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From the Bowdoin Alumni: David
Sloan Conant: Born 1825 in Lyme, N.H., Physician, Lecturer in
Anatomy and Physiology 1857-58; Professor 1858-63; Surgeon
1863-65; Prof. of Surg., Univ. of Vermont 1855-65; Prof.
Surg. N.Y. Medical College 1863-65. Died 1865 in New York.
Conant, David Sloan (1825-1865)
This teacher and
army surgeon, the son of a carpenter in the little
country village of Lyme, New Hampshire, not far from Dartmouth, was born
January 21, 1825. Submitting himself to his father's will he learned the
trade of a carpenter, like many of his ancestors before him, although he
detested the business, for his heart was set on obtaining an education.
He worked diligently until the very last day of his twentieth year,
became very skilful in his handicraft, and developed into a man of
tremendous muscular power. During his leisure hours he read widely and
gave much attention to the study of medicine and anatomy, so that with
the beginning of his years of freedom, he possessed a fund of book
knowledge of medicine and general literature. On the day after he
obtained his majority he left his father's shop and studied two years,
as of old with energy and ambition, at Stratford Academy in Vermont, and
advanced so far that he could have passed a college examination for the
sophomore class. He was, however, at this time dissuaded from obtaining
a college education, an occurrence which he regretted during the rest of
He began the actual
study of medicine with a country practitioner in the town adjoining his
birthplace, and in the autumn attended his first course of lectures at
the Dartmouth Medical School. Here he attracted at once the attention
and enduring interest of a man then celebrated in medicine, Dr. Edmund
Randolph Peaslee (q. v.), professor of anatomy and physiology in
Dartmouth and various other schools; a man who having unequaled prestige
and influence could advance a student of promise. He perceived that
Conant was a youth of unusual qualities, he favored him, and Conant kept
up to his appearances and his promises by doing well at the work
allotted to him. It happened that Peaslee went during Conant's third
year in medical lectures to the school at Bowdoin, and from that
institution, Conant, who accompanied Dr. Peaslee from Dartmouth, as
demonstrator, was graduated in 1851. Lacking money to establish himself
in New York, as Dr. Peaslee urged, Conant first settled in his native
town for three years as country doctor, studied in spare hours, worked
in other spare hours as a carpenter and job- workman, and at the end had
saved enough to give himself a living chance in New York for two or
three years, if all went well. Indeed, then, all did go well with him.
He demonstrated at the 13th Street School, gave private lectures in
anatomy, was capable in practice, and in 1854 he took charge of the Mott
Street Cholera Hospital, and whilst there wrote several papers on the
pathological alterations discovered in the numerous patients.
Immediately after the resignation of Dr. Peaslee from the chair of
anatomy at Bowdoin, Conant went there and continued until 1862 when he
was elected professor of surgery. He lectured also on anatomy and
surgery at the medical school of the University of Vermont from 1855
until his death. He became a member of many learned medical and surgical
societies and was a favorite wherever he presented himself. As a teacher
he was exact and comprehensive, as a surgeon courageous and skilful, and
as a man upright and the soul of honor.
With the beginning of the Civil War
he volunteered as a surgeon, and on the field did an incredible amount
of surgery, often under embarrassing conditions and with a high
percentage of recoveries.
After the battle of Antietam Conant volunteered his services, and owing
to his great exertions contracted an intestinal disease which never
entirely left him.
He died from septicemia; a small furuncle starting on the side of the
nose, then healing, then another following; that healing, a third made
its way into the orbit and brain, and he died at his home in New York,
October 8, 1865.
He was twice married; first to Miss Mary Sanborn of Strafford, Vermont,
and after her death to Miss Mary Larrabee, of Brunswick, Maine, who with
a child survived him.
The salient characteristic of Conant was force, properly directed. He
could turn a handspring from a tree-stump without a springboard. He was
a wonderful boxer. He hit everything hard, driving it home like a nail,
but he was never out of breath. He was a handsome specimen of the strong
man, not big, but powerful. He lectured delightfully, but he preferred
to listen to recitations, to question his pupils to find out just what
they did not know, and then he strove to get at them until they should
know what they needed for practice in Medicine.
Although brusque in manner he was so good-natured that a second later
you forgot and forgave any seeming discourtesy. He read much and
absorbed what he read. He operated with mechanical accuracy. His early
experience with tools and rules stood him of immense value in surgery.
In operating upon his own father, coming down unexpectedly upon the
carotid, he ligated it as coolly as if
nothing had occurred. Bold, yet conservative, he would save one limb
rather than get rid of fifty by bold operations.
As an incident of his skill in emergency, he was in a railroad accident
and was called to a boy badly injured. He took a small case of
instruments from his pocket, quickly amputated both legs, dressed the
wounds with strips torn from garments furnished by lady passengers, then
went on his way; the boy recovered.
He wrote on a case of operation for ovarian tumor, and a paper on
monsters (New York Academy of Medicine).
Dr. Abraham Jacobi writes of him: "He was a good teacher of anatomy (and
also of surgery) in my old college. I saw little of him. Suddenly he was
dead. The regret was that he died of work, meningitis contracted in
connection with a septic rhinitis after an operation" (letter to Dr.
Kelly of February 25, 1919).
Anecdote Of The Late Prof.
Conant.—An instance illustrative of his coolness and
boldness may be ariefly adverted to. On one of his visits to his home he
found his father suffering from a cervical tumor. The disease had
already developed to such an extent as to threaten suffocation by
pressure on the trachea, and was manifestly malignant. Satisfied that
the danger of sudden death was imminent, he determined to remove as much
of the mass as practicable to relieve the pressure. In the course of the
operation, he came upon the carotid artery. Without any hesitation he
applied a ligature, and then extirpated all of the mass that could be
safely removed. This operation gave great relief, and undoubtedly
prolonged the father's life some months. It is not every surgeon,
however, who could use the knife on his own parent, for at best only a
palliative operation. —Memorial
Address, Prof'. A. B. Crosby, Univ.
Vermont Medical Department.
(The personal edited research
notes of Michael Echols, the source of which may or
may not be completely documented)