "excellent and worthy surgeon."28


Public Session of the Committee on Archives and Medical

History, 1:00 P. M., April 5, Ohio State Museum Library,

Jonathan Forman, M. D., Presiding

The second annual meeting of the Committee on Archives and

Medical History of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical

Society was called to order by Dr. Jonathan Forman, its chairman,

at 1:00 P. M. on April 5, 1940, in the Library of the Museum. The

program was concerned with "Ohio Medical History of the Period,

1835-1858," and was made up of eight papers which will be pub-

lished in full in the October, 1940, issue of the QUARTERLY.


General Session, 10:00 A. M., April 6, Ohio State Museum

Frank A. Livingston, Presiding

The final session of the Ohio History Conference was the

Saturday morning one sponsored by the Columbus Genealogical

Society and the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society.


24 U. S. Navy Department to Howard D. Kramer, January 6, 1938.

25 U. S. Hydrographic Office, East Atlantic Pilot, H. O., no. 134 (Washington,

1918), 331.

26 U. S. Navy Department to Howard D. Kramer, January 6, 1938.

27 U. S. Senate, Documents, 28 Cong., 2 Sess., 1844-1845, IX Doc. 150, p. 129.

28 Ibid., 146.