Samuel Jean de Pozzi

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Samuel Jean de Pozzi (1918).
Samuel Jean de Pozzi

Samuel-Jean Pozzi (3 October 1846 – 13 June 1918) was a French surgeon and gynecologist. He was also interested in anthropology and neurology.


Samuel-Jean Pozzy (he changed the spelling later) was born in Bergerac, Dordogne to a family of Italian/Swiss descent. His father, Benjamin Dominique Pozzy, was a minister of the Reformed Church of France. His mother, Inés Escot-Meslon died when Pozzi was ten, and his father married an Englishwoman, Mary Anne Kempe. Pozzi went to study first to Pau and then to Bordeaux. Due to his handsome appearance and cultured demeanor, other pupils nicknamed him The Siren.

Life and medical career[edit]

In 1864, Pozzi began to his study medicine in Paris. He also met Sarah Bernhardt through a childhood friend, the actor Jean Mounet-Sully, and, according to historian and childhood friend Gustave Schlumberger, they briefly became lovers yet remained lifelong friends afterwards.

When the Franco-Prussian War erupted in 1870, Pozzi volunteered and became a medic. Later he became one of the pupils of the neurologist Paul Broca and as his assistant he worked with anthropology, neurology and comparative anatomy. Pozzi graduated as a doctor in 1873. His thesis was of treatment of obstetric fistula.

In 1874, Pozzi and Réné Benoit published a translation of Charles Darwin's Expressions of Emotion in Humans and Animals. In 1875, Pozzi became a university teacher after his second thesis about using hysterotomy for uterine fibroma.

In 1876, Pozzi traveled to Scotland to the Congress of the British Medical Association to meet Joseph Lister, whose interest of antiseptics he supported. He later wrote the first French texts about the antiseptic methods. In 1877, Pozzi became chirurgien des hôpitaux.

In 1879, Pozzi married Therese Loth-Cazalis, heiress of a railroad magnate, and had three children: Catherine, Jean, and Jacques. Pozzi did not appreciate that his wife wanted her mother to live with them, which made for a very unhappy marriage. Pozzi also had a number of romances, including those with the opera singer Georgette Leblanc, the actress Rejane, the widow of Georges Bizet, Sarah Bernhardt, and Emma Sedelmeyer Fischof. Daughter of an art dealer and wife of a horse breeder, Fischof was a beautiful, cultured woman of Jewish heritage who became Pozzi's mistress in 1890. His wife refused to grant him a divorce but Firschhof remained his companion for the rest of his life.[1]

Pozzi went to Austria, Germany and Britain to study gynecological methods and became one of the pioneers of gynecology in France. He wrote a prominent textbook, Clinical and Operative Gynaecology, which was published 1890 and widely translated.

Pozzi gained a great reputation as a teacher. He preferred to make his rounds dressed in white overalls and wearing a black cap.

In 1881, Pozzi became a hospital surgeon, specializing in gynecological and abdominal surgery. The same year he also became an honorary member of Mirlitons and met the painter John Singer Sargent. Sargent's 1881 portrait of Pozzi depicts him in a red dressing gown and is currently display at the Armand Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

In 1883, Pozzi was appointed surgeon at the Hôpital de Lourcine-Pascal. After 1884 he gave theoretical lectures in the hospital.

In 1888, he became a president of the Society of Anthropology – he had been a member since 1870. He traveled widely to supplement his knowledge.

Pozzi established the first Chair of Gynecology in Paris in 1884. In 1889, he performed the first gastroenterostomy in France.

In 1896, Pozzi was elected to the French Academy of Medicine. In 1897, Pozzi was a co-founder of the Revue de gynécologie et de chirurgie abdominale. In 1898, he commissioned painter Georges Clairin – probably because of their mutual friendship with Bernhardt – to paint a painting for the wall of his Hospital Lourcine.

In 1898, Sarah Bernhardt let only Pozzi operate her ovarian cyst. In 1913, Pozzi and Georges Clemenceau organized the first transplant symposium in Paris.

In 1914, he joined forces again when the First World War erupted and became a military surgeon. In 1915, Bernhardt called again and Pozzi arranged a colleague to amputate her damaged leg.

Political and cultural interests[edit]

Members of the Paris Medical Faculty (1904), caricature by Adrien Barrère: André Chantemesse (1851–1919) Georges Pouchet (1833–1894) Paul Poirier (1853–1907) Paul Georges Dieulafoy (1839–1911) Georges Maurice Debove (1845–1920) Paul Brouardel (1837–1906) Samuel Jean de Pozzi (1846–1918) Paul Jules Tillaux (1834–1904) Georges Hayem (1841–1933) Victor André Cornil (1837–1908) Paul Berger (1845–1908) Jean Casimir Félix Guyon (1831–1920) Pierre-Emile Launois (1856–1914) Adolphe Pinard (1844–1934) Pierre-Constant Budin (1846–1907)

Pozzi also had cultural interest and befriended Marcel Proust and Robert Proust and Robert de Montesquiou. In 1877 Pozzi also befriended poet Louise Ackermann when he asked her to teach him German. Salonniere Lydie Aubernon nicknamed him "the love doctor". Pozzi also corresponded with a feminist writer Augustine Bulteau. He also collected coins and statuettes.

In 1898 Pozzi was elected senator from Bergerac and represented his district for three years. He improved the water supply and sewer drainage of his town and was later involved with the restructuring of the French baccalaureate exams. He did not seek re-election in 1902.

Pozzi also witnessed the second trial of Alfred Dreyfus and supported the side of Émile Zola who rightly believed that Dreyfus was innocent. In 1908 the ashes of Zola were transferred to the Pantheon and both Pozzi and Dreyfus were present. When the journalist Gregori shot at Dreyfus and wounded him on the arm, Pozzi rushed to his aid.


On June 13, 1918, Maurice Machu, former patient from two years before, approached Pozzi in his consulting room. Pozzi had had to amputate his leg and he had become impotent. Machu asked him to operate again. When Pozzi refused because he could not remedy the situation, Machu shot him four times in the stomach. Pozzi ordered himself to be taken to the Historia Hospital but the emergency laparotomy was unsuccessful. He asked to be buried in his military uniform and died shortly afterwards. Machu committed suicide later.

Pozzi was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Bergerac. He was survived by his diplomat son Jean de Pozzi and poet daughter Catherine de Pozzi.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Étude sur les fistules de l’espace pelvi-rectal supérieur etc. Doctoral thesis, Paris, 1871
  • De la valeur de l’hystérotomie dans le traitement des tumeurs fibreuses de l’utérus. Thèse d’agrégation, Paris, 1875
  • Traité de gynécologie clinique et opératoire (Paris, 1890; 2nd edition, 1891; 4th edition, 1905–1907. Translated into six languages.


  1. ^ Caroline De Costa (28 October 2010). The Diva and Doctor God. Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 978-1-4535-7965-7. Retrieved 29 April 2012. 
  • Caroline de Costa and Francesca Miller – Portrait of A Ladies'Man: Dr Samuel-Jean Pozzi (History Today March 2006)

External links[edit]