Henry Jacob Bigelow

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Bigelow c. 1854
Bigelow in 1888

Henry Jacob Bigelow (March 11, 1818 – October 30, 1890) was an American surgeon and Professor of Surgery at Harvard University. He was a vocal opponent of vivisection and was best known for his description of the hip joint and for a technique for treating patients with kidney stones.


Bigelow was born on March 11, 1818 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was Jacob Bigelow who also taught medicine at Harvard. Bigelow entered Harvard College in 1833, when he was fifteen years old. In addition to studying medicine at Harvard, he also studied at Dartmouth College with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. He received his M.D. at Harvard in 1841. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1846.[1]

His article, "Dr. Harlow's case of Recovery from the passage of an Iron Bar through the Head" brought the case of Phineas Gage out of absolute obscurity into merely relative obscurity, and largely neutralized remaining scepticism about the case.[2]

His 1846 article, "Insensibility during Surgical Operations Produced by Inhalation" detailed the discovery of ether anesthesia and was selected by readers of the New England Journal of Medicine as the "most important article in NEJM history" in commemoration of the journal's 200th anniversary.[3][4]

Bigelow described the structure and function of the Y-ligament of the hip joint in great detail, and it still carries his name.[5]

In 1878 he published his essay, "Lithotrity by a Single Operation." In this he described his method and technique for "the crushing and removal of a stone from the bladder at one sitting." Prior to this, surgeons would crush a bladder stone and then spend no more than two to five minutes removing the pieces. The remaining fragments would remain for a later session for removal. This resulted in much discomfort and complications as the remaining fragments found an exit on their own. Removing the entire bladder stone in one procedure was a great advancement.

Bigelow died on October 30, 1890 due to complications resulting from an accident at his country home in Newton, Massachusetts. He is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 25, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Dr. Harlow's case of Recovery from the passage of an Iron Bar through the Head". American Journal of the Medical Sciences 20: 13–22. 1850. doi:10.1177/0957154X9300401407. 
  3. ^ "Insensibility during Surgical Operations Produced by Inhalation". Boston Med Surg J 35: 309–317. 1846. doi:10.1056/NEJM184611180351601. 
  4. ^ The 'most important' NEJM article ever published. advisory.com. 2012-11/-0
  5. ^ Rutkow, Ira M. (1988). The History of Surgery in the United States, 1775–1900. Norman Publishing. p. 259. ISBN 0-930405-02-1.