Daniel Drake

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Daniel Drake (1785-1852)


Medical educator

A Pioneer Childhood . Born in Essex County, New Jersey, in 1785, Daniel Drake was only two years old when his family migrated to Mayslick, Kentucky. His barely literate parents had been farm laborers and were able to buy only a thirty-eight-acre farm, where the family lived in a log cabin fitted into a hill over a sheep pen. In the early 1790s Kentucky was still Indian country, and the children were told at night, lie still and go to sleep, or the Shawnees will catch you. Drake wrote later that nearly all his troubled or vivid dreams included either Indians or snakesthe copper colored man & the copperheaded snake. Most of his neighbors still believed in omens, ghosts, and even the self motion of dead mens bones. Yet Drake also was instructed from the age of six in the Calvinist catechism by an itinerant Baptist preacher, and among the familys few books were hymns by Isaac Watts that he recited from memory. From the age of five he attended a subscription school in a log cabin, alternating lessons with labor on the family farm, fetching the cow from the woods, grinding corn until his knuckles bled, and riding and guiding the horse while his father plowed. By the age of eight Drake was feeding and collecting the livestock and dropping corn in plowed furrows for his father to cover with the hoe. As the eldest child he also helped his mother, holding the ears of the cow while she milked, churning butter, and making cheese. On washing days he fetched water from the spring, watched the fire, and hung the clothes on fences. Helping with cloth production, he carded wool, walked backward and turned the rim of the big wheel while his mother spun, prepared dried flax for her to spin on the small wheel, and spread linen on the grass to bleach in the sun. When he was nine, the family purchased a two-hundred-acre farm, and Drake left school to help his father clear land. At ten he helped his father and a neighbor build fences, and at twelve he could lay rails himself, handle the plow alone and join his neighbors in the wheat harvest. When I was thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen years old, he later wrote, I was able to do half a mans work with the sickle and I may add (boastingly) with the scythe also. In the harvest field my greatest ambition was to sweat so as to wet my shirt. After an injury to his father, fifteen-year-old Drake worked the farm alone. His barely literate father, however, was determined to have at least one educated child and sent him in 1801 to study medicine with William Goforth in the small community at Fort Washington, which would become Cincinnati.

The American Revolution in Medicine . In 1805 Drake fulfilled a dream when he traveled to Philadelphia to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania with Benjamin Rush, one of the leading physicians of the young republic. Since the 1790s Rush had promoted innovations in therapy that he considered an American Revolution in medicine. Rush argued that all disease was caused by indirect debility: excessive stimulation of vascular and nervous systems. During Philadelphias devastating yellow fever epidemic in 1793 he had treated his patients with depleting measures, copious bloodletting, and calomel purges quickened with a dose of jalap. Other Philadelphia doctors were appalled by Rushs therapy, but he was adamant in defense of his theory, for it fit neatly into his search for an appropriate republican medicine. After the Revolution, just as he had sought educational plans suited to a republican nation, Rush had argued that disease varied in populations according to geography, climate, diet, and forms of government. Republics, he thought, were conducive to health, but only if citizens practiced industry, frugality, and sturdy virtue. Lingering loyalty to monarchy or a taste for aristocratic luxury, on the one hand, or liberty that became license, on the other, would have to be purged. Drawing on his early education in evangelical Presbyterianism, Rush viewed political and medical truths in terms of Gods millennial plan. Disease had entered human life with the Fall, and nature alone could not be trusted to heal it; intervention by the physician was necessary to restore the human body to its original perfect state. Rush taught his theories to more than three thousand students at the University of Pennsylvania, who, fanning out to establish practices in Southern and Western states, recommended in almost all cases active intervention through extensive blood-letting and large doses of medicines. By 1800 this heroic medicine was defended as appropriate for the energetic and entrepreneurial population of the expanding democratic nation, and calomel, containing mercury, was the drug of choice.

Medical Education for the West . Although later in his life he would regret the reliance of his early practice on bleeding and the use of calomel, Drake was one of many students who disseminated Rushs therapy in the West when he returned to Kentucky in 1806 and to Cincinnati a year later. Keeping in touch with his medical mentors in Philadelphia, he contributed to The Eclectic Repertory and Analytical Review and then The Philadelphia Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences. As physicians sought to fortify their profession and institutions of medical education mushroomed in nineteenth-century America, Drake was instrumental in establishing medical schools and networks in the West. After a year as a professor at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1817, he returned to Cincinnati to teach at Lancaster Seminary, which became Cincinnati College in 1821. Continuing to teach at Transylvania and founding a medical department at Miami University (Ohio) in 1830, Drake assumed regional leadership as editor of The Western Journal of Medical Sciences from 1827 to 1836 and author of Principal Diseases of the Interior Valley of North America (1850). He also was a booster for Ohio, credited with naming it the Buckeye state. Considered the Franklin of Cincinnati, he held literary evenings in his home and joined Harriet and Catharine Beecher and Calvin Stowe in Cincinnatis Semi-Colon Club. Although he and James Hall, editor of the Western Monthly Magazine, took offense at Lyman Beechers Plea for the West in 1835, Drake was a strong advocate of western education and a member of the circle that formed the Western Literary Institute and College of Professional Teachers. Shortly before his death in 1852, he recalled his Kentucky childhood in letters to his children.


George W. Corner, The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush, His Travels through Life together with his Commonplace Book for 17891813 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1948);

Donald J. DElia, Dr. Benjamin Rush and the American Medical Revolution, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 110 (23 August 1966): 227-234;

Daniel Drake, Pioneer Life in Kentucky, 17851800, edited by Emmet Field Horine (New York: H. Schuman, 1948);

Dagobert D. Runes, ed., The Selected Writings of Benjamin Rush (New York: Philosophical Library, 1947).

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Daniel Drake

The American physician Daniel Drake (1785-1852) was one of the founders of the medical school in Cincinnati, Ohio. He also participated in social, political, and economic movements in the Ohio Valley.

Daniel Drake was born on Oct. 20, 1785, near Plainfield, N.J. His family soon moved to Kentucky. At the age of 15 he began to study medicine with a Cincinnati doctor, later graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. Returning to the Ohio Valley in 1805, he devoted the remainder of his life to science and the development of the West.

Drake played a major role in establishing a medical school in Cincinnati. He also wrote extensively on medical subjects, his most important work being Principal Diseases of the Interior Valley of North America, and was cofounder in 1826 of the Ohio Medical Repository, a medical journal designed to improve medical standards in the West. Another project that took up his time was the establishment of adequate hospital facilities in the Ohio Valley. In his Natural and Statistical View, or Pictures of Cincinnati, published in 1815, Drake recorded valuable data on the geology, botany, and meteorology of this region.

Drake crusaded against the "quack" doctors who invaded the frontier. He attacked the laws which allowed such unscrupulous men to practice and the politicians who refused to pass legislation to prevent them from taking advantage of the frontier's need for doctors.

Drake also supported social reform movements. Although an active crusader against the intemperate use of alcohol, he was not for total abstinence. As a doctor, he stressed the adverse effects of alcohol on the body; as a reformer, he stressed the social implications of overindulgence. He made speeches in behalf of the temperance movement and in 1841 helped organize the Physiological Temperance Society of Louisville.

Politically, Drake advocated national unity. He violently condemned the nullification crisis of 1832-1833. On the slavery question he condemned both Northern abolitionists and Southern "fire-eaters" as disruptive forces. Firmly opposed to slavery and to its extension into the territories, he also opposed extremism. To solve the slavery problem he strongly supported a national colonization policy.

In the words of his best biographer, Drake was "a man possessing commanding talents. By some he has been called a genius. He had an unusual, almost prophetic vision, a philanthropic outlook, an abiding philosophy, as well as a scientific and inquisitive mind."

Further Reading

The most complete biography of Drake is Emmet F. Horine, Daniel Drake, 1785-1852: Pioneer Physician of the Midwest (1961). A description of his early life is included in Charles D. Drake, ed., Pioneer Letters in Kentucky: A Series of Reminiscential Letters from Daniel Drake … to His Children (1870). For a contemporary view of Drake and life in the Ohio Valley see Edward D. Mansfield, Memoirs of the Life and Services of Daniel Drake, M.D.: Physician, Professor, and Author (1855).

Additional Sources

Mansfield, Edward Deering, Memoirs of the life and services of Daniel Drake, M.D., New York: Arno Press, 1975. □

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Daniel Drake


American physician and medical geographer who founded the Ohio Medical College. In the early 1800s Drake traveled through the interior of the United States, gathering data on the customs, diet, and diseases of people living on the frontier. His research culminated in the most important work on malaria published to that time, A Systematic Treatise . . . on the Principal Diseases of the Interior Valley of North America. In 1819 Drake founded the Ohio Medical College (now the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine) based on his belief in the importance of providing medical students with a hospital-based education.

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