Charles Caldwell (1772-1853)




Dr. Charles Caldwell
  • Born Caswell County 1772
  • First Professor Louisville Medical Institute
  • Editor Port Folio
  • Died 1853



Biographical Sketch

Caldwell, Charles (14 May 1772-9 July 1853), physician and medical educator, was born in Caswell County, the son of Irish immigrants. His father, Lieutenant Charles Caldwell, a devout Presbyterian elder, wanted his son to become a minister and opposed his desire to enter the legal profession. After some elementary education in local schools and study under a private tutor, Caldwell began teaching at the age of fifteen in a grammar school, Snow Creek Seminary. At eighteen he established a smiliar school near Salisbury, remaining there for two years. In late 1791 or early 1792 he began a preceptorship in medicine, probably under Dr. Charles Harris, who at that time was practicing and teaching medicine in Cabarrus County. In the fall of 1792, Caldwell started the formal study of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; there he had a number of notable teachers, his favorite among them being Benjamin Rush. In 1793, during an epidemic of yellow fever, Caldwell volunteered his services at Bush Hill, one of the hospitals, or "pest houses."

After receiving his medical degree in 1796, Caldwell practiced in Philadelphia. Failing to attain his ambition of becoming a professor in the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania, he went in 1819 to Lexington, Ky. There he was professor of the Institutes of Medicine and Clinical Practice and helped to develop a famous medical library. In 1837 he moved to Louisville, becoming the first professor at the Louisville Medical Institute, now the University of Louisville School of Medicine. In 1849, against his will, Caldwell was retired because of his age. He spent much of his remaining time in writing his autobiography, of which William Osler said "Pickled, as it is, in vinegar, the work is sure to survive."

Caldwell married twice. In 1799 he married Eliza Leaming of Philadelphia; their son, Thomas Leaming [Caldwell], was also a physician, and they may have had a daughter as well: the Caldwell lot in Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery has a marker to Mary Caldwell Hunter, 1808-80, but Dr. Emmett Horine could find no proof of the relationship. Caldwell's first marriage was unhappy; the couple separated, and Mrs. Caldwell died in Philadelphia in 1834. On 8 Mar. 1842, Caldwell married Mrs. Mary Warner Barton.

Caldwell was a man of unusual intelligence, an impressive orator, and apparently a most successful teacher. He was for years associated with the periodical Port Folio, becoming its editor in 1814. He translated several medical works and wrote many articles on medical and other subjects. However, his obvious egotism and his caustic criticisms of those with whom he disagreed marred much of his work. In spite of his belief in conservative classical medicine and his occasionally original ideas on medical and social subjects, he was an ardent advocate of both phrenology and mesmerism.

From Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Volumes 1-7, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 1979-1996 by The University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

Charles Caldwell (May 14, 1772 – July 9, 1853, Nashville, Tennessee) was a noted 19th century U.S. physician who is best known for starting what would become the University of Louisville School of Medicine. Born to Irish immigrants in Caswell County, North Carolina, he earned an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1796 while studying under Benjamin Rush. After graduating, he practiced medicine in Philadelphia and was a lecturer at Penn. He also edited the "Port Folio" (one of the day's primary medical magazines) and published over 200 medical publications. In 1819, he left Philadelphia to join the fledgling medical school at Lexington, Kentucky's Transylvania University, where he quickly turned the school into the region's strongest. In 1821, he convinced the Kentucky General Assembly to purchase $10,000 worth of science and medical books from France, many of which are still held at the university. Despite his success, his "abrasive" and "arrogant" temperament created enemies at Transylvania. The university's medical program would fold soon afterwards. The school dismissed him in 1837, and he then traveled with several colleagues to Louisville, where they created the Louisville Medical Institute. as at Transylvania, he made the new school an instant success, with its rapid growth into one of the region's best medical schools. However, he was forced out in 1849 due to a personal rivalry with Lunsford Yandell.

Source: Dr. Charles Caldwell Wikipedia Article


Dr. Charles Caldwell was the author of Memoirs of the Life and Campaigns of the Hon. Nathaniel Greene, Major General in the Army of the United States, and Commander of the Southern Department, in the War of the Revolution, which was published in 1819 when Caldwell was Professor of Natural History in the University of Pennsylvania. That he, a medical doctor, would author such a book may at first seem odd. However, Caldwell was born in Caswell County and was a young boy when General Nathaniel Greene conducted his famous strategic "Race to the Dan" through Caswell County in 1780.


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