Dr. John T. Hodgen, surgeon, teacher, inventor

Elizabeth Davis

It is said necessity is the mother of all inventions and the Civil War certainly had that effect on medical advancements. While doctors in the mid-1860s knew little of germs, basic sanitation or good hygiene, they continued, by trial and error, to make progress in the war against pain and suffering. One such doctor was John Thompson Hodgen.

John T. Hodgen was born in Kentucky on Jan. 19, 1826, to Jacob and Frances Hodgen. The family moved to Pittsfield, Illinois, where John received his early education before going to Bethany College in West Virginia. Hodgen went to medical school at the University of Missouri in St. Louis and graduated in 1848. He was Assistant Resident Physician of St. Louis City Hospital for a year before going into practice with Dr. Joseph N. McDowell. Dr. Hodgen taught anatomy and physiology at the University of Missouri from 1849 to 1853.

Dr. Hodgen and Elizabeth Delphine Mudd were joined in Holy Matrimony on March 28, 1854. Two of their four sons died in infancy.

The Civil War brought many changes. Dr. McDowell joined the Confederacy and Dr. Hodgen relocated his practice to the St. Louis Medical College. He was a surgeon at St. Luke’s Hospital and taught clinical surgery at City Hospital. Dr. Hodgen served as the Union’s surgeon-general of Missouri for two years and helped improve sanitary conditions in St. Louis.

Besides his surgical practice and teaching, Hodgen was constantly inventing surgical devices. He made a wire suspension splint for fractured thighs and a cradle splint which allowed a patient to rest comfortably during recovery from a broken leg. His other inventions included a double-action syringe and stomach pump, a snare for the removal of urethral calculi, and a surgeon’s reel and artery forceps,

Besides his surgical and teaching careers, Dr. Hodgen served as a member of the St. Louis Board of Health from 1867-1871, President of the St. Louis Medical Society in 1872, Chairman of the Surgical Section of the American Medical Association in 1873, president of the Missouri State Medical Association in 1874, a member of the International Medical Congress in 1876 and 1881, and President of the American Medical Association in 1881. He was also one of the founders of the American Surgical Association.

Dr. John Thompson Hodgen died in St. Louis on April 28, 1882, of peritonitis brought on by an ulcerated gall bladder.

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008, She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she syndicated her column statewide in September 2018 and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.davis@gmail.com