Ephraim McDowell House


Ephraim McDowell House


What would become the McDowell House, was originally a brick home that was constructed 1792-1795 in Danville, KY. Dr. Ephraim McDowell (1771-1830), a physician and surgeon from Virginia, purchased the structure in 1802 and had additions made to the home. It was within the McDowell House where on Christmas Day in 1809 the first recognized ovariotomy was performed (the removal of one or both ovaries). The patient was Jane Todd Crawford (1763-1842), she had a large ovarian tumor. It was an experimental surgery without all of the modern-day anesthesia and sterilization knowledge and solutions. Dr. McDowell had improved his surgical technique for this particular surgery by performing ovariotomies on enslaved women. Jane Todd Crawford survived the operation. Prior patients, operated on elsewhere, had died. A description of Jane Todd Crawford’s surgery was published by Dr. McDowell in 1817. This was after he had performed other ovary-related surgeries. When Dr. McDowell died in 1830, his home was sold. In the attached newspaper clip is a caption below the picture stating that the house was sold again in 1901. It was a public sale. There had been an attempt to raise funds to restore the home, but the campaign was not successful. In 1935, the Kentucky Medical Association purchased the home, turned it over to the state, and the home was restored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The house would change hands a few more times, and today the McDowell House Museum, Inc. is open for tours.


Louisville Courier-Journal Print. Co.




1. “A Landmark in the history of surgery,” Louisville Courier-Journal, 1901-10-27, section 3, p.6.
2. McDowell House Museum, Inc. in Danville, KY. Accessed 2021-05-15.
3. Horn, L. and D. H. Johnson. “Ephraim McDowell, the first ovariotomy, and the birth of abdominal surgery,” Journal of Clinical Oncology, v.28, no.7, March 2010, pp.1262-1268. Accessed 2021-05-15.
4. Frontier surgeon: the story of Dr. Ephraim McDowell by L. Dowell (2011). Accessed 2021-05-15.
5. McDowell, Ephraim. “Three cases of extirpation of diseased ovaria,” in Eclectic Repertory and Analytical Review, Medical and Philosophical, v.7, 1817, pp.242-244. Accessed 2021-05-15.
6. Eschner, Kat. “This American Doctor Pioneered Abdominal Surgery by Operating on Enslaved Women,” Smithsonian Magazine, December 19, 2017. Accessed 2021-05-15.
7. Savitt TL. The use of blacks for medical experimentation and demonstration in the Old South. J South Hist. 1982 Aug;48(3):331-48. PMID: 11645888. Accessed 2021-05-15.
8. Book and candle image from josealbafotos at Pixabay. Accessed 2021-05-21.


Reinette Jones, University of Kentucky Librarian & African American Studies Academic Liaison


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“Ephraim McDowell House,” Kentucky Digital Newspaper Program Exhibits, accessed March 25, 2023, https://kdnpx.omeka.net/items/show/31.

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