Biography of Rodney Glisan, M.D.

Rodney Glisan, physician of Portland, son of Samuel and Eliza Glisan, was born at Linganore, Frederick County, Maryland, January 29, 1827. His ancestors were among the first English settlers of Maryland.

He was graduated in the medical department of the University of Maryland, in 1849, and after passing a severe competitive examination before a medical board, was appointed a medical officer of the United States Army, in May, 1850. Having served in this capacity for about eleven years on the plains, and in Oregon during her Indian wars, he resigned his commission and settled in Portland, where he has ever since been in the successful practice of his profession. In recognition of his services during the Indian hostilities in Oregon from 1855 to 1860 he was, in 1886, elected surgeon of the Grand Encampment of the Indian War Veterans of the North Pacific Coast, and still holds this honorary position.

While stationed in Oregon as an army surgeon, Dr. Glisan had an excellent opportunity to ascertain the efficiency of volunteer soldiers and unlike a certain class of regular army officers, he has ever entertained the highest opinion of their soldierly qualities.

Dr. Glisan was a professor in the first medical institution ever formed in Oregon, the Oregon Medical College, which subsequently assumed the name of The Medical Department of the Willamette University, in which he was for a long time a lecturer, and is still an emeritus professor. While an active member of this college, he felt the need of American text books in his department of obstetrics, none having been written for several years, and regretted the general use by American schools of the text books of Great Britain and continental Europe. In his effort to supply this deficiency he published in 1881, and again in 1887, his Text Book of Modern Midwifery. This was well received both in the United States and Great Britain. Its author had the pleasure of seeing a copy of it in the library of one of the most distinguished professors in Paris. He also saw his book in the libraries of several German professors at Vienna. A well known American practitioner has said of it: ” that from the concise yet clear style, and the correctness of the teaching, the student of midwifery will find it a profitable work for study, and the busy practitioner a satisfactory work of reference,” while the London Medical Times and Gazette said of it: “We have read the book with much pleasure, and regard it as a valuable addition to obstetric literature. Its great merit seems to us to be this: that it is the work of a man who thinks for himself. Dr. Glisan not only shows a habit of independent judgment, but an amount of common sense which makes his opinions worth careful attention.” The London Lancet gave the work the following endorsement:

“The first thing that strikes us in the book is independence; hardly an idea is adopted, in a work which must naturally consist largely of compilation, without digestion and assimilation, and the result or digested product bears the impress of the author’s mind, the main characteristic of which is common sense.”

Dr. Glisan is also author of a Journal of Army Life, and Two Years in Europe, the latter being his last work in book form. It is a book of travel and was very flatteringly received by the press; the Literary World, of Boston, in reviewing it said:

“Dr. Glisan, who is an Oregonian, covers a wider range of topics than Dr. Holmes, and detains his readers for a much longer period. He is sedate and sober, too, in comparison with Dr. Holmes, though his narrative is too instructive to be called commonplace, even when placed alongside the sparkling ‘Hundred Days.’ Dr. Glisan, who traveled in a deliberate and rather generously American fashion all over England and the Continent, skips about in his story in a way that would be rather destructive to the order of time-tables and guide-books, but is observing and judicious, manly and sensible. He is more plain-spoken as to the signs of the ‘social evil’ in London and Paris, than some less strictly professional travelers would care to be in print; in particular, he is emphatic in his opinion of the moral dangers to which young medical students are exposed in Paris, Berlin and Vienna; he preserves his total-abstinence habits throughout his trip, and ridicules the common caution not to drink water; he showed himself a bold man inspecting the crater of Vesuvius, and a plucky one in handling a pickpocket at Amsterdam. * * * Dr. Glisan received many attentions and saw something of society and inner life, and the pictures which embellish this handsome book are good engravings of photographs. The great centres of European life may be instructively and agreeably visited in his company.”

Dr. Glisan has taken an active interest in the efforts put forward to elevate his profession through medical organizations. He was president of the Medical Society of the State of Oregon in 1875-6, and his address in rhyme delivered before the society attracted wide attention. It has since appeared in a volume entitled, “Medical Rhymes,” edited by Hugo Erichsen, M. D. For many years Dr. Glisan has been a member of the American Medical Association. He took an active part in the Seventh International Medical Congress held in London, England, 1881, and was also a member of the Ninth International Medical Congress, which convened in Washington, D. C., in 1887. His paper, read by invitation before the latter Congress, elicited favorable comments in all the principal medical journals of America and Europe.

Dr. Gilsan has written many articles on professional subjects for the leading medical journals of the United States, which are of great value as outlining in certain diseases peculiar and independent modes of successful treatment. Perhaps the most prominent of his contributions to this class of literature appeared in the U. S. Army Statistics, (1855 and 1860), and in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, (1865, 1878 and 1880). He has performed many important surgical operations. Among his notable cases were the first amputations of the shoulder and thigh, and the second operation for strangulated inguinal hernia, ever performed on the North Pacific Coast. Although relinquishing this branch of the profession, he is still a busy general practitioner.

Dr. Gilsan has been one of the most industrious of men. He is especially noted for the unconquerable persistence with which he pursues whatever he undertakes. He possesses fine business qualifications united to great prudence, and has accumulated a large fortune. In everything pertaining to business or his profession, he is very methodical and always appears cool and collected. Owing chiefly to his temperate habits, he has always enjoyed good health, and has not for more than half a century refrained from duty, civil or military, for a single day on account of ill health, although exposed by day and by night in all climates, to the inclemency of the weather. He is religious, as the result of the clearest and most deliberate of convictions. He was originally a Methodist in faith, but since his residence in Portland, has been a member of Trinity Episcopal Church, where for over twenty years he has been warden. His views of men and affairs have been broadened by observation and by mingling with men of many countries. Although he has traveled extensively in Central and British America, in the United States and in Europe, he has seen no country that he prefers as a home, to Oregon. His personal character as a man of probity and high sense of honor, has been firmly established. In addition to his attainments as a physician, he is a thinker and writer who has shown a literary capacity of superior order, united to soundness of judgment and grace of expression which give to his writing and public utterances particular value. While he is in every sense a practical man, there is in his nature an element that is genuinely poetic. It is the vein of gold in the quartz of his more rugged virtues. Large property interests and genuine affection for his adopted city and State, have combined to make him an important factor in their material advancement, to which he has largely contributed.

The domestic life of Dr. Glisan has been one of singular congeniality and happiness. He was married in December 3,1863 to Miss Elizabeth Couch, a native of Massachusetts and the youngest daughter of Captain John H. Couch, one of the founders of Portland. Mrs. Glisan is a lady of culture and refinement and devotes much of her time and energies to philanthropic and charitable work.

Dr. Glisan’s career in Portland has been alike useful to the city and honorable to himself.


Biography, History,

Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

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