Doctor Willard Bliss

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Doctor Willard Bliss
Doctor Willard Bliss.jpg
Born (1825-08-18)August 18, 1825
Brutus, New York, United States
Died February 21, 1889(1889-02-21) (aged 63)
Washington D.C., United States
Education Cleveland Medical College
Known for Attending physician to President Garfield
Medical career
Profession Physician
Specialism Ballistic trauma

Doctor Willard Bliss MD[nb 1][1] (August 18, 1825 – February 21, 1889[2][3]) was an American physician and expert in ballistic trauma, who treated James A. Garfield after his mortal wounding from a gunshot in July 1881 until his death two and a half months later.[4]

Early life and career[edit]

Bliss was born in Brutus, New York to Obediah Bliss (1792–1863) and Marilla Pool (1795–1857).[5] Bliss's first and middle names (Doctor and Willard) were inspired by Dr Samuel Willard, a surgeon from New England.[6][7][8] During his youth, the Bliss family lived in Savoy, Massachusetts.[5] Bliss had one brother, Zenas (July 4, 1832 – April 23, 1877).[5]

Bliss treated Zachary Taylor for malaria at Fort Jesup, Louisiana in 1844.[9][10]

Bliss studied at Cleveland Medical College, submitting his thesis on Pseudarthrosis or False-Joint in 1849.[11]

During the American Civil War, Bliss was a surgeon with the Third Michigan Infantry.[10] Bliss later became superintendent at Washington D.C.'s Armory Square Hospital; he continued to practice in the city after the war had ended.[3]

Bliss was mentioned in correspondence by Walt Whitman, who claimed that Bliss answered the House of Representatives' proposal for his pension in 1887 by saying, "I am of opinion that no one person who assisted in the hospitals during the war accomplished so much good to the soldiers and for the Government as Mr. Whitman".[3]

Treatment of James Garfield[edit]

On July 2, 1881, Bliss was summoned by Robert Todd Lincoln after James A. Garfield had been shot at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station in Washington, D.C.. Bliss examined Garfield's bullet wounds with his fingers and metal probes, concluding the bullet was in the President's liver.[4]

Bliss became Garfield's self-appointed doctor after their return to the White House.[12] As trained nurses were uncommon at this time, Bliss used Cabinet members' wives as help, even though they had no knowledge of nurses' duties.[12] Bliss also invited Alexander Graham Bell to test his metal detector on the President, hoping that it would locate the bullet.[13] The device's signal was thought to be distorted by the metal bed springs.[14][15] Later the detector was proved to work perfectly and would have found the bullet had Bliss allowed Bell to use the device on Garfield's left side as well his right side.[16]

After Garfield's death, Bliss submitted a claim for $25,000 (approximately $550,000 in 2010[17]) for his services to the President.[18] He was offered $6,500 instead, an offer that he refused.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Bliss married Sophia Prentiss (1825–1888[5][19]) in Cuyahoga County, Ohio on May 23, 1849.[20] They had four children: Elliss Baker (born April 25, 1850), a dentist; Clara Bliss Hinds, a medical practitioner; Willie Prentiss (born February 1854, died August 17, 1856 "by an accident") and Eugenie Prentiss (born August 10, 1855).[5] The family lived in a house in Washington D.C. built by John Quincy Adams.[5]

Sophia died in January 1888 in Washington D.C.; Bliss died in the same city on February 21, 1889.[5] His death was attributed to heart failure or apoplexy.[5]

Publications[edit]

  • Bliss, Doctor Willard (1849). A thesis on pseudarthrosis or false-joint. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Medical College. 
  • Bliss, Willard. Feeding Per Rectum: As Illustrated in the Case of the Late President Garfield, and Others. 
  • Bliss, Doctor Willard (1882). Excerpts from opinions of distinguished medical men in this and other countries justifying the treatment of the late President Garfield. Washington, D.C.: Gibson Brothers. 
  • Bliss, Doctor Willard (1890). The Morgan horse: an essay on Justin Morgan and his family. 

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Bliss's first name was Doctor; in addition, he earned the title Doctor.

Sources[edit]

  1. ^ Rutkow, Ira (2010). Seeking the cure: a history of medicine in America. Chicago, IL: Simon and Schuster. p. 72. ISBN 1-4165-3828-3. 
  2. ^ Shrady, George Frederick; Stedman, Thomas Lathrop (1889). Medical Record 35: 244. 
  3. ^ a b c Whitman, Walt; Miller, Edwin Haviland (2007). The Correspondence: Volume I: 1842–1867. New York, NY: New York University Press. p. 91. ISBN 0-8147-9421-1. 
  4. ^ a b Oliver, Willard M; Marion, Nancy E (2010). Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts, and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders-in-Chief. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 46. ISBN 0-313-36474-5. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Baxter, Albert (1891). History of the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Munsell & Company. 
  6. ^ "How Dr. Bliss Got His Name". New York Times. 1881. Retrieved September 30, 2012. 
  7. ^ Appleton (1890). Annual cyclopedia and register of important events 29. New York, NY: D. Appleton & Company. p. 619. 
  8. ^ Smith Lamb, Daniel (1909). History of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia: 1817-1909. Medical Society of the District of Columbia. p. 277. 
  9. ^ Bumgarner, John R (1994). The Health of the Presidents. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. p. 73. 
  10. ^ a b DoctorZebra. "Presidential Physician: Doctor [sic] Willard Bliss". DoctorZebra. Retrieved September 25, 2011. 
  11. ^ Bliss, Doctor Willard (1849). A thesis on pseudarthrosis or false-joint. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Medical College. 
  12. ^ a b Oliver, Willard M; Marion, Nancy E (2010). Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts, and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders-in-Chief. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 47. ISBN 0-313-36474-5. 
  13. ^ a b Millard, Candice (2011). Destiny of the Republic. ISBN 0-307-93965-0. 
  14. ^ Peskin (1978), p.598.
  15. ^ e.g. Bill Bryson: Made in America: an Informal History of the English Language in the United States, Black Swan, 1998, p.102.
  16. ^ "Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President" by Candice Millard copyright 2011
  17. ^ Based on a purchasing power calculation from MeasuringWorth
  18. ^ Minnesota State Medical Association (1943). "Minnesota Medicine". Minnesota Medicine 26: 552. 
  19. ^ Oak Hill Cemetery (2009). "LOT 212 East". Washington, D.C.: Oak Hill Cemetery. Retrieved September 25, 2011. 
  20. ^ PrenticeNet (1997). "OHIO MARRIAGES". PrenticeNet. Retrieved September 25, 2011.