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Dr. Freeman Allen

March 26, 2013

I am working on a book.  I know it’s cliche-ish.  I’m sure every blogger out there is “working on a book”. 

I was poking around in the stacks at the main Harvard library, as I do in my free time, when I came across a small pamphlet about this guy Dr. Freeman Allen.  Turns out he was the first appointed anesthetist at the Massachusetts General Hospital.  Before there were anesthetists.  Before there was a department of anesthesia or a specialty of anesthesia.  Plus, he was the grandson of Harriet Beecher Stowe.  How come I’d never heard of him?

I started writing about Dr. Allen, but soon discovered I had either a very long article or a very short book.  Here are a few interesting things about him:

His father was an episcopal minister.  No one else in his family was a doctor.

He married the “girl next door” who lived 2 blocks from him on Beacon Street in Boston, in the house that today is a museum called “The Gibson House” that is open for visitors.

He was mentored by members of the Warren family, the guys that founded Harvard Medical School, MGH, the Brigham, and the AMA.

He climbed mountains for fun.

He gave himself yellow fever as part of the experiments during the Spanish-American war that led to the eradication of that disease.

I have started to expand my historical research to include friends and associates of Dr. Freeman’s, the clubs he belonged to in college, where he travelled, what he published.  Why would a Boston Brahmin with a double Harvard education and every opportunity decide to specialize in a field in which there was no field?  Anesthesia during Freeman’s time (1900-1930) was done by the interns, the medical students, or the nurses.  He could have had a long and comfortable life as a member of the surgical elite of Boston.

Does it sound interesting?  Will I have any readers other than my mother and the two medical history buffs still alive?  I dunno.  But I’m doing it anyway.

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7 Comments
  1. Hummingbird permalink

    I am interested in knowing more….

  2. Diane Wills permalink

    So am I. I’ll buy and read the book.

  3. I also would read this – but then, I minored in History of Medicine in library school.
    Do you have a target date, or are you collecting a mailing list.
    Cause you can only read The King of Maladies so many times.

  4. Deborah permalink

    Have you looked at his obituary in the Baltimore Sun. It states that he was a descendent of the
    Warren family that helped found Harvard. It also states that he was a 6th generation surgeon.

    • Thanks Deborah. Freeman actually married a Warren – the daughter of Rosamund Warren, a sister in the family in which multiple generations produced famous doctors. I will check his Baltimore Sun obit.

      • Deborah permalink

        Sounds like Dr. Freeman Allen did a lot of interesting, and important work for the world….as well his family. I knew his daughter who was a wonderful, beautiful, and eccentric traveler, teacher, healer.

  5. Deborah permalink

    Hi, my curiosity led me to speak too quickly…it is most likely his granddaughter that I knew and her father had the same name. He died in 1993 at the age of 77.

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