Biographical / Historical
Alban Gilpin Smith was born in New Castle County Delaware to Quaker parents, Samuel and Lydia Gilpin Smith. The family moved to Philadelphia in 1797. His attended the Westtown (Quaker) School, Westtown, Pennsylvania, then traveled to Danville, Kentucky to begin his apprenticeship in surgery and medicine under Ephraim McDowell [1771-1830]. In September 1815 he established a medical practice in Port Tobacco, Maryland.
He married Taliaferro H. Middleton 1817. She was not a member of the Society of Friends, which resulted in Alban’s removal from membership in 1818. One son, Middleton [1818-1887] became a physician, graduating from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia College in 1840.
Smith moved to Philadelphia and enrolled in the private medical lectures of Joseph Parrish [1779-1840] at the Philadelphia Alms House. In 1822 Dr. Smith returned to Danville where he became a partner of his former preceptor, McDowell, until 1826. During this partnership, Smith performed the third successful ovariotomy on a free black patient in May 1823. In October 1827 Smith performed the world’s first dorsal laminectomy for treatment of fracture of the spine and subsequent paralysis below the shoulders. Although function did not return, the operation demonstrated that the fragments of the fractured vertebrae could be removed and the spinal cord exposed. In 1823 he was appointed Professor of Chemistry at Centre College in Danville.
Due to a very high incidence of urinary tract stones in local patients, Dr. Smith sought a less invasive and traumatic method for the treatment of those patients. He went to Paris in mid-1829 to study under Jean Civiale [1792-1867], and returned to the U.S. in December 1830. After his return to Danville, Smith soon performed the first lithotrity in the Western country.
Being frustrated by the absence of a hospital in Danville, Smith moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 1831. He was appointed to the surgical staff of Louisville Marine (City) Hospital. In Louisville Smith sought to utilize the Marine Hospital patients for clinical teaching. He obtained a charter in 1833 for the Louisville Medical Institute. The charter named Smith and eight other local physicians as incorporators. Oversights and omissions in the original charter resulted in several revisions in 1835, 1836 and a final workable charter was completed in 1837. Having been unwilling to tolerate inaction on the charter, Smith left Louisville for Cincinnati in 1833 to accept the Chair of Surgery at the Medical College of Ohio. In 1837, Smith accepted the Chair of Surgery at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the University of the State of New York in New York City but resigned after only two sessions. In 1839 Smith changed his name to Goldsmith. He published several books: Lithotripsy of the Breaking of Stone in the Bladder (1843) and Diseases of the Genito-Urinary Organs (1857). He practiced his genitor-urinary surgery in the vicinity of New York City until his death in Barrytown, New York on 5 August 1861.