John Martyn Harlow

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John Martyn Harlow
John Martyn Harlow
Born (1819-11-25)November 25, 1819
Whitehall, New York
Died May 13, 1907(1907-05-13) (aged 87)
Woburn, Massachusetts
Education Philadelphia School of Anatomy, Jefferson Medical College
Occupation Physician, bank director
Known for Attendance on brain-injury survivor Phineas Gage
Signature of John M. Harlow

John Martyn Harlow (November 25, 1819 – May 13, 1907) was an American physician primarily remembered for his attendance on brain-injury survivor Phineas Gage, and for his published reports on Gage's accident and subsequent history.

Harlow was born in Whitehall, New York on November 25, 1819. He studied at Philadelphia School of Anatomy and graduated from Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia in 1844.[1] His practice in Cavendish, Vermont, near which Gage's accident occurred in 1848, brought Gage under his care. In 1857 he left Cavendish due to poor health,[2] and spent three years traveling and studying in Minnesota and Philadelphia before setting up a practice in Woburn, Massachusetts[3] and joining the Massachusetts Medical Society on December 17, 1861.[2][4]

His first paper regarding Gage appeared in Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in late 1848; a short follow-up note appeared early the next year. Almost twenty years later, in 1868, he published a final paper recounting what he had been able to learn about the subsequent history of his patient (who died in 1860), and presenting psychological changes in Gage which, presumably, were sequelae of the accident. In one of the most memorably strange examples ever of dogged long-term medical followup, Harlow, having "trac[ed Gage] in his wanderings over the greater part of this continent"[citation needed] (by which he meant South as well as North America, Gage having spent seven years in Chile before continuing to California) had even obtained Gage's skull for use in preparing the paper.[5]

In his later years he was a bank and railroad director.[citation needed] He was highly active in civic affairs such as city health commissions, was a local medical official during the Civil War, and was elected to the Massachusetts legislature.[citation needed] He left most of his substantial wealth to charity, for example endowing a ward for the poor at Massachusetts General Hospital[citation needed] and a book fund at Woburn Memorial High School's library, which is named for him.[citation needed]


  • Harlow, John Martyn (1848). "Passage of an iron rod through the head". Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 39: 389–393. doi:10.1056/nejm184812130392001.  (also issued as an offprint, vide Cordasco, 60-0808)
  • Recovery from the Passage of an Iron Bar Through the Head (1868) in Publications of the Massachusetts Medical Society 2:327–347.

Reprinted in History of Psychiatry, Vol. 4, No. 14, 274-281 (1993) doi:10.1177/0957154X9300401407 On Wikisource at: s:Recovery from the passage of an iron bar through the head


  1. ^ Samuel Atkins Eliot (1911). Biographical history of Massachusetts: biographies and autobiographies of the leading men in the state, Volume 1. Massachusetts Biographical Society. 
  2. ^ a b Malcolm Macmillan (2000). An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage. MIT Press. p. 351. ISBN 0-262-63259-4. 
  3. ^ "Harlow has taken up his residence in Woburn". Middlesex Journal. November 9, 1861. 
  4. ^ "Harlow membership to Massachusetts Medical Society". Minutes of the Middlesex East District Medical Society. December 17, 1861. 
  5. ^ John Barnard Swett. "A Descriptive Catalogue of the Warren Anatomical Museum".