Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The story of Dr. Elijah Dewey Harmon, the "Father of Medicine" at Chicago.

Dr. Elijah Dewey Harmon
Elijah Dewey Harmon (1782-1869) was born at Bennington, Vermont, on August 20, 1782. He was the eldest son of Ezekiel Harmon, descended from John Harmon, who came to America in 1636 and settled at Springfield, Massachusetts. The Harmon genealogy now contains more than three thousand names.

Dr. Harmon studied medicine with Dr. Swift of Manchester, Vermont, and settled at Burlington, in that state, in 1806. He continued in practice there until 1812, when he entered the medical service of the government and served through the war. He was an assistant surgeon on Commodore McDonough's flagship, the Saratoga, in the battle of Plattsburg, September 11, 1814. After the war, he resumed practice at Burlington until financial reverses in 1829 brought about his removal West.

In May of 1830, he journeyed to Chicago and was installed as a surgeon in Fort Dearborn. At that time and for two years he was the only physician of whom we have any account at Chicago. When his family arrived the next year they brought his medical library, long unequaled in Chicago. When the cholera was brought to Chicago by General Scott's army in 1832, Hannon took care of the garrison through the epidemic. In the same year, Harmon did the first surgical operation in Chicago, which was the amputation of the frozen feet of a mixed-race Canadian.

In the spring of 1833, he preempted 130 acres of land next to the lake south of what is now 16th street and he built a log-house on the property and resided there until 1834 or 1835, when, in common with many others, he was seized with the Texas land fever and went to that state. He settled at a town called Bastrop, where he acquired six leagues (26,570 acres) of land.
After five years in that sparsely settled region, he returned to Chicago in 1840 for the more profitable practice of his profession. His home was at the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Harmon Court (today's 11th Street), which was named in his honor.

Retired from active practice he gradually withdrew and passed his last years in the cultivation of his lovely flower garden. He was called by the profession the “Father of Medicine" at Chicago. His death occurred on January 3, 1869, at the advanced age of 86+ years. He is buried at Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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