American Medical Biographies/Atwood, Le Grand

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Atwood, Le Grand (1832–1917)

Le Grand Atwood, pioneer neurologist and alienist of St. Louis, was born at La Grange, Tennessee, October 16, 1832. His father was N. B. Atwood, who owned a chain of wholesale drug houses, sending drugs by boat from St. Louis to New Orleans and by mule team as far west as Santa Fe. His mother was Elizabeth Le Grand of Murfreesboro, Tenn., of Huguenot descent. When Le Grand was a few months old his mother returned with him to the family home in St. Louis. There he attended the Wyman school and began the study of medicine at the early age of fifteen under his kinsman, Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell (q.v.), a nephew of Ephraim McDowell (q.v.). Joseph McDowell's eccentric personality had a profound effect on his pupils and on none more than upon young Atwood. Later in life Atwood collected specimens of birds, skins and reptiles for the museum of the McDowell Medical College while traveling across the isthmus of Tehauntepec; the prince of story tellers, he dearly loved to tell anecdotes of his master. He took his M. D. at the Missouri Medical College in 1849 while in his eighteenth year, and became assistant demonstrator of anatomy in his alma mater long before he was of age.

After practising three years, he crossed the plains to California, washed gold and practised among the miners for two years; was a member of the "Vigilantes;" then found his way home by way of Nicaragua, staying a month or two at Graytown to assist the consul in the medical care of the natives.

He settled in Marshall, Missouri, and here he married Eliza Cowan, of Shelbyville, Tenn., in 1860.

At the breaking out of the war, Dr. Atwood was among the first to volunteer on the side of the South, enlisting as surgeon to the first regiment of Missouri State Guards. He was at the first battle of Boonville, Mo., taken prisoner at Lexington, and after his release settled in St. Louis County where he practised for fifteen years. He was a man of great personal courage and did more than his part in catching horse thieves and in seeing justice done to persecuted negroes. When at last he came to St. Louis his interest in nervous and mental diseases began. First came an appointment as superintendent of the St. Louis Insane Hospital, a position he held from 1886 to 1891; he was lecturer on therapeutics and toxicology at the St. Louis Medical College and then lecturer on nervous diseases in the Marion Sims Hospital College, and on nervous and mental diseases at Beaumont College, being a teacher of medicine continuously all the years of his practice. He was much in court as an expert witness, especially in insanity cases.

Dr. Atwood was most active in securing the passage through the legislature of bills regulating the practice of medicine. He had a gift of oratory which, coupled with a retentive memory, made a most favorable impression upon committees.

Appointed superintendent of the state hospital for the insane at Fulton in 1891 he made a fine beginning in ridding the institution of graft, erected a much needed building and was getting the institution in efficient condition when the politicians had their way and he was replaced. Disheartened, he made his home in Ferguson, just outside St. Louis, in 1892 and became mayor of that city, continuing his practice. His wife died in 1895.

Dr. Atwood was a lifelong Democrat, a Master Mason for forty-nine years, and was much in demand as an after-dinner speaker.

He died at the age of eighty-four, August 22, 1917, survived by his six children, having done what he could to teach medicine and to raise its ethical standards in the community.

Confederate Veteran, 1918, vol. xxvi, 215. Portrait.
Jour. Amer. Med. Asso., vol. lxxix, 1553.
Communication from W. L. Atwood, a son.