Profile of Dr. Ralph N. Isham

Little Falls NY to Chicago IL

Contributed by Lisa Slaski

Source: Publication Number Twelve of the Illinois State Historical Library; Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the year 1907; Eighth Annual Meeting of the Society, Springfield, Ill., January 24-25, 1907, published Phillips Bros., State Printers, Springfield, Ill., 1908, pages 188-189.

Ralph N. Isham, M. D.

Ralph N. Isham was born in the town of Manheim, Herkimer county, New York, March 16, 1831. After acquiring a good academic education at the Herkimer Academy, at Little Falls, N.Y., he entered upon the study of medicine and received the degree of M. D. from the Bellevue Hospital Medical College, in New York city, in 1854. He then served a full term as house physician and surgeon in Bellevue hospital, at the completion of which he selected Chicago as his permanent field of practice, coming here in November, 1855.

In 1859 he joined with others in the organization of the medical department of Lind University, later the Chicago Medical College, and now known as the Northwestern University Medical School, and accepted the chair of surgical anatomy and operative surgery. In the discharge of his duties he acquired a high reputation as a teacher and as a successful surgical operator.

During the Civil War, 1861-1865, he served as a member of the sanitary Commission, and was one of its organizers. He twice went south with supplies and doctors and was in the field at the battle of Shiloh.

During the war he had charge of the United States Marine Hospital at Chicago, which then was a military hospital and he was in close touch with the administration at Washington. He continued in charge of the Marine Hospital for several years after the war. At that time it was located near Rush street bridge.

At various times he has served as professor of surgery in the Northwestern University, the duties of which he discharged with ability and success for fifteen years, surgeon to the Jewish Hospital, afterwards the Michael Reese Hospital, member of the board of trustees of the North Star Dispensary, chief surgeon for the Chicago & Northwestern success for fifteen years, surgeon to the Jewish Hospital afterwards to the Presbyterian Hospital, consulting surgeon to the Passavant Hospital, delegate to the International Medical Congress in London in 1881, surgeon of various regiments, etc., etc.

He was an extensive traveler, both in Europe, America and the Orient.

He was one of the original guarantors of the Chicago orchestra, also at one time a trustees of the Central church. He was a member of various clubs, societies and organizations, and a member of nearly all of the medical societies, being honorary member of the New York Medical Society. He had degrees from the University of the City of New York, and M. A. from the Northwestern University.

He married, in 1856, Katherine Snow, daughter of George W. Snow, one of the early settlers of Chicago. He is survived by his wife and four children, George S. Isham, Ralph Isham, Katherine (Mrs. A. L. Farwell) and Harriet (Mrs. G. A. Carpenter).

Online research by the site coordinator.

In the 1850 census of Little Falls NY (dated August 2, 1850), Ralph N. Isham, age 20, resides with Nelson Isham, physician age 45 b. CT, Delia age 40 b. NY, Elizabeth age 14 and Charles age 7. IN 1860, the couple were residing in the 2nd Ward of Chicago in the home of Ralph's in-laws, George and Elizabeth Snow. George age is stated as 29, and his wife Catharne's as 27.I found Ralph next in the 1870 census of the 19th Ward of Chicago. Ralph is 38 years old, a physician with a personal estate of $25,000. His wife Catharine age 35 was b. Illinois. They have four children - George age 11, Hattie age 10, Ralph age 5, and Kate age 3, all born Illinois. Also residing with them are a cook, three domestic servants and a coachman. In the 1880 census of Chicago, Ralph is listed as "Rob." His age is given as 45, Catherine's as 43. Also residing with them are Catherine's mother, George age 20, Ralph age 15, Kate age 13, Henrietta age 11, and two Irish servants. In the 1900 census of Chicago, physician Ralph N. resides on Dearborn Avenue, and states his age as 68, Catherine is 65, and widowed son Ralph is age 35. Also residing with them are three servants and a cook. Ralph and Catherine state that they've been married 40 years, and she says she's had 3 children, 3 living. In 1910, widow Katherine Isham, said to be age 70, is still residing on Dearborn Ave., with a female companion, four servants and a lodger. Dr. Ralph N. Isham must have left a substantial estate as the household of eldest son George Snow Isham, also a physician, supported 8 servants and a head man. Ralph N. and Catherine's younger son Ralph has remarried, works in real estate, and has two servants.

An Isham researcher has posted some lineage information about the family on's World Tree, citing details from Homer Worthington Brainard's A Survey of the Ishams in England and America, Rutland, Vermont: The Tuttle Publishing Company Inc., 1938. Ralph Nelson Isham's birth date is given as 16 Mar 1831 in Manheim, NY, and death date 28 May 1904 in Lake Forest, IL. His father was Nelson Isham (16 May 1805 Bolton CT - 18 Sept. 1896 Little Falls NY) and mother was Elizabeth "Delia" Snell (9 Sept. 1809 - 4 Jan. 1875, locations and her parentage not stated). A photograph of Dr. Isham appears in Arthur Herbert Wilde's Northwestern University: A History, 1855-1905, between pp. 294 and 295. Ralph N. Isham does not turn up in any database as having served in the military in the Civil War.

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Created: 6/27/07
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