Oliver Wendell Holmes

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Oliver Wendell Holmes, the son of Abiel Holmes (1763–1837), minister of the First Congregational Church and Sarah Wendell, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 29th August, 1809. He studied at Harvard University and after graduating in 1836 he practiced medicine for 10 years. He also wrote poetry and achieved national success with Old Ironsides (1830).

Holmes taught at Dartmouth Medical School. In 1847 Holmes became professor of anatomy and physiology at Harvard University, where he advocated medical reforms, such as the treatment of puerperal fever.

Holmes became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, James Russell Lowell, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote regularly for The Atlantic Monthly and in 1858 published The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. This was followed by The Professor of the Breakfast Table (1860) and Elsie Venner (1861).

During the American Civil War Holmes was a strong supporter of the Union Army. This included publishing the patriotic song A Voice of the Loyal North and the article Bread and Newspapers, where he urged soldiers to have "courage... big enough for the uniform which hangs so loosely about their slender figures." His son, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., enlisted and was injured three times in battle.

Other books by Holmes included The Poet of the Breakfast Table (1872), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1885) and Over the Teacups (1891).

Oliver Wendell Holmes died on 7th October, 1894.