Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dr Church's Alleged Portrait

   The official records of the Surgeon General of the United States Army list Doctor Benjamin Church Jr as the first surgeon General of the US Army and contain what is purported to be a portrait of him. It's not a particularly flattering portrait of a somewhat foppish man with amazingly bright red lips.
    But is it Doctor Church and, if not, who is it? The answer is contained in an official US Army history written in 1905 -  "The Surgeon Generals of the United States Army", by James Even Pilcher, M.D., Ph.d., L.H.D, Major and Brigade Surgeon, Carlisle Press, The Association of Military Surgeons. Dr Pilcher concludes his article on Church with the following:

    and any portrait of him which existed was doubtless destroyed, for an extensive search reveals no trace of the survival of anything of the kind, the portrait accompanying this article being an ideal drawn from contemporary design.

    Undoubtedly the "contemporary design" was of early twentieth century since Dr Church was described by a contemporary as "tall and skinny" and his enemies satirized him as "the cadaver."


  1. Thank you for shedding light on this. I had been using this picture with no idea that there was hooey.

    Too bad there is no surviving image of what he actually looked like.

  2. This was very interesting to me, too. Thanks for bringing my attention to it.

    One note: the last word of your cited text is 'description', not 'design'.