Are Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senior and Junior, both Dutch Americans? Yes, they are. Their Dutch lineage comes from the mother of Holmes, Sr. and the grandmother of Holmes, Jr. Her name was Sarah Wendell, the daughter of a wealthy Dutch American family. Her ancestry goes back to the first Wendell, Evert Jansen, who left Holland in 1640 and settled in Albany, New York. If you look through the telephone book pages in Albany, New York, you will find a plethora of Wendells, all distant cousins of the two Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.’s interests and expertise ranged widely over a number of different areas. He was an American physician, a professor, a writer, and a lecturer. He is probably best known for his poetry, because he is considered to be one of the best poets of the nineteenth century, by his peers. He is also considered to be a member of the “Fireside Poets”. His most famous prose works are the “The Breakfast Table” series.
Holmes was educated at Phillips Academy and Harvard College. He graduated from Harvard College in 1829, and then briefly studied law before turning to the study of medicine. His medical education and training took place at Harvard and at Paris, France medical institutions. In 1836, he received his medical degree, the M.D., from Harvard Medical School. Following his medical training, he joined the Medical School faculty at Dartmouth, and later returned as a faculty member to the Harvard Medical School, where he later also served as Dean of the Medical School.
While engaged in his medical studies, Holmes began writing poetry. One of his earliest works, and also one of his most famous pieces, was “Old Ironsides”, which was published in 1830, only one year following his graduation from Harvard College. He would continue to write poetry and prose during the remainder of his life. However, he did much of his writing after he retired from Harvard Medical School in 1882. He then continued writing poetry, novels and essays until his death in 1894.
Although Holmes is best remembered as a poet and writer, we must remember that Holmes’s main profession during his life was medicine and the teaching of medicine. Having obtained much of his medical training in the famous Paris Ecole de Medicine, Holmes was well positioned to impart and teach the latest medical knowledge to future American medical practitioners. At that time American medicine was still in a rather formative stage. Even Holmes was known to refer to much of American medicine as “quackery”. Holmes became a strong advocate of the French “mode expectante”, a medical therapy method of not interfering with the body’s natural healing process. The physician’s role in the “mode expectante” is to do everything possible to aid nature in the healing process of disease recovery, and to do nothing to interfere with it.
As a poet Holmes made an indelible imprint on the literary world of the nineteenth century. Much of his work was published by the prestigious “Atlantic Monthly”. He also received a number of honorary degrees for his literary work by universities around the world. One of his better known poems was “The Last Leaf”, a poem partially inspired by one of Boston’s historical figures, Thomas Melville, a member of the 1774 Boston Tea Party.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 29, 1809. He was the first son of Abiel Holmes [1763-1837] who was a minister of the First Congregational Church, and an avid historian. Holmes’ mother was Sarah Wendell, the daughter of a judge. On June 15, 1840, Holmes married Amelia Lee Jackson. She was the daughter of Judge Charles Jackson, who had been an Associative Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The couple had three children, consisting of the future United States Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. [1841-1935], a daughter, Amelia Jackson Holmes [1843-1889], and another son, Edward Jackson Holmes [1846-1884]. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. passed away on October 7, 1894 at the advanced age of 85 years.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Wendell_Holmes,_Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, http://www.2020site.org/poetry/owh.html
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