Thomas Dwight - Wikipedia

Thomas Dwight

Born: October 13, 1843 Boston, Massachusetts

Died: September 8, 1911 (aged 67) Nahant, Massachusetts

Occupation: physician, anatomist, and professor.


Thomas Dwight was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 13, 1843. Thomas Dwight (September 27, 1807 – 1876), a member of the New England Dwight family, was also his father. Mary Collins Warren (January 19, 1816-October 22, 1900) was his mother, and both his father, John Collins Warren (1778–1856), and grandfather, John Warren (1753–1815), were surgeons.

In 1856, Dwight entered the Catholic Church, and in 1867, he graduated from Harvard Medical School. He was a comparative anatomy instructor at Harvard College from 1872 to 1873, and he also lectured at Bowdoin College. In 1883, he took over as Parkman professor of anatomy at Harvard Medical School from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. Dwight established a department of osteology in the Warren Museum of Anatomy at Harvard, which was regarded as one of the best in the world, and he had an international reputation as an anatomist. “Frozen Sections of a Child” (1872), “Clinical Atlas of Variations of the Bones of the Hands and Feet” (1907), and “Thoughts of a Catholic Anatomist” (1911), a valuable work of Christian apologetics, are only a few of his works. Dwight died September 8, 1911, in Nahant, Massachusetts, at age 68.

Selected works

  • The Head’s Anatomy is a book about the anatomy of the head. H.O. Houghton & Company, Boston, 1876.
  • Sections of a child that have been frozen. William Wood & Company, New York, 1881.
  • History’s Most Commonplaces Review Pub. Co., Boston, 1900.
  • Variations of the Bones of the Hands and Feet, A Clinical Atlas. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1907.
  • The Church and Science are two opposing viewpoints. Review Pub. Co., Boston, 1908.
  • Observations of a Catholic Anatomist Longmans, Green, and Co., London, 1911.
  • Anatomy of the Human Body. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1923.


Dwight went to Harvard College for preparatory studies and graduated in 1778. Dwight studied law, passed the bar exam, and began practicing in Springfield.


Dwight was devoted to Roman Catholicism throughout his life, enthusiastically supporting organizations such as the St. Thomas Aquinas Academy of Philosophy and Medicine in Rome and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, of which he served as vice-president in 1884 and president in 1887.

Family Life

Dwight married Hannah Worthington on April 14, 1791. Her maternal grandfather, Reverend Samuel Hopkins (1721–1803), was there at her birth on June 17, 1761. Dwight was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1794 to 1795, as well as the Massachusetts Senate from 1796 to 1803 and 1814 to 1818.

From March 4, 1803, to March 3, 1805, Dwight was a member of the Eighth Congress as a Federalist. Dwight was a member of the Governor’s Council and a selectman for the town of Springfield. He left politics and returned to Springfield, where he practiced his profession until his death on January 2, 1819. Peabody Cemetery was where he was buried.

His widow passed away on July 10, 1833. Mary Stoddard Dwight, who was born on January 26, 1792, married John Howard on December 18, 1818, and died on July 20, 1836, was their only child. They were the parents of four girls. John Worthington Dwight, an unmarried man, was born on October 31, 1793, and died on February 12, 1836. Elizabeth Buckminster Dwight, who married Charles Howard and died on October 7, 1855, was born on February 18, 1801, and married on February 18, 1801. They had six children.

After Holmes retired from teaching in 1882, Thomas Dwight (1843-1911), a great-grandson of John Warren, became the Parkman Professor of Anatomy, ushering in a new and exciting era of instruction and study. In a lecture given in 1890, Dwight evaluated the condition of anatomical instruction at Harvard, emphasizing the significance of lectures accompanied by demonstrations, illustrating his points with bones or human beings, if available, or models and diagrams, as well as work in the dissection room. During this time, Dwight commissioned naturalist and artist James Henry Emerton (1847-1931) to create a collection of over twenty large-scale paper pulp models of the skull and bones of the body for use in his lectures.

Dwight’s classes were divided into small groups for informal recitation sessions with the goal of “seeing things close up, handling the specimens as much as possible, and asking questions… making clear what any lecture may at times leave somewhat misty,” and he encouraged the use of boxes of bones that students could borrow and study “very much like you would draw a book at the office of the circulating library.”

Dwight also offered an advanced anatomy course for second-year students and promoted the use of the Warren Anatomical Museum, particularly its collection of bones, dissected joints, frozen sections, and corrosion preparations, though he acknowledged with regret that the museum’s collection of bones, dissected joints, frozen sections, and corrosion preparations were lacking “that the museum has never been used as a place of study as it should be. It’s a place where you can learn a lot.”

Dwight prepared these sections of a three-year-old kid for use in his lectures at the Medical School in 1880-1881 while acting as an Instructor in Topographical Anatomy and Histology. They were some of the first frozen sections used in this country. The plates are appropriately sized. Dwight gives his instructions for creating such specimens in the preface.

First, make certain that the body, or portion of the body, to be frozen, is in the exact posture you want it to be in, with no folds or indentations in the skin. When at all feasible, then utilize natural cold. Weather near zero degrees Fahrenheit is unacceptable; however, if the part has been properly chilled by several days of exposure to a very low temperature, a night of ten degrees Fahrenheit may sufficient.

No doubt, salt, ice, or snow, will work, but it will take a lot of time and patience. The body should be frozen solid–to the point where the operator can’t determine if he’s cutting bone or muscle. The portions should be cut in a cold room, using a very sharp, chilled saw. When a portion is cut, it is covered by a thick layer of half-frozen sawdust, which is doubled in thickness if the freezing is not complete. If time allows, it is best to remove this as soon as possible, which can be done by pouring a little hot water over the portion and quickly and carefully brushing or scraping it off.

This is a very sensitive aspect of the process, and the specimen’s attractiveness has a lot to do with how well it goes. If it is to be stored, it should be placed on a piece of glass or wood and immediately immersed in cold alcohol while still frozen.

The Department of Anatomy comprised an associate professor, demonstrator, instructor, and eleven assistants by 1900, in addition to Dwight as a full professor. Lectures, recitations, practical exercises and dissections, and demonstrations were used to teach first-year students; second-year students focused on frozen sections and living models, and there was even an elective fourth-year course based in the dissection room. Thomas Dwight also instituted a course in anatomy using X-rays and radiological plate interpretation near the conclusion of his career.

Thomas Dwight was particularly worried about the variations in the type and provisions of anatomical laws across the United States. He claimed in an essay published in Forum in 1896 that:

The aim is to establish that such a corpse is, in a sense, simply lent to research and that it must be handled with decency throughout the dissection procedure. After the examination, the body should be properly buried in a cemetery, preferably in one of the deceased’s religions. Harvard has perhaps the closest approach to this treatment of the remains in the United States. He like to boast that the anatomical department has not received a single body for which he is not prepared to account for many years. The living is not harmed, the dead are not insulted, and science’s needs are met.


Dwight was fascinated by the smallest details of human anatomy, and his most significant contributions came from his thorough examinations of the skeleton and joint anatomical differences. He collected a noteworthy collection of specimens demonstrating the major variances of various bones found in the feet and hands (carpus, tarsus, and cuboid), as well as describing a novel bone found in the foot, the intercuneiform bone. Many additions to the Warren Pathological Museum of the Harvard Medical School were made as a result of his efforts. He was a powerful and eventually popular teacher, even though filling the chair abandoned by Holmes was challenging at first. The Index Catalogue of the Surgeon General’s Library contains a list of his various anatomical papers.

His most important contributions were: his Boylston Prize Essay, The Intracranial Circulation (1867); The Structure and Action of Striated Muscle Fibers (1873); The Anatomy of the Head, with. Plates Representing Frozen Sections (1876); Frozen Sections of a Child (1881); Description of the Human Spine Showing Numerical Variations (1901); Notes on the Dissection and Brain of the Chimpanzee “Gumbo” (1895); and his chapters in G. A. Piersol’s Anatomy (1911) on bones and joints, and the gastro-pulmonary system and accessory organs of nutrition.

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