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Crawford W. Long

Crawford W. Long, M.D. (1815-1878)

Crawford Williamson Long was born November 1, 1815 in Danielsville, Georgia to Elizabeth and James Long, a prominent Madison County family. James Long, a planter, merchant and state senator, named his first born son after a close friend, noted Georgia statesman William H. Crawford. The young Long was reared in a cultured and refined household along with one brother and two sisters.

After graduation from the local academy at the age of fourteen, Crawford Long attended Franklin College (now the University of Georgia), receiving an A.M. degree in 1835. He then began his study of medicine with a preceptor, Dr. George Grant, in nearby Jefferson. Long’s medical education continued at Transylvania University in Kentucky and at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, from which he was granted a medical degree in 1839. After a period of eighteen months working in the Hospitals of New York City, the young doctor returned home to Georgia-a well-trained physician and skilled surgeon.

In the early 1800’s, laughing gas parties were-quiet fashionable. Crawford Long observed that while under the influence-of inhaled ether, a person could receive falls or blows and have no pain from these accidents or remember their happening. He became convinced that a person would become insensible to pain if sufficiently etherized.

Dr. Long was a sympathetic and understanding doctor and his desire to give his patients relief from the suffering of operative procedures gave him courage to perform the epochal operation which revolutionized the field of surgery and brought him immortal fame.

On March 30, 1842, then twenty-six year old Dr. Long administered sulfuric ether in a surgical operation for the first time in medical history. In the presence of several medical students and other young men, sulfuric ether on a towel was administered to the patient, twenty-one year old James Venable, for the removal of a tumor on the back of his neck.

The patient inhaled the ether during the entire time of the operation. Having experienced not the slightest degree of pain, Mr. Venable was incredulous, and only when shown the cyst, a half inch in diameter, did he believe the tumor had been removed.

Long entered the procedure in his account book: James Venable / March 30- Ether and excising tumor $2.00.

By the time Long read about the public demonstration of ether anesthesia which took place in Boston in October of 1846, he had performed six other operations. Long made no secret of his work: all of his surgeries were witnessed and known of by the physicians in the area. Throughout his forty-year medical career, Long continued to use ether anesthesia in his practice for minor surgeries, amputations, childbirth, as well as any major operation he performed.

Long married Mary Caroline Swain a few months after the landmark operation, and they resided in a home next to his office. Five children were born before they decided in 1850 to move to Atlanta, hoping the new town would afford Long a larger practice. The next year, however, they moved again to Athens, to be closer to family and friends. They had twelve children, but only seven lived to maturity.

Long entered into partnership with his brother, also a physician, and they operated a drugstore on Broad Street across from the college campus. Long returned often to Jefferson to treat friends and relatives, or to tend to matters relating to his farms in the county. Long’s death occurred while he was attending a patient on June 16, 1878, and he is buried along with his wife in Oconee Cemetery in Athens, Georgia.