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A Surgical Review of the Priority Claims Attributed to Abraham Groves (1847-1935)
Canadian Journal of Surgery (2009)
  • Christopher R. Geddes, University of Toronto
  • Vivian C. McAlister, The University of Western Ontario

BACKGROUND: The practice of surgery had changed little over millennia when Abraham Groves and William Osler attended medical school together in Toronto, Ontario. The invention of anesthesia sparked such rapid development that by the time of Groves' and Osler's deaths, surgical practice resembled the current model. Several priority claims have been attributed to Groves' life in surgery, including aseptic surgery (1874), suprapubic lithotomy (1878), appendectomy (1883), surgical gloves (1885) and cancer radiotherapy (1903). These claims arise from an autobiography written by Groves at the age of 87 years in 1934.

METHODS: The purpose of this paper is to assess these priority claims from a modern surgical perspective. We did a systematic search of contemporary (1873-1934) and modern journals for articles by or about Groves. We searched relevant archives and museums. We reviewed the 1934 autobiography, notes held by descendants, reminiscences by contemporaries and collateral information. We assessed the information not only for priority but also for the development of organized surgical thought.

RESULTS: Groves published frequently throughout his career; thus far we have located 36 papers, almost all of which were published in Canadian journals. He spoke regularly at regional meetings in Ontario. Many medical students apprenticed with him (including his brother, son and grandson), he established a hospital and he founded a school of nursing. His contemporaries published complimentary reminiscences, but no correspondence with his classmate, William Osler, is known. Groves' priority claims for aseptic surgery, suprapubic lithotomy and radiotherapy are supported by contemporary publications. Groves independently developed an organized surgical system that remains valid today. Priority claims for appendectomy and the use of surgical gloves are entirely consistent with that system.

CONCLUSION: Although Groves' impact was reduced by his location and the limited circulation of the journals in which he wrote, he demonstrated a systematic understanding of modern surgery well ahead of his contemporaries.

  • Appendectomy,
  • General Surgery,
  • Gloves,
  • Surgical,
  • History,
  • 19th Century,
  • History,
  • 20th Century,
  • Humans,
  • Ontario,
  • Physician's Role,
  • Radiotherapy,
  • Surgical Procedures,
  • Operative
Publication Date
October, 2009
Citation Information
Christopher R. Geddes and Vivian C. McAlister. "A Surgical Review of the Priority Claims Attributed to Abraham Groves (1847-1935)" Canadian Journal of Surgery Vol. 52 Iss. 5 (2009)
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