Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

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Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. circa 1894.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. circa 1894.

Oliver Wendell Holmes the elder, (August 29, 1809October 8, 1894) was a physician by profession but achieved fame as a writer; he was one of the best regarded American poets of the 19th century.

He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of a minister. He was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and at Harvard University. He first attained national prominence with his poem "Old Ironsides" about the 18th century battleship USS Constitution, which was to be broken up for scrap; the poem generated public sentiment that resulted in the historic ship being preserved as a monument. One of his most popular works was The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. He was one of the the five members of the group known as the Fireside Poets.

He went to Paris for three years to study medicine, then returned to get his doctorate at Harvard in 1836, the same year the first book of his verse was published. He then became a professor of anatomy and physiology at Dartmouth College.

He was a contributor of poems and essays to the Atlantic Monthly from its inception, and also published novels. His son was Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

In 1846, in a letter to William T. G. Morton, the dentist who was the first practicioner to publicly demonstrate the use of ether during surgery, Holmes coined the word anæsthesia.

Holmes died in Boston, Massachusetts in 1894, and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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