The year is 1872 and the place is a large medical clinic in New York City. The surgeon of the day was Dr. Lewis Sayre, the leading orthopedic surgeon at the time. To this clinic came patients who suffered from all kinds of deformities, congenital and acquired. Among them was a tall, thin, poorly clad woman bearing all the evidence of extreme poverty. She held a baby in her arms and presented him to Dr. Sayre in the hope that he might be cured. “His deformity was one of the most conspicuous and distressing that ever saddened a home. The child had a double cleft lip and a complete cleft of the palate.” Dr. Sayre took the child and explained to the class the nature of the deformity. He said, "nothing can be done.” The mother left with tears streaming down her face knowing the dark future for her child.
In the clinic that day was Truman William Brophy who had just graduated from the Pennsylvania Dental College and was making a tour of clinics in the East before returning to his home in Chicago. The pale face of that mother never left him and the voice of the premier American orthopedic surgeon rang in his ears throughout his life. He became possessed to devise a method to cure those afflicted with the cleft palate.
Truman William Brophy was born in Will County, Illinois, on April 12, 1848. His grandfather had immigrated from Ireland to Canada in 1811. His father was born in Hemingford, Quebec, 1819. His mother, Amelia Cleaveland was also born in Hemingford. Truman was the second of six children. The family moved to Illinois in 1844 and the father would later make a trip to California by ox-team during the days of the gold rush.
When Truman was about 12 years old an itinerant dentist visited the home. He was fascinated by the work he saw and “the impulse of the moment strengthened into a resolved to become a dentist himself.” He was eager to help the dentist in every way he could and afterwards in referring to this incident he would say “that his first work as a dentist’s assistant was to hold his horse.”
The family moved to Blackberry, Illinois, now called Elburn, and Truman attended Elgin Academy for two years. During the winter of 1866 the family moved to Chicago and on April 1, 1867, Truman entered the office of Dr. J. O. Farnsworth to begin the study of dentistry. In 1870, he purchased the practice and moved the location to 30 Washington St. Dentists were not licensed at the time. In October, 1871 fire destroyed the downtown section of the city including the building where Dr. Brophy had his office. Somehow his operating chair and dental library were rescued, “transported to the Illinois Central railroad a few blocks distant and loaded on the flat car on which they were found days later some 4 miles away.” With no office but with money in the bank he decided to enroll at the Pennsylvania Dental College. Upon his return to Chicago he decided that a medical education was necessary to reach his goals and so began considering Rush Medical College. However, enrollment was postponed and I will let Dr. Trophy tell why in his own words:
He was walking along the Monroe Street one day in 1872 when his eyes fell on an equipage by the curb – a Victoria drawn by a splendid pair of matched blacks. Seated in it was a dark eyed girl gowned in black velvet. “A Victoria,” said Dr. Trophy, “was made for beautiful women.” The young lady looked straight ahead and the young man strode past with great dignity and unconcerned, but neither was unaware of the other. She afterward confessed to imagining she saw a young minister, the rather formal attire of the young men of the day, including frock coats and high hats, allowing for the illusion. A little later at Martine’s Dancing Academy which was then a center of social life, he met the lovely girl of the Victoria and, as he said there, it took only a little deliberation to satisfy himself that a winters study at Martine’s was more important than a winter at Rush College. He justified his decision by marrying the beautiful girl, Miss Emma Jean Mason in May, 1873.
Here is the Scottish connection. I don’t know the heritage of Dr. Brophy. I do know that he married a Scottish girl and was surrounded by Scots named Mason and MacArthur. In fact, the Masons, McArthurs and Brophys are all buried in contiguous lots at Rosehill cemetery, Chicago, Illinois. The book, I have been reading, Truman William Brophy, A Memoir, was sent to me by Vickie Dandridge who lives in San Diego, California. She inherited much of the remaining possessions of Major George Mason and has been very kind to send me many, many items. The book was privately commissioned by the children of W. T. Brophy and published in 1936. I doubt there are many copies remaining, so we are happy to have this one. His children were: Jean Brophy Barnes, Florence Brophy Logan, Truman Brophy, Jr. And Alberta Brophy Holloway. (Any descendants who read this please call me at 630-629-4516.)
He worked until the day he died on February 4, 1928. He performed more than 10,000 surgeries and taught hundreds of others how to rebuild the cleft palate. He traveled to France at the end of WWI and rebuilt the faces of those injured in battle and for this he was made an Officer of Legion of Honor. He fought for and finally was successful in constructing a building at Wood and Congress Streets which became the Chicago College of Dental Surgery. (He once declared that the west side of Chicago would become the medical center of the world.) He wrote several books dealing with the clefts of the palate and lip. He was an international leader in organizations dealing with dentists and medical issues.
In 1913, the Chicago Dental society gave a testimonial banquet for Dr. Brophy at the Hotel LaSalle. One of the gifts was a “bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln, made from life by Volk in 1869 on behalf of the American Dental Society of Europe.” (Anyone know where that bust is today?) There were other expensive gifts and you wonder what happened to all of them. Dr. Brophy gave the initial gift which made possible the construction of a ten story Y.M.C.A. building on Wood St. for medical students. The list of his accomplishments goes on and on, but I have run out of space for this blog. There will be more later.
What a great contribution this man made to the welfare of humanity.
Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
NOTE: The History Club tour scheduled for this Saturday, July 17 has been canceled due to a lack of participants.