Beaumont, William

Beaumont, William,

1785–1853, American physician, b. Lebanon, Conn. He was privately educated and was licensed (1812) to practice in Vermont. His Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion (1833; fac. ed. 1929, with biographical essay by Sir William Osler; repr. 1941) was an exhaustive account of a case famous in medical history. In 1822, while serving as army post surgeon on Mackinac Island, Beaumont treated Alexis St. Martin, a youth of 19 whose abdomen had been torn open by an accidental gunshot at close range. All efforts to close the wound failed, although St. Martin recovered his health and strength. Later, when he realized what a unique opportunity this was to study the digestive process, Beaumont, with the assent of his sometimes rebellious patient, began a series of experiments that completely revolutionized the knowledge of the subject. In all, about 238 experiments were reported, starting (1825) at Mackinac Island and continuing at intervals over a number of years at Plattsburgh, N.Y., Fort Crawford (Prairie du Chien, Wis.), and Washington, D.C.


See J. S. Myer, Life and Letters of Dr. William Beaumont (1912, new ed. 1939).

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Beaumont, William

(1785–1853) physician; born in Lebanon, Conn. He learned medicine as an apprentice to a doctor in Vermont, then became an army surgeon (1812–15, 1820–40). In 1822 he treated Alexis St. Martin, a Canadian victim of a gunshot wound to the stomach; because the wound never completely closed up, he was able to remove and observe gastric juices and the action of the digestive system over a period of years. He published his classic Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juices and the Biology of Digestion in 1833, detailing 238 experiments indicating the presence of what are now known to be enzymes, such as pepsin and hydrochloric acid. His book, which showed for the first time that the stomach is a digestive organ and not a reservoir or grinding organ, marks the start of modern study of the digestive system. After leaving the military, he settled into private practice in St. Louis.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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Subs not used: Armstrong (gk), Beaumont, Williams (D), Howard.