American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

Surgical Set collection from 1860 to 1865 - Civilian and Military

Civil War:  Medicine, Surgeon Education & Medical Textbooks

 Dr. Michael Echols  &  Dr. Doug Arbittier


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 William Mercklenburg Polk, M.D.

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Name: William Mercklenburg Polk
Death date: Jun 23, 1918
Place of death: Atlantic City, NJ
Birth date: Aug 15, 1844
Place of birth: Ashwood, TN
Type of practice: Allopath
Practice specialities:OBG Obstetrics/Gynecol
Places and dates of practices:New York, NY, 1869
Hospital affiliations: New York Lying-In Hospital, New York Infirmary for Women & Children, St. Luke's Hospital, New York, St. Vincent's Hospital, New York, Trinity Hospital, New York, Sydenham Hospital, New York
Medical school(s): Columbia University College of Phyisicians and Surgeons, New York, 1869, (G)
Other education: St. Wilfreds, Marion, AL, St. James Coll., Hagerstown, MD, Va, Mil. Inst., 1863, Louisville, 1867
Professorship: Bellevue Hospital Medical College, New York, 1879, therapeutic, NY-05 New York University Medical College, New York: Univ. of City of New York Med. Dept., 1898, obstetrics, gynecology, NY-20 Cornell University Medical College, New York, 1898, gynecolog
Journal of the American Medical Association Citation: 71:138

William Mecklenbueg Polk, a Fellow of the American Gynecological Society since 1881 and one of its ex-presidents, died at Atlantic City, N. J., on June 23, 1918, aged seventy- four years.

He was born at Ashwood, Maury County, Tennessee, in 1844, the son of the celebrated "Fighting Bishop" Leonidas Polk, Bishop of Louisiana and Lieutenant-Qeneral in the Army of the Confederate States, and Frances Devereux Polk.

To appreciate the life and character of so distinguished a man as Dr. Polk, it is necessary to study his ancestry in order to understand from whence sprang the great flow of his strength, his rugged manhood, his high ideals, his brilliant intellect, his unimpeachable integrity and his gentle breeding.

His great-grandfather, Thomas Polk, of Scotch-Irish descent, founded Queen's College at Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1769, and in 1771 wrote the famous Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, declaring "this country free from the control of Great Britain." For three years he fought as an officer in the Bevolutionary War for this cause. William Polk, his grandfather, fought in the Revolution when eighteen years of age and became a Brigadier-General in the United States Army. His distinguished father, Leonidas Polk, was a graduate of West Point; he then studied theology and became an eminent Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church. When the Civil War broke out he felt it his duty to give the South the benefit of his professional training as a soldier, and he rose to the rank of Lieutenant-General. As a corps commander he led his troops in some of the severest fighting of the war and was killed at the battle of Eenesaw Mountain, Ga. Dr. Polk as a young officer in his father's corps was on the field of battle at the time of his death. He thus had a great heritage, and that he worthily lived up to it is amply evidenced by his career as a brave soldier, a skilful surgeon, a distinguished educator and a sincere churchman.

Dr. Polk entered the Virginia Military Institute, then under the administration of "Stonewall" Jackson, and at the outbreak of the Civil War, when but seventeen years of age, entered the Confederate Army and served in the artillery as a lieutenant in Bankhead's Battery, then as an assistant in Folk's Corps and Stewart's Corps and finally as captain and adjutant and Inspector-General in the Department of Tennessee. Thus by the time he had become of age he had taken part in no less than twenty-two battles, many of them the bloodiest major engagements of the war. After the war he studied medicine, first at Tulane and later at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, where he graduated in 1869.

He served as an intern in Bellevue Hospital. He taught anatomy and was for four years professor of clinical medicine and therapeutics at the Bellevue Medical College. In 1880 he became professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the New York University, which chair he held until 1898, when he was elected the dean and professor of gynecology of the newly-organized Medical College of Cornell University, which positions he filled at the time of his death.

Dr. Polk was connected with Bellevue Hospital on the attending staff since 1874 and as gynecologist since 1880, at which time this department was formed. He was consulting surgeon to St. Luke's, St. Vincent's, New York Lying-in, New York Infirmary for Women and Children and Bellevue Hospitals.

He was president of the New York Academy of Medicine in 1910-1914; president of the American Gynecological Society in 1896; president of the New York Obstetrical Society in 1884, and a member of numerous scientific societies, among them the Southern Surgical and Gynecological Association; Societe" Obstetrique et Gynecologie, Paris; Royal Society of Medicine, England; Societe Beige de Gynecologie et Obstetrique, Brussels; Congres Periodique Int. de Obstetrique et de Pediatrie; Founder, Societe Int. de Chirurgie, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In recognition of his achievements the degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by the University of the South, Columbia University and the University of Georgia.

Dr. Polk was twice married. His first wife was Ida Ashe Lyon, daughter of the Hon. Francis S. Lyon, a distinguished lawyer of Alabama, by whom he had two sons: Frank Lyon Polk, who has become distinguished as our present Under Secretary of State at Washington, and John Metcalfe Polk, who died shortly after the completion of his medical course at Cornell. His second wife was Maria H. Dehon, who survives him.

Dr. Folk's medical life covered a period of half a century, the major part of which was devoted to gynecology, upon which specialty he impressed his mark as one of the giants who helped blaze the trail in the new field of pelvic surgery which was being rapidly developed. He was a bold and resourceful operator, but he early recognized the economic value of the pelvic organs of women and was among the first to sound a warning note against the prevailing tendency toward radicalism. His strong advocacy for conservation had much to do with bringing back the pendulum to the more rational limits which obtain today. Dr. Polk had a ready and facile pen and he made numerous and important contributions to the scientific literature relating to gynecology and to sociological and educational problems. He was the author of a two-volume biography of his father entitled Leonidas Polk, Bishop and General, which exhibits rare literary merit. An orator of marked ability, his forcible yet gracious manner in public speaking caused him to be much sought after. For many years he devoted his energies to the improvement of hospital conditions and the elevation of surgical standards, and the growth and development of Belle- vue Hospital, where he mostly labored, was largely the result of his untiring efforts on its behalf.

His fine presence and delightful charm of manner, his ready sympathy and courtesy, coupled with his professional skill, insured him a large private practice among the best families in New York. He was not only the physician to his patients, he was also their trusted guide and friend. Fortunate, indeed, were they who had his friendship. His loyalty to those who had won his trust was unswerving, and his intense sense of justice and right were manifested in no uncertain way in the defence of those whom he felt were the victims of injustice and calumny. He was quick of thought and action and rarely wrong in his judgment, but if it were shown that he was in error, he was the first to make the amende honorable as became the gentleman he was.

As might be expected from his bringing up he was a sincere churchman, and as a vestryman of Trinity Church, he gave much of his time and service to the religious activities of the community.

The crowning work of his life was in the organization and development of the Cornell University Medical College. Hia whole soul entered into the work of establishing a school of the highest grade whose product should be characterized by quality rather than quantity. The steady growth of the College and the attainment of the ideals for which he strove gave him the satisfaction in his declining years of seeing the results of his efforts in the firm establishment of an institution of recognized efficiency for medical education of the highest order.

The death of Dr. Polk takes from the active list of the Society one of its most illustrious names and his memory will always be cherished by the Fellows with pride. He was a wise counselor and a virile leader, whose strength of character and loyalty made him at once respected by all and beloved by those who had won his friendship—a nobleman in the truest sense.


From: Bellevue Hospital:

Polk, William Mecklenburg,  3d Medical Division, 1870, II

At Virginia Military Institute, 1863; LL. D., University of the South, 1890; M. D., Columbia, 1869; Curator, Bellevue Hospital, 1870; Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy, Bellevue Hospital Medical College, 1871; Lecturer on Diseases of the Abdominal Organs, Columbia, spring course, 1875 ; Professor of Materia Medica, Therapeutics, and Clinical Medicine, Bellevue Hospital Medical College, 1876-79; Professor of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children, University of the City of New-York, since 1879; Visiting Physician, Bellevue Hospital, 1874-82; Visiting Gynaecologist
since 1882; Visiting Physician, Emergency (Lying-in) Hospital, since 1880; St. Luke's Hospital, 1878-88;
Consulting Gynaecologist since 1888; Consulting Physician, Trinity Infirmary, since 1878 ; Northern Dispensary since 1881; St. Vincent's Hospital since 1890. Author of " Surgical Anatomy of the Female Pelvic Organs," N. Y. Med. Jour., 1882 ; " Observations upon the Surgical Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus," N. Y. Med. Jour., May 3, 1884; " Report of Sixteen Cases of Salpingitis Showing its Relation to Cellulitis," N. Y. Med. Rec., Sept. 18, 1886; "Relation of Medicine to the Problem of Socialism," N. Y. Med. Rec., Dec. 21, 1889; also articles in Trans. Amer. Gynec. Soc. Obstetrics and Diseases of Women: 7 East 36th street, New-York City.


Gynecologist.—B. Ashwood, Tenn., 15 Aug., 1844.—At Virginia Mil. lust., '63. LL. D., University of the South, '9o. M. D., Col., '69. Asst. Dem. Anat., Bell. Hosp. Med. Coll., '71. Lect. Dis. Abdom. Organs, Col., '75- Prof- Mat. Med., Therap. Clin. Med., Bell. Hosp. Med. Coll., '76-'79. Prof. Obst., N. Y. U., '79-'9o. Vis. Phys. Bell. Hosp., '74-'82. Vis. Gyn. since'82. Vis. Phys. Emerg. Hosp. since'80; St. Luke's Hosp., '78-'88. Cons. Gynec. since '88; Consult. Phys. to North. Disp. since '81. St. Vincent's Hosp. since '90. Author of note.

(The personal edited research notes of Michael Echols, the source of which may or may not be completely documented)


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Civil War Medical Collections 


Direct links to all medical & Civil War collections on this site                         

American Surgical Sets:

Pre-Civil War:  1 | 2  -   Post-Civil War:  3  -  Civil War 1861-1865:  4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   INDEX

Medical Text-Books:

1 | 1a | 2 | 2a | 3 | 3a | 4 | 4a | 5 | 5a | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 9a | 10 | 11 | 12    INDEX

Surgeon General's Office Library printed catalogues: 1840 | 1864 | 1865
Medical Lecture Cards: 1 | 2 | 34 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21    INDEX

Medical Faculty and Authors:


Navy Surgeon Exams:

1863 Navy Surgeon Applicant Exams with Biographies   INDEX ONE | INDEX TWO

Surgeon CDVs, Images:

Army: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8    INDEX

Navy: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   

Hosp Dep't Bottles, Tins, 

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American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

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