Person:David Agnew (1)

Dr. David Hayes Agnew
d.22 March 1892
m. 1 August 1815
  1. Dr. David Hayes Agnew1818 - 1892
Facts and Events
Name Dr. David Hayes Agnew
Gender Male
Birth? 24 November 1818 Nobleville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Death? 22 March 1892

I thought he was a son of Dr. James Agnew, now it looks as though at best a nephew, related through Scotts, not Armstrongs to Adrian Williamson.

A Glimpse Into the Past of Orthopaedic Surgery at The University of Pennsylvania: David Hayes Agnew, “the most experienced surgeon, the clearest writer and teacher, and the most venerated and beloved man.” by JOHNP. DORMANS, M.D. ANDNICHOLASJ. DORMANS: “Agnew was a very prominent surgeon. His prominence is exhibited when he and several other physicians were summoned to Washington, DC after the assassination of President James Garfield on July 2, 1881. Garfield subsequently died of infection and sepsis. Some speculate that the infection was enhanced by the probing and explorations of the multiple physicians who were summoned to help. The entire affair provoked great controversy surrounding the medical and surgical care of the president.… Agnew is remembered as one of the founding fathers of American Surgical science and certainly, one of the giants of surgery in Philadelphia medicine.”

James Garfield: Details of Assassination Wound, <>, Copyright (c) 2000-2006 by All Rights Reserved. This page last modified February 28, 2004.

A 44-caliber revolver bullet fracturing the rib, then crashing through the body of a lumbar vertebra and driving a number of fragments into the soft parts, thence lodging behind the pancreas, makes a wound and condition not to be despised by even the boldest and deftest of modern operators. Moreover, President Garfield was a stout man, which would have increased the difficulties. Were such a bullet promptly located [start page 313] to-day by the X-Rays, any experienced and conscientious surgeon would hesitate as to his course. If he elected to remove the bullet, again he would be embarrassed to know whether it were best to choose the anterior or posterior route. A laminectomy is a comparatively simple operation in a thin subject, but to reach the body of a vertebra, much less go anterior to it, as would have been necessary to have recovered the ball and removed the spiculae of bone driven forward by it, in a patient of President Garfield's build, would have taxed both the anatomical knowledge and surgical daring of the greatest of his surgeons, the gifted Agnew. If the anterior route were chosen, one has only to think of the important vessels and nerves superimposed on the bullet, and almost in contact with it. By either, anterior or posterior route, the danger from hemorrhage would of necessity have been great.

The subject of one of Thomas Eakins’s most famous paintings, <>: “One of the two most important paintings in the history of medicine and in the history of American art hangs in the John Morgan building at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, yet very few students at the medical school realize the significance of this monumental piece of art. Thomas Eakins, an American realist, born in Philadelphia in 1844, rose to artistic maturity in the 1860's was known primarily for this portraiture and among his more famous pieces, his depiction of oarsmen along the Schuylkill River. He was interested in the human form and studied anatomy at the Jefferson Medical College from 1864 to 1865. He became a demonstrator of Anatomy at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts and had great respect for the field. Eakins was exposed to the filed of surgery at a crucial transition point, at a time when surgery was gaining more respect as a branch of medicine and at a time when advances in sterilization and antisepsis were becoming more widespread.  He was able to capture this exact transition through his two paintings The Gross Clinic and The Agnew Clinic (pictured right). His renderings of two surgical cases, separated by 15 years, provides a unique window into the advances that occurred within the field of surgery.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1838, David Hayes Agnew moved to the country for several years to work with his father in a clinic. In 1848 he returned to Philadelphia School of Anatomy and became director of the school in 1852. During his tenure at the school he established himself as a practical surgeon. He served in the United States army as a surgeon during the Civil War. In 1863 he was invited to demonstrate anatomy at Penn, becoming a professor of surgery in 1871 and the first John Rhea Barton Chair of Surgery in 1878.

Thomas Eakins was commissioned to paint a portrait of Dr. D. Hayes Agnew, who was then an Anatomy Professor and Chair of Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, for $750.00 by a group of medical students.  Eakins was approached by these students who wanted a portrait of their professor who was to retire in May of that year. As a student of anatomy himself, Eakins had great respect and admiration for Dr. Agnew and accepted this new commission with great enthusiasm. And even though the students "asked only for the head" of their professor, Eakins delighted at the request, offered to paint a pictorial of the clinic including not only Agnew and his assistants, but the students as well. Eakins chose to depict Dr. Agnew in his primary role as a professor in action, as he had with Dr. Gross 14 years prior.

The Gross Clinic (pictured right) and The Agnew Clinic are similar compositionally and thematically, however much about these paintings is different.  Eakins chose to portray two prominent Philadelphia surgeons in the act of surgery with their teams rather than as single contemplative figures standing in an operating room. In painting the surgeons in this manner, this allows us to view conditions as well as the techniques implemented in the operating room in the 1870's and the 1890's. In The Gross Clinic all of the surgeons are depicted wearing black suits without gowns, gloves, masks or drapes. It is clear from this painting that antisepsis and sterile techniques have not yet been accepted. The surgeons depicted in The Agnew Clinic, however, clearly show acceptance of Lister's theories on antisepsis that were published in 1867.  All of the surgeons are wearing gowns, however gloves, masks and hats at this point were not implemented.  It is also evident from this scene that drapes were also used in order to enforce the concept of sterile field. Advances were also made in lighting in the surgical amphitheater around this time which is evident based on how Eakins portrays lighting in both of his paintings. In The Gross Clinic natural light through a sky light provided the lighting source for the surgery, which was standard practice at the time. In The Agnew Clinic, however, artificial light was newly implemented.  Artificial light clearly expanded the field of surgery, not only allowing the surgeons to operate at any time of day, but also allowing them to see more clearly with greater detail.

Thomas Eakins was not only a prominent accomplished artist, he clearly was also an historian.  By depicting the surgical amphitheater at 2 different time periods during such an important time of change, he was able to document the advances that were made in the field of surgery with picture alone. The Agnew Clinic is not only important in the history of art and medicine, but also in the history of our medical school. The painting commemorates a professor that was the "most experiences surgeon, the clearest writer and teacher, the most venerated and beloved man" (Johns et al.) and appropriately serves as a model for our medical school. The painting is on tour in the Thomas Eakins American Realist retrospective currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which will travel to Muse d'Orsay in Paris and then to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “

This doctor Agnew was known by Amy Armstrong Scott’s grandson to be a cousin.