Basil Gavin.

Michael Freebern Gavin; a biography: online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryBasil GavinMichael Freebern Gavin; a biography: → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


NYPL RESEARCH LIBRARIES



3 3433 08240159 1



^ -ytf



|> Q<\



G*



■^vm



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN



THEKlV.' YORK '

PUBLIC RY



tASTOR, I &N a mi\D
1L.DEJK i-OUN: NS I

i L



i




© JAMES T. WHITE & CO.



tU %$&**■



I ^J w i-..






MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN



A BIOGRAPHY: EDITED BY HIS SON

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
CLARENCE JOHN BLAKE, M.D.



-V



PRIVATELY PRINTED AT THE RIVERSIDE PRESS
CAMBRIDGE; MDCCCCXV



CJ















THE NEW YORK

PWatlkLJRRARY



ASTOR, LENOX AND

TILDJKN FOUNDATIONS

R 1935 L



COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY ELLEN T. GAVIN



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED






<



TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION ix

I. ANCESTRY AND CHILDHOOD I

II. EDUCATION. MEDICAL STUDIES II

III. FURTHER PROFESSIONAL PREPARA-

TION 21

IV. EARLY PRIVATE PRACTICE 30
V. LATER PRIVATE PRACTICE 40

VI. BOSTON CITY HOSPITAL 54

VII. OTHER PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS.

WRITINGS 63

VIII. SUMMARY OF DOCTOR GAVIN'S PRO-
FESSIONAL CAREER 77

IX. BUSINESS AND SOCIAL ACTIVITIES.

HOME. RECREATIONS. LIBRARY. 95

X. HIS CHARACTER 114

EXTRACTS FROM LETTERS 131



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN, M.D. Frontispiece

DR. GAVIN AS ACTING ASSISTANT SURGEON,
U.S.N. 1863 16

DR. GAVIN AS FIRST LIEUTENANT AND AS-
SISTANT SURGEON, U.S.V. 1865 26

DR. GAVIN AT THE TIME OF HIS MARRIAGE
IN 1876 42

HOUSE OFFICERS OF THE BOSTON CITY

HOSPITAL IN 1865 54

DR. GAVIN'S SURGICAL SERVICE AT THE

BOSTON CITY HOSPITAL IN 1903 60

DR. GAVIN IN MIDDLE LIFE 84

IN CAMP AT "THE BIRCHES" 104

LETTER TO MRS. GAVIN 132



INTRODUCTION

To no man in any walk of life is there given a
larger opportunity for personal helpfulness than to
the physician : his touch with the vital concerns of
his fellows is the more immediate, and the more
directive, because the condition of the relationship
is distinctly personal ; barriers fall away before the
pressure of a need, entitled because of its individu-
ality, as well as because of its companionship in
common welfare, to the help it seeks.

As the custodian of painstakingly acquired knowl-
edge, at the disposal of whosoever may be bettered
by its application, the physician holds an enviable
place in the community, and finds in it ample oppor-
tunity for the outgiving of such qualities as are evi-
denced in kindliness, helpfulness, encouragement,
and the gentle and discriminative presentation of
the truth.

The ability to make just and continued application
of such gifts, to supplement the lack in other lives
by remedies other than material merely, bespeaks
the possession of a fund of wholesomeness, of a
sane appreciation of the beauty and the goodness
of life, and of a sympathy illuminated by the desire
to pass on these acquisitions.

ix



INTRODUCTION

Of such sort was the man whose name this vol-
ume bears, — its contents the testimony of his own
recorded well-lived life, and the tributes of his fam-
ily and friends, gathered in loving memory by his
son.

To have centered all of one's best possessions
upon a useful purpose, to have brought to bear
upon this all of one's best characteristics, to have
put aside self in order to follow duty in the light
of a reverent faith, is to have lived and wrought
as did our friend.

Clarence John Blake, M.D.



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN



CHAPTER I

ANCESTRY AND CHILDHOOD

Michael Freebern Gavin, the son of John
Gavin and Mary Freebern Gavin, was born at
Roscommon, Ireland, on the twelfth of May, 1844.
His father, John Gavin, a carriage-builder by trade,
came originally from County Galway, but later
moved to Roscommon and established his busi-
ness there ; and there he married Mary Freebern,
who was of Scotch descent and whose father, Rob-
ert Freebern, had been an officer in the English
army and had fought under Wellington at Water-
loo. Here, at Roscommon, a family of nine chil-
dren, five boys and four girls, was born to them,
to bless their long and happy union. Of the five
sons, Robert, the eldest, remained at home to
carry on his father's trade, while the other four —
Michael F., Patrick F., John H., and George F.
— departed, one by one, for America, where, with

a striking unanimity of choice, each of the four

1



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

in turn selected for his profession the practice of
medicine.

Michael Freebern Gavin was the fifth born of
the nine children and spent the first twelve years
of his life in Roscommon, where he received his
early schooling at the convent of the Sisters of
Mercy. Here the foundations of his education, in-
cluding the rudiments of Latin and the classics,
were thoroughly laid, and here the deep underly-
ing religion of his nature, first of all established
in his home, must have been fostered and devel-
oped. Here also in his birthplace, in some degree,
perhaps, from his books, but doubtless to a far
greater extent from his surroundings, he acquired
a love for Ireland and an interest in her welfare
which endured throughout his life.

Nor is this to be wondered at : for the little town
of Roscommon, though numbering only two thou-
sand souls, has played a part of no small impor-
tance in the history of the nation. Viewed merely
from a modern standpoint, it is noted for its flour-
ishing trade in live-stock and in agricultural prod-
uce ; and it is moreover the county town for County
Roscommon, so that here are held the assizes, and,
alternately with Boyle and Stokestown, the quar-
ter sessions.

Turning from the present to the past, one strikes
at once deep to the roots of Irish history, and

2



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

enters a land of saints and priors, of soldiers and
princes, a land rich in memories of

Old, unhappy far-off things
And battles long ago.

For it was to this spot that Saint Coman came, as
early as the sixth century, to found the monastery
of Canons Regular; and after him the town was
named, since Roscommon in the Irish tongue
means the Wood of Saint Coman. The name of
the Saint, however, is not all that is left to recall
to the people of Roscommon the history of their
town. There remain also the ruins of the Domini-
can priory founded in the middle of the thirteenth
century by Felim O' Conor, Prince of Connaught,
son of Cahal of the Red Hand, which still reveal,
in spite of mutilation and decay, traces of the skill
of architects and builders of those early days. The
near-by Abbey of Boyle, a celebrated Cistercian
monastery founded in the twelfth century and
richly endowed, is another excellent example of the
culture of the past. It was long known through-
out the country as a seat of learning, and there
were composed \\\e Annals of Boyle , authentic rec-
ords of ancient Irish history. Roscommon was al-
ways noted for its learning and for the fact that its
monasteries persisted in maintaining their Irish
superiors in the face of violent Norman opposition.

3



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

If the priories thus bring to the mind thoughts
of religion and of peace, there stands near by, on
the outskirts of the town, a reminder of ancient
strife in the ruins of the Anglo-Norman castle
founded in the year 1268 by John D'Ufford, Jus-
ticiary of Ireland. Thrice during the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries this castle was besieged by
invaders, and finally, after the battle of Aughrim in
1691, it was partially destroyed and burned ; yet
portions of its walls remain, and from its slope of
rising ground it still looks down upon the plain
below, defying time and change.

All these memories of Roscommon's former
greatness must have played their part in forming
Michael Gavin's early impressions, and in instill-
ing in his heart the love he always felt for his
birthplace and his interest in his country at large.
In later years he refers to " the good old town of
my birth. My senses are as warm to its residents
and its welfare as if I still paraded the main street
and held forth in Abbeytown." For Ireland and
for her people he had a lasting fondness. Miss
Katherine E. Conway, the authoress, says of him :
"Like all noble-hearted men of Irish blood, he
loved his native land and was well informed re-
garding her history." His library contained scores
of books on the subject of Ireland. The standard
Irish histories, dealing with both ancient and mod-

4



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

ern times, volumes covering all periods of spe-
cial interest, the old Irish sages, religious works,
geographies, biographies of statesmen and patriots,
fiction, poetry, folk-lore, — many of the volumes
autographed, — everything was there, in fact, of
interest to the student of Ireland and of Irish af-
fairs. Though never ostentatious in his interest,
Michael Gavin never forgot his native country and
her people, and his hopes were always, as Miss
Conway again expresses it, "for a practical real-
ization of her dreams."

Mr. James E. Cotter, a friend of later years, aptly
phrases his thought in saying: "He was both an
intense and patriotic American, but at the same
time always a loyal Irishman." His life in this re-
spect recalls to mind that consummate artist, son
of " the heather and the wind," who wrote in dis-
tant Calistoga, —

From the dim shieling on the misty island
Mountains divide us, and a world of seas;
Yet still our hearts are true, our hearts are Highland,
And we, in dreams, behold the Hebrides.

One of Michael Gavin's strongest inherent traits
was his love for, or rather his devotion to, his
parents. This love was a very deeply rooted part
of his nature and endured undiminished by sepa-
ration or time. In a letter written by him in 1876,
years after he had left Roscommon, when he was

5



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

successfully established in his profession in Amer-
ica, he says : " I have a letter to write to my dear
Father before going to bed to-night, and the pleas-
ure it gives me to do so, is only equalled by see-
ing him or getting a letter from him. To me it
always appears that I am still young and a child,
while I get letters beginning with the affectionate
1 My dear child/ or ' My dear Boy.' To many, such
a feeling might appear childish, but I am willing
to act the child under these circumstances." And
on another occasion he writes : " I often think of
the great pleasure it always afforded me to sit
down and chat with my father. Those who knew
my father when he was young often tell me that I
resemble him very much. No small compliment,
by the way."

Although his mother died when he was young,
her memory was always fresh, and treasured in
Michael Gavin's heart. To quote once more from
his letters : " There are some songs which my
mother was in the habit of singing, that whenever
I hear them sung it is with the greatest difficulty
that I can keep back my tears. She was particu-
larly fond of the old Scotch ballads, some of which
are really beautiful. My old friend, Mr. Grant, was
in the habit of playing many of them for me, and
although they make me sad, it is a sadness that
brings with it all the endearing qualities of the

6



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

best of mothers." Again : " There are times when
I find myself reverting back to the time when my
mother would sit down in the evening and read
stories for us, riveting our attention to every word
she said and making us feel as if we were the actors
in the story and not the hearers. There are some
of the home scenes, which have such an attraction
for me, never to be effaced."

In reviewing later Michael Gavin's life, charac-
ter, and ideals we must not, therefore, forget the
effect that this feeling of love and respect for his
parents must have had upon him, and the unclouded,
deserved devotion they commanded from a nature
such as his should be given due credit for the great-
est influence on his later development.

Having thus glanced at some of the direct fac-
tors which tended to shape and develop Michael
Gavin's character, there remain to be considered
other influences of race and ancestry producing
certain racial characteristics, which he possessed
in a marked degree. First, he was distinguished for
his geniality, for that which has been termed the
"sunniness" of the Irish nature. It was not, how-
ever, that effusive, somewhat strained geniality
which some men assume as a distinct manner, to
be put on or laid aside as the occasion may de-
mand ; but with him it took the form of a kindli-
ness so quiet and restrained, that most people meet-

7



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

ing him for the first time possibly failed to ap-
preciate the qualities of heart and brain which lay
beneath his unassuming exterior. This kindliness
had, moreover, the great quality of being lasting.
In the homely but expressive phrase, he was a
man who was "always the same," equally to be
relied upon in a desperate crisis, or in the quiet
round of everyday life.

A second racial quality of Michael Gavin's was
his domesticity. While he was distinctly a broad
man, who read widely and had traveled much, who
mingled freely with all classes, and studied them
from varying viewpoints, yet despite his many ac-
tivities, when all of his outside work was over, he
turned instinctively and unerringly to his home.
He was in no sense of the word a " club-man" or
a man who cared for public life. The simple do-
mestic ties, the companionship of wife and son and
daughter, the pleasant familiar chat with friends,
the quiet of his library, — these were the things
Michael Gavin prized. To quote his own words,
"The more I stop at home the greater my love for
home becomes, for at home I can always find some-
thing to learn."

Thirdly, he possessed an Irishman's ingrained
veneration for religion, fostered and developed,
first, by an ideal Catholic home, and then by his
early education; and while in this respect he was

8



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

again unostentatious, yet his life was lived with a
firm belief in, and reliance on, a beneficent Cre-
ator, who ordains events for the best, and in whom
is to be found consolation.

Lastly, Michael Gavin possessed that typical
Irish trait, so hard to express in a single word, but
which might be called alertness, or a delight in
life.

It was this love of life, this unquenchable joy in
experiencing its daily miracles, which so strongly
characterized Michael Gavin. He never wearied of
the great pageant of the world, was never for an
instant bored by it. He enjoyed nature to the full :
flowers; the blossoming trees in the springtime;
the summer skies ; the woods ; the ocean. In one of
his letters he minutely describes the coming of two
swallows to his garden, and their home-building
there. He had his work, his family, his friends, his
books, — a thousand and one interests to fill his
busy days. "I cannot see," he writes, "how peo-
ple can live and be happy, without constant occu-
pation of mind and body." Inactivity, the wasting
of precious moments, was perhaps the one thing
he could not endure. He lived his life to the full.

Thus, from an outline of his birth and parentage,
a faint portrait of Michael Gavin begins to emerge ;
the picture of a man genial, affectionate, high-
minded, and sincerely religious, the picture of a

9



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

man whom many of his friends have sought to re-
member by terming him, " In the best and finest
meaning of the words a true Irish gentleman of the
old school."



CHAPTER II

EDUCATION. MEDICAL STUDIES

At the age of thirteen Michael Gavin came to
America. Some years before, his sister Mary had
married Patrick Morris of Roscommon, and shortly
after their marriage they had left Ireland for Amer-
ica, where Mr. Morris established himself as a drug-
gist, on the corner of Federal and Purchase streets
in Boston. The business prospered and the Mor-
rises, realizing that opportunities for success were
greater in the new world than in the old, sent word
for Michael to come and live with them. Accord-
ingly, in 1857, he crossed the ocean alone, and for
the next few years made his home with his sister,
pursuing his studies at the school of William T.
Adams (the well-known " Oliver Optic" and author
of Oliver Optic's Annual), which was located on
lower Broadway, South Boston. A lasting intimacy
grew up between teacher and pupil, and years
later, after Michael Gavin was established in his
profession, he would take delight in driving to
Dorchester and chatting again with Mr. Adams,
for whom he always had the warmest liking and
regard.

11



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

At this time he had also the opportunity of being
tutored in special subjects, especially in Latin,
which helped him much in his later medical work.
In his spare moments he worked in Mr. Morris's
store and thereby obtained a knowledge of materia
medica, which in after years was to prove extremely
serviceable. A pleasant glimpse of him at this
period is afforded us by a lady who remembers, as
a child, going with other small companions to Mr.
Morris's shop to purchase lollipops and other dain-
ties dear to the heart of youth. It was young Gavin
who always served them, and it is interesting to
observe that even then he displayed the same traits
of character which were later to endear him so
deeply to his friends.

As soon as we entered [says the lady], he would put
down his book and come forward quickly and smiling-
ly to find out what it was that we desired. He was
always pleasant, courteous and kind, and showed a
regard for the children who patronized the shop, and
an interest in pleasing them, which made us all adore
him, since we felt, instinctively, that his liking for us
was not in the least assumed but was perfectly gen-
uine and sincere.

At this time two friends of Michael Gavin were
with him in Mr. Morris's store, and, strangely
enough, all three were destined to take up later
the study of medicine, and to follow it successfully

12



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

throughout their lives. One of these friends was
Dr. John G. Blake of Boston, and the other Dr.
Francis C. Plunkett of Lowell.

It must have been about the year i860 that
Michael Gavin definitely decided to follow the
practice of medicine, and he accordingly com-
pleted his schooling, studying further with a pri-
vate tutor, and, while still attending to his duties
at Mr. Morris's, read, in his leisure moments, as
widely as possible upon medical subjects ; and so,
by 1 86 1, he was ready to enter the Harvard Medical
School. According to the regulations of the school,
in those times, three years' study of medicine was
necessary for a degree, but two years only had to
be spent at the school. During the third year the
candidate might attend some other institution, or
might study under the supervision of some duly
qualified physician, or in some hospital. Michael
Gavin took the required two years' work in the
School, and in addition took summer courses in
1861, 1862, and 1863. He attended clinics at the
Massachusetts General Hospital and performed
surgical dispensary work as well. His superior at
this time commended his work in the dispensary
as " faithful, zealous, prompt, and practical."

At this time the Faculty of the Medical School
was made up as follows : Dr. D. Humphreys
Storer was the Dean of the Faculty, and Professor

13



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

of Midwifery and Medical Jurisprudence ; Dr. John
B. S. Jackson was Professor of Pathological Anat-
omy ; Dr. Henry I. Bowditch w r as Professor of
Clinical Medicine ; Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes
was Professor of Anatomy and Physiology ; Dr.
George C. Shattuck and Dr. Calvin Ellis were
Professors of Theory and Practice ; Dr. John Bacon
was Professor of Chemistry ; Dr. Henry J. Bige-
low was Professor of Surgery; Dr. Edward H.
Clarke was Professor of Materia Medica ; and Dr.
Charles E. Brown-Sequard was Professor of the
Physiology and Pathology of the Nervous System
— an imposing list of learned scholars and distin-
guished practitioners.

Michael Gavin entered the Medical School in
1 86 1, took all the required work, and received the
degree of Doctor of Medicine in the spring of 1864.
Although in the light of modern requirements it
might appear that the student of those days pro-
ceeded along a simple path, the actual acquisition
of a degree was by no means an easy task. A final
oral examination in nine different subjects had to
be passed successfully, and the names of the faculty
in Michael Gavin's day, as just recounted, are of a
quality sufficient to convince one that this test, with
its interviews with each professor in turn, must
have been an ordeal of no small magnitude.

The period during which Michael Gavin at-

14



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

tended the Medical School was a memorable one
in the history of America, and recalls at once to
mind the strife which was then raging between
the North and the South. It is evident that while
still a medical student young Gavin was eager
to go to the front, for in July, 1862, he took the
examination for acting assistant surgeon in the
United States Navy. A friendship had developed
between him and his Professor, Dr. Oliver Wen-
dell Holmes, and the following letter is interest-
ing, showing as it does the regard which Dr.
Holmes felt for his pupil.

Boston, July 15, 1862.

Mr. M. F. Gavin attended Medical Lectures during
the last season of the school of Harvard University.
I formed his acquaintance and was very favorably im-
pressed with his intelligence and agreeable manner.
He was a most attentive student and bears every mark
of being earnest in the pursuit of the knowledge which
will make him useful.

As Mr. Gavin wishes to be considered as a candi-
date for the place as Acting Assistant Surgeon in the
Navy, it gives me much pleasure to commend him to
the kind and candid attention of the examiners.

Hoping that he will prove himself fitted for the place
which I believe he will fill ably and honorably, I am,

Yours very truly,
Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Undoubtedly his youth counted against young
Gavin, for he did not receive his appointment that

15



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

year, but in the following- year, Dr. Holmes again
recommended him as follows :

21 Charles St., Sept. 8, 1863.
My dear Sir: —

I have much pleasure in recommending to your no-
tice Mr. M. F. Gavin the bearer of this note. He
wishes to be examined for a place as Acting Assistant
Surgeon in the Navy.

I have seen a great deal of Mr. Gavin and found him
a very amiable and intelligent young man, whom it
would give me real pleasure to assist in his professional
career, feeling confident that he means to try hard for
success, and not doubting, that if placed in a position
to show his zeal and capacity, he will do himself and
his instructors credit.

I am, my dear sir,

Yours very truly,

O. W. Holmes.

This time he received his appointment, but there
was another delay and when he finally had orders
to report for duty at Cairo, Illinois, with Rear Ad-
miral Porter's Mississippi squadron, his plans had
been completely changed, and with prospects of a
useful medical career before him, it seemed best
to the Doctor and his friends to abandon the idea
of entering the Navy at this time ; and so, on Oc-
tober 17, 1863, his appointment was revoked. It
is interesting, however, to read what he writes in
a letter to a friend : " The poet Holmes has been
one of my best friends. How pleased he was to

16




DR. GAVIN AS ACTING ASSISTANT SURGEON, U.S.N. 1S63



*ART|



AST01
R



MICHAEL FREEBERN GAVIN

see me, after getting a commission in the United
States Navy for which he had recommended me.
Of course I called to see him dressed in my mili-
tary suit with gold lace. ..." This intimacy be-
tween professor and pupil was destined to continue
for many years, and is evidenced by several other
interesting letters from Dr. Holmes, written to Mr.
Gavin years afterwards, when the younger man
was practising for himself.

Although his plans to enter the Navy were not
carried out, the war was destined to influence
Michael Gavin's future in another way, and even
before his graduation from the Medical School
gave him the opportunity of becoming connected
with the Boston City Hospital and of serving there
as house officer, not only during the first year of
its existence, but even from the day when its doors
were thrown open to the public. The events lead-
ing up to the establishment of the hospital and to
Dr. Gavin's appointment were briefly as follows.
As early as 1849, there had been some discussion
as to the advisability of building a hospital for the
worthy poor of Boston. Nothing definite, how-


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryBasil GavinMichael Freebern Gavin; a biography: → online text (page 1 of 9)