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Biographical entry Murphy, John Benjamin (1857 - 1916)

Hon FRCS July 31st 1913; MD Rush College Chicago 1879; President American Medical Association 1911; LLD Chicago; Hon DSc Sheffield; Collar and Cross of the Order of St Gregory the Great 1916.

21 December 1857
11 August 1916
General surgeon


The son of Michael Murphy and Ann Grimes his wife. His parents were Roman Catholic immigrants from Ireland, pioneers on a farm near Appleton, Wisconsin. Here he was born on Dec 21st, 1857, and was educated at Appleton High School, where he served as a pupil teacher, and afterwards at Rush Medical College, Chicago, where he graduated MD in 1879. In 1880 he was interne at the Cook County Hospital. He then went into practice with Dr Edward Lee in the Halsted and Blue Island Section of Chicago, and after studying for eighteen months in Germany, was appointed Professor of Clinical Surgery in the Chicago Post-graduate Medical School, becoming Head of the Surgical Department in the Medical School of the North-Western University in 1884, Surgeon to the Mercy Hospital, to St Joseph's Hospital, and to the Columbus Hospital. His surgical ability and inventive talent soon placed him amongst the leading surgeons of the United States, and his frequent visits to Europe made him widely known abroad.

In July, 1913, he was elected an Honorary FRCS as a representative American surgeon when the Seventeenth International Medical Congress met in London. In July, 1914, he headed a large party of medical practitioners from the United States which visited England as the "Clinical Congress of American Surgeons"; in 1916 the Pope conferred upon him the Collar and Cross of the Order of St Gregory.

He married in November, 1885, Jeannette C Plamondon, of Chicago, a lady of great personal beauty who was awarded in 1913 a prize for the best-dressed woman in Paris. By her he had five children, of whom three daughters survived him.

Murphy died suddenly of heart disease on August 11th, 1916, and as a memorial to him was built the Hall of the American College of Surgeons in Chicago. There is a signed portrait of him with an accompanying note in the Honorary Fellows' Album.

Murphy was a successful pioneer in the earlier days of general abdominal surgery, more especially in intestinal anastomosis, in gastro-jejunostomy, and in the treatment of peritonitis. His name is especially associated with the invention and use of 'Murphy's button' for lateral and end-to-end anastomosis before surgeons had learnt to suture the intestine satisfactorily. He advocated the treatment of peritonitis by placing the patient in a semi-erect position in bed and by the gradual instillation of large quantities of warm saline solution into the areolar tissue of the axilla, the pectoral regions, or the rectum. For this purpose he would instil a pint an hour until there were signs of sweating or increased renal secretion - as many as thirty pints being thus employed.

Independently of Fortanini, Murphy suggested the injection of nitrogen into the pleural cavity to produce artificial collapse of the lung. He removed an embolus blocking the common iliac artery, the operation being followed by restoration of the circulation. He advocated the grafting of cartilage and bone to promote union in cases of ununited fracture, and inserted a living graft of soft tissue between the ends of joints to procure arthrodesis or to restore movement after ankylosis. He also elaborated methods of palpation and percussion to obtain a differential diagnosis in difficult abdominal cases.

His "International Clinics" and "Surgical Clinics" answered a useful purpose, and by their repetition of detail were valuable as a means of surgical instruction.

Murphy wrote much, and a bibliography is published in the Index Catalogue of the Surgeon-General's Office, Series ii and iii.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit Med Jour, 1916, ii, 343. Amer Jour Obst, 1917, lxxv, 299, with portrait. Amer Jour Surg, 1916, xxx, 304. Boston Med and Surg Jour, 1916, clxxv, 840].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England