Ephraim McDowell House

Historical Marker #2284 in downtown Danville commemorates the Ephraim McDowell House. There, in 1809, Danville physican Ephraim McDowell performed the world's first successful abdominal operation when he removed a twenty-two pound ovarian tumor from the forty-six-year-old Jane Todd Crawford of Green County. This operation, done without the benefit of anesthetic or antisepsis, had previously been thought impossible. Crawford survived and McDowell's success paved the way for modern abdominal surgery.

A Virginia native who moved to Danville, McDowell studied medicine in Virginia and Scotland before returning to Danville around 1795. He opened a medical practice in town and soon became a renowned pioneer surgeon. In 1802, he married Sarah Hart Shelby, the eldest daughter of Kentucky Governor Isaac Shelby. Seven years later, as his reputation grew, McDowell made medical history when he removed the tumor from Jane Todd Crawford.

McDowell's home, a Georgian style town house across from what was then the city square, was built in three stages. First, the shop and brick ell were built in the 1790s. Second, the frame portion was constructed in 1804. Third, the brick addition to the house was built in 1820. After McDowell's death in 1830, the house was sold and had a variety of uses for nearly one hundred years. In the 1930s, wanting to promote McDowell's important contributions to medicine, the Kentucky Medical Association purchased the house. It was restored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and opened as a museum in 1939. It is now a furnished house museum that gives daily tours.

The marker reads:


Home of Ephraim McDowell, the
"father of modern surgery." Here
on December 25, 1809, McDowell
performed the first successful
abdominal operation when he took
a 22-pound ovarian cyst from Jane
Todd Crawford of Green Co. With
no anesthesia, she sang hymns
during the operation. Crawford
recovered in 25 days and lived
until 1842. Over.


Built in 3 stages. Brick ell, or
single-story wing, built 1790s.
McDowell purchased house in 1802
and added front clapboard section
ca. 1804. Rear brick office and
formal gardens added in 1820.
House sold when McDowell died in
1830. In 1930s, Ky. Med. Assoc.
bought house; restored by WPA.
House dedicated on May 20, 1939.
Now a house museum. Over.

This marker was dedicated on March 4, 2009.