American Medical Biographies/Wood, George Bacon

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Wood, George Bacon (1797–1879)

Seen through the eyes of his generous biographer, Dr. S. D. Gross, George Bacon Wood is known as a rather uncommon man, a puzzle to the ordinary mortal, a delight to his intellectual equals. Dignified, somewhat formal, loving books and science more than society, giving loyally of his substance to men and institutions in need.

His family came from Bristol, England, in 1682 and George was born at Greenwich, a small village in New Jersey, March 12, 1797. His father, a prosperous farmer, was able to give him a good education. He studied medicine under Joseph Parrish (q.v.) and when made professor of materia medica and pharmacy at the University of Pennsylvania he characteristically spared nothing that would make the teaching of his master clearer. A large conservatory in his garden furnished medicinal plants, native and exotic, and he spent $20,000 on diagrams, casts and models. Such efforts to instruct had never been known before in this country. In the University of Pennsylvania he established, at an expense of $50,000, what is known as the auxiliary department for instruction in botany, chemistry, geology, mineralogy and zoology. To the College of Physicians he gave his library and $15,000. Though adding nothing new to our knowledge of the nature and treatment of disease, he wrote and taught with such fidelity, such scrupulous exactness, with such reprimanding of slovenly work and recognition of effort, that hundreds of students incurred a debt of gratitude. He was one of the most voluminous medical writers of the age. The first edition of his big "Dispensatory," written with Franklin Bache (q.v.), appeared in 1833, and he lived to revise the fourteenth edition with the assistance of his nephew. His other two large works mentioned at the end of this sketch both reached many editions, his "Practice of Medicine" being largely used as a textbook in some of the English and Scotch schools. Most of his writing was done in the small hours, he often working till four in the morning.

For some months before his death he was unable to leave his bed. He died at his house in Arch Street, March 30, 1879, aged eighty-two, his wife having died twelve years before. They had no children. Among his published works are: "The Dispensatory of the United States," written in conjunction with Dr. Franklin Bache (1833); "A Treatise on the Practice of Medicine" (1847); "A Treatise on Therapeutics and Pharmacology" (1856); "History of the Pennsylvania Hospital;" "History of the University of Pennsylvania;" "History of Christianity in India."

He was A. B., University of Pennsylvania, 1815 and M. D., 1818; LL. D., Princeton, 1858; professor of chemistry in the Philadelphia School of Pharmacy from 1822–1831; of materia medica from 1831–35; professor of the same in the University of Pennsylvania, 1835–1850; of the theory and practice of medicine at the same, 1835–59; president of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia for thirty-four years; president of the American Medical Association.

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Sketch in Dr. S. D. Gross' Autobiography.
Trans. Amer. Med. Asso., Phila., 1879, vol. xxx. J. H. Packard.