Figure 9: Henry Jacob Bigelow, 1818-1890.


Comparative views of Henry Jacob Bigelow.   D.) Portrait by Léon Foucault, 1841, age 23.    E.) Figure 7 detail from EDD No. 1, identified by the author/artist as Parkman. Mistaken for Bigelow by historians.    F.) The etherizer in EDD No. 5, reversed, age 28-29.    G.) Figure 9 detail from EDD No. 1, age 28-29.

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The seminal Abbott operation awakened the surgeons of Mass. General Hospital to the inception of a new and potent muse of surgery and their role in its heralding. Prominent among these subalterns of the "enchanted goblet" was Henry Jacob Bigelow, who was instrumental in getting ether anesthesia instated at MGH (and reinstated after the Charles T. Jackson patent claim suspension). His historic paper on the Abbott operation preempted J. Collins Warren's own report, and proclaimed ether to the medical community worldwide.(39 »»)  For the reenactment scenario to be viable, it is essential that the presence of Bigelow be found within the frame.

To support the widely held thesis of a reenactment scenario, Lowry & Lowry identified Henry Jacob Bigelow in Figure 7, "The man with his hand grasping the chair."(40)  But this is undocumented guesswork and even more tenuous than their identification of J. Collins Warren in Figure 8. Demonstrated by the panel shown here, the facial features of Figure 7 simply don't align with a splendid photograph of Bigelow, taken almost six years earlier by the brilliant young physicist Léon Foucault (1819-1868).(41 »»)  In 1841 Bigelow was a 23-yr-old medical student living in Paris when he befriended Foucault, who was Donné's research assistant in pioneering photomicrography. Paris was the cradle of photography in the 1840's and undoubtedly Bigelow acquired his knowledge of the camera from within the Donné circle, becoming an "expert photographer, untiring in the enigmatic perplexities of that art." (42 »»)  It was a skill he practiced extensively in both his personal and professional life and makes him a claimant to the commissioning of the Ether Dome daguerreotypes.

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Detail from Hinckley's painting of the Abbott operation. The right figure bears a considerable resemblance to Bigelow's profile, but apparently Hinckley painted the left figure to represent him.

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For the counter-argument to the Lowry & Lowry attribution, I contend that Figure 9 of the reenactment daguerreotype is Hall's model for Bigelow in his engraving and flipped by the printing process. Hall's portrait appears to be a composite of Figure 9 in EDD No. 1 (head only), and the etherizer in EDD No. 5 (face only), and possibly the cross-armed figure identified as Dr. Henry G. Clark in EDD No. 3 (body only), which would establish that Hall had access to a copy of that daguerreotype as well. As opposed to Figure 7, the clear visage of the etherizer in EDD No. 5 is a compelling match with Bigelow's student photo, and hardly with the Lowry & Lowry or other legacy attributions that identified Heywood as the etherizer. Heywood was only a factotum in the Ether Dome saga.

To my eye, Bigelow is in all of the Ether Dome daguerreotypes: as Figure 9 in EDD No. 1 – who Lowry & Lowry claim is Eben Frost – and as the etherizer in EDD Nos. 2-5. Supporting documentation that Bigelow, not Heywood, is the etherizer in EDD Nos. 2-5 is found in Dr. J. Mason Warren's treatise on ether that continued his father's historic study on the physiological effects of ether for an additional nineteen cases up to March 24, 1847, comprising about ten that were private, and at least eight that were conducted at MGH. An excerpt for "Case XIII" reads, "Being rendered insensible by ether, which was administered in this, as in most of the other operations at the Hospital, [emphasis added] by Dr. H. J. Bigelow, the leg was removed at its middle by the circular operation."(43 »»)  This was the leg of Fanny Abbot [sic], Townsend's 42-yr-old female patient who went under the knife on January 2, 1847. "Case II," discussed above, records the date, March 6, 1847, when the sponge replaced Morton's glass globe in private practice and at Mass. General Hospital.(44 »»).  In the summation of his report, Warren noted the problems Morton's "inhaling apparatus" was causing:

"B. As to the Method to be employed.-1st. The use of the ordinary inhaling apparatus seemed in many cases to occasion at first irritation and choking.

2nd. This irritation either does not exist, or in a less degree, in cases where cloth or sponge has been used, which has been pretty extensively employed at the Hospital and in private practice by Dr. J. C. Warren and myself.

3rd. In many cases it is impossible, in consequence of the tender age of the patient, or his refractory nature, to make him comprehend the use of the ordinary apparatus, and here the cloth or sponge will be found of great service.

4th.-A quieting effect is produced even when ether is sprinkled upon the bed clothes, or a sponge moistened with it is laid upon the pillow; thus sometimes superseding the use of an opiate.(45 »»)

Additional trace evidence is inferred by the figure leaning into Bigelow in EDD Nos. 3 & 5 and who I am confident is his father Jacob Bigelow (1787-1879), demonstrated by the panel below. The hanging, low insertion of the columella in his father's nose skews the nostrils up and out, and gives a proboscis appearance to the tip of his nose – it is classic Bigelow and unmistakable! Historians remark on how very close the two were, and the elder Bigelow championed his son's efforts to introduce ether anesthesia at MGH. Jacob Bigelow was the first to break the astonishing news of etherization to London's medical community, which he communicated by a letter attached to a copy of his son's historic paper, addressed to his friend and former student, Francis Boott (1792-1863). Boott included an extract of Jacob Bigelow's letter along with the entirety of Henry's paper, published in the following January number of the Lancet.(46)


Four views of Jacob Bigelow:    H.) New attribution. Detail of the figure standing right of the etherizer in EDD No. 5, highly foreshortened    I.) Detail of portrait accessed through Wikipedia    J.) Detail pulled from the internet    K.) Detail of "Boston Doctors" daguerreotype by Southworth & Hawes, archived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Accession Number: 37.14.39.

A little over a year after his first report, Bigelow wrote a second, comprehensive report on the latest developments of ether anesthesia, published in the inaugural edition of the American Medical Association. His report was supplemented by a table of the 154 ether or chloroform surgeries conducted at MGH dating from the Abbott operation to March 31, 1848, and enumerated by columns for patient age, gender, operation, disease, and admittance & discharge dates.(47 »») Cross-checking Bigelow's tables with a search of the literature, turned up several surgeries that are compelling matches for the patient and the medical team portrayed in the reenactment daguerreotype. They will be discussed below.

39.) Bigelow, HJ (1846), "Insensibility during Surgical Operations produced by Inhalation." Read before the Boston Society for Medical Improvement, Nov. 9th, 1846, etc. In: Boston Medical & Surgical Journal ; v. 35, no. 16 (Nov. 18), p. 309-317.

40.) Lowry & Lowry (2005); p. 79. "The man with his hand grasping the chair is Dr. Henry Jacob Bigelow, who had been the prime instigator of the original demonstration and the first to publish a report on the use of ether in surgery."

41.) Bigelow, WS, and Bigelow HJ (1900), "A Memoir of Henry Jacob Bigelow, A.M., M.D., LL.D." Boston: Little, Brown, and Company; the collotype of Bigelow faces page 18.

42.) Ibid (1900); p. 146.

43.) Warren, JM (1847); "Case XIII," p. 156-157.

44.) Morton, WTG, et al (1853); p. 387.

45.) Warren, JM (1847); p. 160.

46.) Wolfe, RJ (1993); pp. 84, 158-159. Jacob Bigelow's letter to Francis Boott was dated November 28, 1846. See Boott, "Surgical operations performed during insensibility produced by the inhalation of sulphuric ether" ; in: [The London] Lancet, v. 1 (Jan. 2, 1847), 5-8.

47.) Bigelow, HJ (1848), "Anæsthetic agents, their mode of exhibition and physiological effects; with a list of patients who have inhaled ether or chloroform for surgical operations in the Massachusetts General Hospital, in the first surgical division of the New York Hospital, at the clinic of the University of Pennsylvania, and at the clinic of the Jefferson Medical College, [1847–8]." In: Transactions of the American Medical Association. Philadelphia: T. K. and P. G. Collins; vol. 1, p. 197-221. See columnar table C.-2. on pages 215-217. Reprint also issued.

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