John Maynard Woodworth

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John Maynard Woodworth
John Maynard Woodworth by Hermann Gunther, 1865.jpg
1st Surgeon General of the United States
In office
29 March 1871 14 March 1879
Succeeded by John B. Hamilton
Personal details
Born(1837-08-15)August 15, 1837
Big Flats, New York, USA
DiedMarch 14, 1879(1879-03-14) (aged 41)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Republican

John Maynard Woodworth (August 15, 1837 – March 14, 1879) was an American physician and member of the Woodworth political family. [1] He served as the first Supervising-Surgeon General under U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant, then changed to Surgeon General of the United States Marine Hospital Service from 1871 to 1879.

The Woodworth political family is a collection of American and Canadian politicians who descend directly from colonial settler Walter Woodworth. They rose to prominence in the 19th century, serving in several states, in the United States House of Representatives, the House of Commons of Canada, and included America's first Surgeon General. In the modern era, two United States Presidents claim lineage to Walter.

Ulysses S. Grant 18th president of the United States

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Early life and education

Woodworth was born at Big Flats, Chemung County, New York. His family soon moved to Illinois, where Woodworth attended school in Warrenville. He studied pharmacy at the University of Chicago and worked as a pharmacist for a time.

Chemung County, New York County in the United States

Chemung County is a county in the southern tier of the U.S. state of New York. As of the 2010 census, the population was 88,830. Its county seat is Elmira. Its name is derived from a Delaware Indian village whose name meant "big horn".

New York (state) State of the United States of America

New York is a state in the Northeastern United States. New York was one of the original thirteen colonies that formed the United States. With an estimated 19.54 million residents in 2018, it is the fourth most populous state. To distinguish the state from the city with the same name, it is sometimes called New York State.

Illinois State of the United States of America

Illinois is a state in the Midwestern and Great Lakes region of the United States. It has the fifth largest gross domestic product (GDP), the sixth largest population, and the 25th largest land area of all U.S. states. Illinois is often noted as a microcosm of the entire United States. With Chicago in northeastern Illinois, small industrial cities and immense agricultural productivity in the north and center of the state, and natural resources such as coal, timber, and petroleum in the south, Illinois has a diverse economic base, and is a major transportation hub. Chicagoland, Chicago's metropolitan area, encompasses over 65% of the state's population. The Port of Chicago connects the state to international ports via two main routes: from the Great Lakes, via the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, via the Illinois Waterway to the Illinois River. The Mississippi River, the Ohio River, and the Wabash River form parts of the boundaries of Illinois. For decades, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport has been ranked as one of the world's busiest airports. Illinois has long had a reputation as a bellwether both in social and cultural terms and, through the 1980s, in politics.

Woodworth was one of the organizers of the Chicago Academy of Science and in 1858 became curator of its museum. In this capacity, he made several trips west of the Mississippi River to collect natural history specimens. He was appointed naturalist by the University of Chicago in 1859 and asked to establish a museum of natural history. Woodworth also spent time working at the Smithsonian Institution over the next few years. He then decided to embark on medical studies, and graduated from the Chicago Medical College in 1862.

Mississippi River largest river system in North America

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Old University of Chicago

The Old University of Chicago was the legal name given in 1890 to the University of Chicago's first incorporation. Between 1856 and 1886 this school, founded by Baptist church leaders, was simply referred to as the "University of Chicago". The name change was necessitated when the university's original campus was badly damaged in a fire and it was foreclosed on by its creditors. Rather than continue operations under its existing name, its trustees decided to change the name of the then University of Chicago to the "Old University of Chicago" and allow the establishment of a new legal entity that would once again be called the "University of Chicago."

Natural history study of organisms including plants or animals in their environment

Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organisms including animals, fungi and plants in their environment; leaning more towards observational than experimental methods of study. A person who studies natural history is called a naturalist or natural historian.


Almost immediately upon graduating from medical school, Woodworth was appointed Assistant Surgeon in the Union Army. He was soon promoted to Surgeon and eventually became Medical Director of the Army of the Tennessee. Woodworth served under General William Tecumseh Sherman, and on "Sherman's March to the Sea" he was in charge of the ambulance train, bringing the sick and wounded to Savannah without the loss of a single man.

Union Army Land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War

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Surgery Medical specialty

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Army of the Tennessee unit of the Union Army during the American Civil War

The Army of the Tennessee was a Union army in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, named for the Tennessee River. It should not be confused with the similarly named Army of Tennessee, a Confederate army named after the State of Tennessee.

After the war, Woodworth became a companion of the Pennsylvania Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.

The Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), or simply as the Loyal Legion is a United States patriotic order, organized April 15, 1865, by officers of the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps of the United States who "had aided in maintaining the honor, integrity, and supremacy of the national movement" during the American Civil War. It was formed by loyal union military officers in response to rumors from Washington of a conspiracy to destroy the Federal government by assassination of its leaders, in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. They stated their purpose as the cherishing of the memories and associations of the war waged in defense of the unity and indivisibility of the Republic; the strengthening of the ties of fraternal fellowship and sympathy formed by companionship in arms; the relief of the widows and children of dead companions of the order; and the advancement of the general welfare of the soldiers and sailors of the United States. As the original officers died off, the veterans organization became an all-male hereditary society. The modern organization is composed of male descendants of these officers, and others who share the ideals of the Order, who collectively are considered "Companions". A female auxiliary, Dames of the Loyal Legion of the United States (DOLLUS), was formed in 1899 and accepted as an affiliate in 1915.

Following the Civil War, Woodworth spent a year in Europe, receiving clinical instruction chiefly in the hospitals of Berlin and Vienna. In 1866, he became demonstrator in anatomy at the Chicago Medical College. He was also appointed Surgeon of the Soldier's home of Chicago and Sanitary Inspector of the Chicago Board of Health in that same year.

American Civil War Civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865

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Surgeon General

In 1871, Woodworth was appointed the first Supervising Surgeon of the Marine Hospital Service. The Service had its origins in a 1798 Act of Congress "for the relief of sick and disabled seamen." The 1798 law created a fund to be used by the Federal Government of the United States to provide medical services to merchant seamen in American ports, which was expanded to include military and others who made their living associated with seagoing. The marine hospital fund was administered by the Treasury Department and financed through a monthly deduction from the wages of the seamen. Medical care was provided through contracts with existing hospitals and, increasingly as time went on, through the construction of new hospitals for this purpose. The earliest marine hospitals were located along the East Coast of the United States, with Boston being the site of the first such facility, but later they were also established along inland waterways, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf Coast and Pacific Coast.

The marine hospitals hardly constituted a system in the Antebellum period. Funds for the hospitals were inadequate, political rather than medical reasons often influenced the choice of sites for hospitals and the selection of physicians, and the Treasury Department had little supervisory authority over the hospitals. During the Civil War, the Union and Confederate forces occupied the hospitals for their own use, and in 1864 only 8 of the 27 hospitals listed before the war were operational. In 1869, the United States Secretary of the Treasury commissioned an extensive study of the marine hospitals, and the resulting critical report led to the passage of reform legislation in the following year.

The 1870 reorganization converted the loose network of locally controlled hospitals into a centrally controlled Marine Hospital Service, with its headquarters in Washington, D.C.. The position of Supervising Surgeon (later Surgeon General) was created to administer the Service. Woodworth began his service in the position on March 29, 1871, and he moved quickly to reform the system. He adopted a military model for his medical staff, instituting examinations for applicants instead of appointing physicians on the recommendation of the local Collector of Customs. Physicians, whom Woodworth placed in uniforms, were no longer appointed to serve in a particular facility, but appointed to the general Service. In this way, Woodworth created a cadre of mobile, career service physicians who could be assigned and moved as needed to the various marine hospitals. The uniformed services component of the Marine Hospital Service was formalized as the Commissioned Corps by legislation enacted in 1889 under Woodworth's successor, John B. Hamilton.

In 1872, Woodworth initiated the publication of annual reports of the Marine Hospital Service. That same year he also served as one of the founders of the American Public Health Association.

From the time of his appointment, Woodworth envisioned broader responsibilities for the Marine Hospital Service, well beyond the care of merchant seamen. In 1873, his title was changed to Supervising Surgeon General. He issued publications on cholera and yellow fever, and laid the foundations for the passage of the National Quarantine Act of 1878. This Act conferred quarantine authority on the Marine Hospital Service, initiating a process whereby over the next half a century the Service progressively took over quarantine functions from the states. The Act also authorized the publication of Bulletins of the Public Health (the forerunner of the Service's journal Public Health Reports ). The Marine Hospital Service thus moved into public health activities under Woodworth, paving the way for its later evolution into the Public Health Service.

Woodworth also designed the seal of the Service, which he first used on a publication that he authored in 1874 on Nomenclature of Diseases. The seal consisted of a fouled anchor, to represent the seamen cared for by the Service, and the caduceus of Mercury. The latter symbol was particularly appropriate since it served as a symbol of commerce (which could represent the merchant marine) but was also used by the Army Medical Corps as its symbol. With minor changes in design, this device has remained the seal of the Public Health Service to the present day.

Woodworth remained in the position of Supervising Surgeon General until his death in Washington, DC, on 14 March 1879.

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  1. Wikisource-logo.svg Kelly, Howard A.; Burrage, Walter L., eds. (1920). "Woodworth, John Maynard". American Medical Biographies . Baltimore: The Norman, Remington Company.