Lane Library

Levi Cooper Lane (1828-1902)

Having already referred to Levi Cooper Lane's birth to Quaker parents on a farm in southwestern Ohio, and to the early camaraderie with his Uncle Elias, we now turn to his education and other relevant activities during the period up to 1861 when he joined his uncle on the faculty of the new medical school in San Francisco.

Levi's first instruction came from his mother Hannah, and his Aunt Ruth Cooper. Both were sisters of his Uncle Elias. In 1840, when Levi was 12 years of age, his parents moved the family from Preble County, Ohio, to Wayne County in southeastern Indiana, where they bought a farm at Greens Fork near Richmond. By this time five of their nine children had been born. In 1853 they moved to Knox County in northwestern Illinois where his father purchased land near Henderson, the home of Dr. Esaias Cooper.


Farmers' College

The Lanes had few luxuries and little money, so Levi began teaching in rural schools when sixteen years of age to earn money for his college education, which he is said to have begun at the now extinct Farmers' College. In seeking to confirm his college attendance, we learned that a highly regarded preparatory school, located in Hamilton County about six miles north of Cincinnati and known as Pleasant Hill Academy, was founded in 1833. In February 1846, the Academy was chartered as Farmers' College, being then the only one of the 120 colleges and 42 seminaries in the United States organized especially for the sons of farmers. Catalogues of Farmers' College from 1847-48, its first year of instruction, through 1851-52, are held in the Archives of the Cincinnati Historical Society Library. The Farmers' College Catalogue for the academic year 1847-48 lists "L. Lane, Butler County, Ohio" as a student, and the listing occurs in no other year. We assume that this "L. Lane" is Levi Cooper Lane and that he is using his grandparents' address in Butler County. Thus we can only document Lane's attendance at Farmers' College during part of one academic year, 1847-48, and there is no record that he received a diploma from the school. [23] [24]


Union College

Founded in 1795, Union College in Schenectady, New York, is the first and now the oldest non-denominational college in the United States. Levi Cooper Lane is said to have attended Union in the autumn and winter of 1849-50. [25] An archivist at Union College has found records showing that Levi Cooper Lane attended Union for only four months, from September through December, in 1849. He was a member of the Class of 1851 for that brief period but did not graduate. There is no evidence that he received either an A. B. or an A.M. degree (honorary or otherwise) from the school which did, however, award him an Honorary LL.D. degree in 1887.

Professor Emmet Rixford reported that Lane's Uncle Jacob was at Union College with him, and that they shared a room as well as a devotion to the classics. According to Rixford: [26]

They had an arrangement with each other that their daily conversation should be in Latin. Doctor Lane would tell with much gusto how one day, when approaching the building in which they lived, he saw his Uncle Esaias leaning out of the window in his shirt sleeves, wildly gesticulating and shouting at the top of his voice, "ignis, ignis." The building was on fire.

With regard to Jacob, if he was at Union College with Levi in 1849, as the above anecdote infers, he was not registered as a student. There is no record at the College that any of the Cooper brothers - Esaias, Elias or Jacob Cooper - ever attended the school. [27]

At best, Levi would appear to have had minimal formal education at the college level. Nevertheless, from his impressive command of Latin, Greek and other languages, and the breadth of his knowledge of classical literature and history, we can conclude that he acquired a remarkable liberal education, and largely through independent or tutorial study. Emmet Rixford (1865-1938), Professor of Surgery at Stanford, was Dr. Lane's assistant and knew him better than anyone else. He had this to say about Dr. Lane's intellectual attainments, and how he acquired them: [28]

Dr. Lane was a highly educated man. With a fair preliminary education, he continued to be a student throughout his long life. Never robust, it was by sheer force of will and self-discipline, and by dividing his sleep, that he formed the habit of using six or seven hours in the middle of the night for study. Six nights in the week he read medicine and did his writing, the seventh night he read in general literature. Thus he was widely read, especially in the literature of surgery in the nineteenth century. He was fond of the classics, read Greek and Latin, also French, German and Spanish. He translated Billroth's Surgical Pathology for his students, laboriously writing it out in longhand in blank books, finishing this or that chapter at three or four in the morning. He read Hippocrates once a year in the Greek.

Lane's massive compendium of 1180 pages entitled Surgery of the Head and Neck, published by him privately in 1896, was the first American textbook on the subject, and the culmination of a life devoted to the study of surgery and the classics. As an introduction to this impressive work, he wrote the following preface evocative of his classical perspective: [29]

It has been the custom of authors in separating from their books to say a parting word to them; this, by some, has been a dedication to a father, brother or friend, and in one case to the Author of Nature. Horace warns his of coming abuse and final neglect; Martial hints to his scroll that it may serve the base use of wrapping fish, or the worse one of becoming a flaming festoon to illuminate and torture the criminal; but Ovid, more ambitious and hopeful, announced in advance the salutations of immortality with which the coming years would greet his Metamorphoses; but the medical writer of today, warned by the fortune of his contemporaries, may prudently contract the horizon of his expectation, and reckon on but a brief life for his book. He who thinks otherwise, reckons ill with Futurity. Thus warned, with limited hope, should a few years of existence be granted to the following pages, the writer's expectations will be fully realized.

Time and the advance of science have indeed long ago made obsolete Lane's extensive treatise, but one cannot scan its contents without recognizing it as scholarly and comprehensive It was the author's definitive contribution to the field of surgery.



Returning to our chronological tracking of Lane's career, we next find him recorded as "L.C. Lane, Student" in the 30 October 1850 census of Hendersonville (later known as Henderson), Knox County, Illinois. Dr. Esaias Cooper is listed on the same page of the census document along with his wife and three children. Lane, who was 22 at the time, had doubtless come to Hendersonville to serve a medical apprenticeship with his Uncle Esaias. [30] Later, in 1853, Lane's family bought land near Henderson and moved there from Indiana. We do not know the duration of Lane's apprenticeship with his Uncle Esaias, which could have also included some time with his Uncle Elias who was then practicing in nearby Peoria. We believe that the apprenticeship encompassed an overall period of three years (possibly 1848 through 1850).


Jefferson Medical College

Levi Cooper Lane was awarded an MD degree by Jefferson Medical College at Philadelphia in 1851, the same year in which Elias Cooper received his MD from St. Louis University.

The Jefferson Medical College Student Register, a log book in which all students are registered in their own handwriting, includes this entry:

E. L. C. Lane, M.D., Henderson, Illinois, October 9, 1850


Attended Rush Medical College 1849-50

We believe that the above entry was made by Levi Cooper Lane. He registered as an "M.D.", a degree he did not then hold but probably used during apprenticeship with his Uncle Esaias in Henderson. In order to determine whether Lane did in fact attend Rush Medical College an archivist at Rush was consulted, but could find no evidence that Lane registered there as a student or received a degree. However, important Rush records from the period in question were destroyed when the School burned down in the great Chicago fire of 1871.

The Annual Announcement for Jefferson Medical College for the Session of 1850-51 gives the following requirements which were fairly standard for the MD degree in American medical schools at the time:

  1. The Candidate must have attended two full courses of lectures in some respectable medical school, one of which shall have been in this college (duration of each lecture course, 4 months);

  2. must have at least one course of clinical instruction;

  3. must present to the Dean of the faculty a thesis of his own composition correctly written and in his own handwriting on some medical subject; and

  4. must have studied medicine for not less than three years.

Authorities at Jefferson Medical College appear to have accepted Lane's claim of attendance at Rush Medical School in fulfillment of requirement (1) above. In fulfillment of requirement (3), Lane exhibited his classical learning by submitting the following thesis in Latin: [31]

"De Febribus Miasmaticus in Illinois Septentrionali (Of Miasmatic Fevers in Northern Illinois) "

Lane's apprenticeship with his Uncle Esaias satisfied requirement. (4).


Medical Practice in Henderson

Biographical sketches of Levi Cooper Lane frequently include a statement such as the following: [32] [33] [34] [35]

He was graduated in medicine from Jefferson in 1851, and spent the following four years as interne and house officer at Ward's Island, New York.

However, we have determined that Instead of taking an internship at Ward's Island immediately after graduation from Jefferson in 1851, Lane went to Peoria where he entered practice, doubtless in association with his Uncle Elias. The evidence for this is found in Transactions of the Illinois State Medical Society, Minutes of the Second Annual Meeting, Jacksonville, Illinois, 1-3 June 1852.

In a paper on "Treatment of incomplete anchylosis of the knee joint" read before the Society on 2 June 1852, Elias Samuel Cooper describes a patient treated for anchylosis during the period from 26 January to 20 May 1852. In this paper he remarks that the progress and cure of the patient were "frequently noticed by Drs. John L. Hamilton, J.T. Stewart, W.R. Hamilton, and L.C. Lane of Peoria."

On the same day at the Society, Cooper read another paper entitled "Remarks on transforming lacerated and contused, into incised wounds" written by "L.C. Lane, M.D., of Peoria." Finally, L.C. Lane is listed in the Minutes of that meeting as elected to be a Permanent Member of the Society, proposed for membership by E.S. Cooper. Here Lane's address is given as "Henderson." From these citations, we can deduce that Lane practiced in Peoria from mid-1851 to mid-1852. As we shall later see, Lane refers in his obituary on Cooper to having personally witnessed his uncle's devotion to dissection and medical practice, thus confirming that he was associated with him in Peoria. [36]

In mid-1852 Lane moved from Peoria to Henderson (near Galesburg in Knox County, Illinois) where he resumed medical practice with his Uncle Esaias. We are confident of this because of the following information. On 26 June 1852 a group of Knox County physicians met at Galesburg, Illinois, for the purpose of organizing the Knox County Medical Society. The group chose E.S. Cooper, MD, from Saint Louis University, to serve as President and L.C. Lane, MD, from Jefferson Medical College to serve as Secretary. [37] The "E.S. Cooper" here named is undoubtedly Esaias Samuel Cooper who practiced in Henderson near Galesburg in Knox County and "L.C. Lane" is his nephew, Levi Cooper Lane.

Due to the fact that Elias Samuel Cooper was also known as "E.S. Cooper", some biographers have erroneously credited Elias, who practiced in neighboring Peoria County but never in Knox County, with being the founder of Knox County Medical Society. When Knox County Medical Society met at Henderson on 9 October 1853, Dr. Lane was still serving as Secretary. [38] When the Society met at Galesburg on 1 July 1854, Dr. Esaias Cooper was named a Censor, but Dr. Lane was no longer listed as Secretary, and there was no mention of him in the published proceedings. By this time Lane had left Henderson. [39]

From the above evidence, we conclude that Dr. Lane was engaged in medical practice in Peoria with his Uncle Elias for a year from mid-1851 to mid-1952; and that he practiced in Henderson with his Uncle Esaias for two years from 1852 to 1854.


Ward's Island

Tiring of the country practice in which he had been engaged in Peoria and Henderson for the previous three years, Lane moved to the East Coast in 1854 to become House Surgeon to the Lying-in Department of the New York Emigrant Hospital. The hospital was located on Ward's Island, New York City, and at the time contained never less than 3000 inmates. When Elias and Jacob Cooper stopped for a few days in New York on their return from Europe in 1854 they visited with Dr. Lane on 27 and 28 December before proceeding by rail to Somerville, Ohio. [40]


Surgeon on a Merchant Vessel

Lane served at Ward's Island until 24 March 1855 when he sailed for England as surgeon on a merchant vessel plying between New York and Liverpool. While his ship was lying in port at Liverpool, he went to London and Paris and was greatly delighted with his visit. Upon his return to New York he embarked on a second voyage in the same ship and returned to New York about 1 December.1855. [41]


Navy Surgeon

In December 1855 Lane applied for a commission in the United States Navy. [42] He was highly successful on the entrance examination, the Navy Examining Board awarding him the first place on the merit-roll, over the entire list of successful candidates. His record remained the highest in Navy Examinations for many years. It is said that he astounded the Board by submitting, as part of his examination, an essay on "External Urethrotomy" written in Latin. For a time after entering the Navy he was stationed at the great Naval Hospital at Quarantine, Staten Island, New York, where, he always said, he learned to know typhoid fever. In fact, he himself was desperately ill with it. Indeed, his sister Catherine and his mother both died of the disease in 1863. [43] [44]

In due course, Lane was assigned to a navy ship. While on sea duty his ship was stationed for a time off the coast of Central America where he learned Spanish and, in 1859, performed a thyroidectomy for goiter on a Nicaraguan woman. He had never previously undertaken such an operation, recognized as requiring major technical skill even under the best of conditions. The procedure, done before the days of asepsis and the hemostatic forceps, is graphically described by Lane in his monograph on Surgery of the Head and Neck to which we previously referred: [45] [46]

This operation was performed on a woman in Chinandega Nicaragua; and as aids were a German and an American physician, residents of that city. As it was thought possible that the woman might die during the operation, the priestly official with his tapers and other appanage in use there in the death ceremonial, stood near by to perform the last offices, should the knife render them necessary. The Patio of the Spanish house, and the street in front, were crowded with curious spectators of the bloody drama which was to be enacted: a scene in which the operator and patient played parts as interesting to that motley company of witnesses, as did the gladiators of old to the Roman corona, which once filled the Coliseum. The operation was a very bloody one, and midway in the work, the bleeding was so profuse that one of the assistants was seized with panic, and begged that the work should cease there. These remonstrances were not heeded; the patient could not have run more risk from concluding the work than from leaving the half-enucleated tumor in her neck. By the careful ligation of vessels, and dissection of the growth from the parts to which it was attached, the work of removal was brought to a fortunate issue. The patient soon recovered, and was amply repaid for the risk of submitting to an operation which had rarely been done, risks here augmented through submitting to a knife which had been disciplined by but little experience.

Incidentally, while Lane's ship was off the coast of Central America, it became the temporary refuge of members of the filibustering expedition of the infamous William Walker who sought to control Nicaragua and reintroduce slavery, the detestable institution which had already been outlawed by the Nicaraguan authorities for a generation. Walker's erratic and violent career in California and Central America, which attracted international attention at the time, was finally terminated by a Honduran firing squad. [47]


Shore Leave in San Francisco

Later in 1859 Lane was aboard the U.S. sloop-of-war Decatur when it steamed through the Golden Gate to anchor at the port of San Francisco. There was a joyous reunion with his Uncle Elias Cooper who had in the previous year fulfilled his dream of founding a medical school on the Pacific Coast. Cooper induced Lane to resign his commission in the Navy in 1859 with the offer of a Professorship of Physiology in the new school, and an association with him in surgical practice. In the San Francisco Medical Press, the journal established in January 1860 by Cooper as an outlet for his own viewpoint in a community hostile to the new school, he published editorials in 1860 and 1861 describing Lane as a gentleman of intelligence and suavity of manners who would work for the elevation of the profession, and be a valuable addition to the school's faculty - an understatement, as time would tell. [48]


European Study

Following his resignation from the Navy, and in order to prepare himself for professorial duties in the Medical Department of the University of the Pacific, Lane spent over a year in Europe. At the University of Göttingen in Germany he took a Special Course of Vivisections with Rudolph Wagner; and also a Practical Course of Physiological and Toxicological Chemistry in the Laboratory there, under the supervision of Professors Boedeker and Woehler. At Paris, besides attending some of the principal hospitals, he attended a Course of Vivisections with Flourens; and also a Course of Chemical Lectures by Fremy and Chevreul. [49]


Professor Lane

In the July 1861 issue of the San Francisco Medical Press Cooper wrote:

At a recent meeting of the Trustees of the University of the Pacific, at Santa Clara, Dr. L.C. Lane, late of the U.S. Navy, was appointed to the Chair of Professorship of Physiology, in the Medical Department that is located in San Francisco.

Upon taking up his position on the faculty, Lane immediately became a source of much needed relief and solace for his Uncle Elias who was then approaching complete exhaustion from failing health, worsened by the professional and medicolegal harassment he had endured since his move to San Francisco. In the months that followed, Lane found it necessary to assume increasing responsibility for his uncle's affairs, including acceptance of the editorship of the San Francisco Medical Press in July 1862. By this time Cooper's illness was terminal, and his death in October at the age of 41 signaled the impending close of the stormy fledgling era of the school. Had not Lane appeared on the scene when he did, there is little doubt that the school would never have recovered from the premature loss of its founder. In retrospect, there is something eerily providential about the impulse that prompted Lane, born and bred in the pacifist Quaker creed on a farm in Ohio, to join the Navy whose sloop-of-war, at a crucial stage of events, delivered him to the port of San Francisco for a fateful rendezvous with his Uncle Elias and his destiny.

In summary, let us again note that Elias Cooper's personal papers contain virtually no record of his early schooling, apprenticeship and medical education. Therefore, we have gleaned as many facts on this subject as possible from collateral sources and combined them with biographical sketches of the Cooper brothers and his nephew, Levi Cooper Lane. The purpose of this compilation is to provide background for the ensuing chronological account of Elias Cooper's medical career, including related developments in medical science and education. We shall rejoin him now as he begins a general medical practice.

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