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No 8. Horace A. Ackley

Horace AckleyHorace Ackley (1810-1859) grew up in Genesee County, New York and began his medical education with a preceptor in Rochester, N.Y. He attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District of New York at Fairfield. (It is not clear if he earned his medical degree here or elsewhere, he received an honorary degree of doctor of medicine in 1845 from Illinois College at Jacksonville.) Dr Ackley was a skilled surgeon who made great contributions to medical education and public health in Northern Ohio. His achievements include the following:

  • Co-founder and first professor at the Cleveland Medical College (which later became Medical Department of Western Reserve College and eventually Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine).
  • The first physician to restrict his practice to surgery in Northern Ohio.
  • First to use ether for surgical anesthesia in Northern Ohio.
  • The “father” of the Northern Ohio Insane Asylum (founding chairman of the Board of trustees when location was chosen and building erected).
  • Personally combated and contained an outbreak of Asiatic cholera in Sandusky in 1849.
  • President of the Ohio State Medical Society (1852).
  • Member of the Board of Health of Cleveland (1845)
  • Surgeon at the Marine Hospital (1846-1853)

Dr Ackley was known to be brash and crude on occasion. He would sprinkle profanities into medical lectures, presumably to hold the attention of his students. He was popular and well known at the medical school and beyond. There are many stories about his obtaining and preserving anatomical material. It was illegal to perform “anatomical experiments” on human corpses in Ohio until 1870, when a law passed allowing medical schools to perform dissections. On one occasion a body in a bag was brought to his house and it was later discovered the person inside was still alive but very drunk. Another time a search was being conducted for a body thought to be secreted in Ackley’s office, he put the body out on the sidewalk in a large barrel and by its very exposure it was not discovered.

Ackley was involved in founding and overseeing the construction of the Northern Ohio Insane Asylum. When the bank with the Asylums funds failed Dr. Ackley obtained from the court a writ of attachment to secure the Asylum’s funds, this was served by the sheriff and several deputies. When the assignees refused to pay the funds back, the deputies, under Dr. Ackley’s armed direction, used sledge hammers to knock down the brick walls surrounding the bank vaults. Before the vaults were actually attacked the assignees capitulated. The courts refused to press charges against Ackley and construction of the Asylum continued uninterrupted.

Dr. Ackley married Miss Sophia Hall of Willoughby in 1837, they had one son, Horace Hall Ackley born in 1846. They filed for divorce in 1855 and although details about his family problems are not available it was thought to be the cause of his rapid decline. He resigned from his faculty position in 1856, and died of pneumonia at age 49 in 1859.

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Page last modified: February 8, 2017