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Dr. Susan Ann Edson
Born (1823-01-04)January 4, 1823
Fleming, New York
Died November 13, 1897(1897-11-13) (aged 74)
Washington, D.C.
Place of burial Rock Creek Cemetery
Nationality American
Education Cleveland Homeopathic College[1][2]
Occupation Medical doctor
Known for Personal physician to president President Garfield

Susan Ann Edson (January 4, 1823—November 13, 1897) was one of the first women to attend medical school, served as a Civil War Army Nurse, and was a friend and personal physician to President James A. Garfield and his wife Lucretia.[1][3][4]


Susan Ann Edson was born January 4, 1823 in Fleming, New York.[5] She was the daughter of Sarah Philena Edson (born 1818) and Sterne John Wheaton Underhill.[1] After Susan's parents divorced, Susan's mother Sarah retained custody of the children.[1] Unusual for the time, Sarah retained her name and sued to have her childrens' last names changed to Edson.[1] Sarah published a women's rights newspaper.[1]

Susan Ann Edson attended Cleveland Homeopathic College, receiving her degree on March 1, 1854.[1][2] She was one of the first women to attend medical school.[1] Accounts suggest she may have been the seventh woman in the United States to receive a medical degree.[6]

After graduation, Dr. Edson opened a practice in either Cleveland[1] or in her hometown in New York.[2] When the Civil War began Edson joined the nursing corps, together with her sisters.[1] She served in Washington DC and also at Fort Monroe,[2] a small Union outpost surrounded by Confederate territory.

Dr. Edson also served during the war at the Union Hotel Hospital in Winchester, Virginia.[1] Edson improved sanitation and reduced the mortality rate significantly at the hospital.[1]

Immediately after the war, Dr. Edson returned to her home in upstate New York and maintained a practice there.[2] On May 23, 1872, she returned to Washingington, DC, where she remained the rest of her life.[2] In Washington, she ran a large practice, and it was said that she made so many house visits that she "wore out more horses and carriages than any other doctor in town."[2] Edson specialized in treating illnesses of women.[6]

Edson never married.[6] She was lifelong friends with Caroline B. Winslow.[6] They attended medical school together, served together during the Civil War, and both moved to Washington after the war.[6] Winslow and Edson together worked for women's suffrage.[6]

Relationship with the Garfields

Edson fans Garfield on his deathbed

Among Dr. Edson's patients in Washington was Neddy Garfield, son of young Congressman James A. Garfield, who had fallen seriously ill.[6] James and Lucretia Garfield grew close to Dr. Edson during this time, and shared their grief with her after Neddy's death.[6]

Their professional relationship continued after Garfield's election as president in 1880. Lucretia was frail and required frequent medical attention.[6] Edson became a familiar presence in the White House, as she cared for the First Lady during a bout of malaria in May 1881.[1][6]

Just months later, in July 1881, President Garfield was shot by assassin Charles J. Guiteau. A team of physicians was called to help the president, led by Doctor Willard Bliss.[4] Lucretia insisted that Dr. Edson should assist in Garfield's care.[4] Bliss allowed Edson to participate in a nursing capacity only, not as a consulting physician.[4] Edson was said to have been at Garfield's side more than any other attending physician.[2][3] Congress voted to pay Edson $3,000 for her services to Garfield during his illness.[2] The amount was half the amount paid to a male homeopath physician for the same service.[6]

Death and burial

Susan Edson died on November 13, 1897,[3][7] "caused by an affection of the heart."[2] Obituaries published at the time of her death called her the "one of the best-known physicians in the United States."[2][3][7] She was buried at Rock Creek Cemetery on November 14.[8]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Frank, Linda C.. "Our famous women, part I". Auburn, NY: Auburn Citizen. Retrieved 26 November 2017. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 "Death of Dr. Susan Edson". Washington, DC: Evening Star. 12 November 1897. p. 2. Retrieved 27 November 2017. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Obituary: Dr. Susan Edson". Wichita, Kansas: Wichita Beacon. 13 November 1897. Retrieved 27 November 2017. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Reznick, Jeffrey S. (8 August 2013). ""The President is somewhat restless…": Doctors". Washington, DC: National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 27 November 2017. 
  5. Cleave, Egbert (1873). Cleave's Biographical Cyclopædia of Homœopathic Physicians and Surgeons. Philadelphia: Galaxy Publishing Company. Retrieved 26 November 2017. 
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 Carlson-Ghost, Mark. "Susan Edson, President Garfield’s Deathbed Physician". Retrieved 29 November 2017. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Obituary: Dr. Susan A. Edson". Moulton, Alabama: The Moulton Advertiser. 18 November 1897. Retrieved 27 November 2017. "Washington, November 13 -- Dr. Susan A. Edson, one of the best-known physicians in the United States, died here, Friday night in her seventy-fifth year. Dr. Edson was one of the physicians who attended President Garfield after he was shot, and during the long illness of the president she was at his bedside more than any other of the attending physicians. She was for many years physician to the Garfield family." 
  8. "Dr. Susan Edson Buried". Washington, DC: The Evening Star. 15 November 1897. p. 13. Retrieved 27 November 2017. 

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