Jane Todd Crawford

The Mother of Abdominal Surgery

Jane Todd Crawford is famous as the first woman to survive surgery to remove an ovarian cyst.

Believed to be pregnant with twins at the age of forty-five, Crawford and her local doctors discovered something was amiss as her purported due date came and went without any sign of birth. Dr. Ephraim McDowell who had already earned regional acclaim as a physician and surgeon came to Green County to consult on the case. He diagnosed Crawford with an ovarian tumor, a virtual death sentence in the early 19th century. He warned her that no similar tumor had ever been successfully removed and any attempt to do so would likely result in her death. Yet, Crawford elected to risk the procedure rather than suffer a painful and lingering death from the tumor. McDowell would only perform the operation at his office in Danville. Crawford rode the 60 miles from her Green County home to Danville and arrived on Christmas Day 1809.

Operating without anesthesia (not yet in use), McDowell worked for nearly half an hour to remove the growth, while Crawford reportedly sang hymns. The surgery resulted in a 22.5 pound cyst being removed from Crawford. She remained with McDowell for almost a month while recuperating and was able to ride home in January 1810. She and her family soon moved from the state and they ultimately settled in Indiana, where Crawford is buried. She lived another 32 years after the procedure and the successful surgery paved the way for future advances. While McDowell is well-known as the “father of abdominal surgery,” Crawford’s role as its “mother” can be overshadowed. Yet the courage to ride 60 miles across the Kentucky frontier to undergo an untried procedure, with your life as the stakes for the gamble, deserves its own commemoration.


Historical marker #183 commemorated Jane Todd Crawford, survivor of the world's first successful ovariotomy.

The marker reads:

Jane Todd Crawford

This pioneer woman rode a horse from this home sixty-four miles to Danville. On Christmas Day 1809 was operated on by Ephraim McDowell, M.D., for an ovarian tumor. Four weeks later she came back after recuperating from the world's first ovariotomy. 

The marker, located approximately 7.5 miles south of Greensburg, was installed on August 22, 1962. 

Historical marker #165 which celebrates the Greensburg Courthouse includes a nod to Crawford as well.

The marker reads:

Greenburg Courthouse

One of the oldest public buildings still standing in Kentucky. Built between 1802-1804 by Robert Ball, Edward Bullock, Thomas Metcalfe, Walter Bullock and Daniel Lisle. Used as courthouse for 135 years. Jane Todd Crawford Library on second floor.

This marker was originally cast in 1960 and refurbished in 2013.



The Dawn of Abdominal Surgerypdf / 876.32 kB Download
Dr. McDowell Greets Mrs. Jane Todd Crawfordpdf / 880.79 kB Download