Obituary of William S. Forbes
December 18, 1905

The Philadelphia Inquirer published this obituary of William S. Forbes in 1905, celebrating his "brilliant career."

Dr. Forbes Dies While Dressing

Professor of Anatomy in Jefferson Medical College Succumbs to Heart Disease. A Brilliant Career.

Stricken down by heart disease while dressing yesterday, Dr. W. S. Forbes, professor of anatomy in Jefferson Medical College, died at his residence, 901 Pine street, within a few moments, in the presence of his family.

Dr. Forbes had for some years been a sufferer from agina pectoris. He complained on Thanksgiving Day, but was sufficiently himself to deliver his lecture on Monday last. Following this lecture he had a severe occurrence, but was relieved and remained in a comfortable condition, barring a slight attack on Friday, until yesterday morning, when, while dressing, a most severe attack came on, from which he died.

Dr. Frederick P. Henry and Dr. A. Hewson attended him, but the final attack was so sudden and severe that he was alone with the family when the end came.

He is survived by his wife and the following children: Murray Forbes, John S. Forbes, William Innes Forbes, James F. Forbes, Sally Innes Forbes and Elizabeth Fitz Gerald Forbes.

A Leading Medical Man

Dr. William Smith Forbes, a leading representative of the medical men of Philadelphia, was born on the 10th of February, 1831, in Falmouth, Stafford county, near Fredericksburg, Va., and was a representative of a family that was established in America in Colonial days (in 1657). His parents were Murray and Sally Innes (Thornton) Forbes. He attended Coleman’s School in Caroline county, Va., was afterward a student at the University of Virginia; he was an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania, and was graduated from Jefferson Medical College in the class of 1852. He was in the clinic of the Jefferson College under Drs. Joseph, Pancoast and Mutter, and was a resident physician in the Pennsylvania Hospital from 1853 until 1854. He served with the British in the Crimean war. Owing to the fact that public sentiment in America at that time was strongly Russian, his services were the more appreciated in England and as a mark of gratitude he was offered a directorship in the British army. Dr. Forbes declined this honor, because in order to accept it he would have had to renounce his citizenship in the United States.

Returning from the Crimea, Dr. Forbes opened a private school of anatomy on College avenue, in this city, and for several years previous to the war the school enjoyed a very large degree of Southern patronage. At the breaking out of the war, however, the school was closed owing to the fact that the major portion of its students entered the Confederate army. After the war Dr. Forbes reopened his private school of anatomy and continued teaching until 1872.

Career of Teaching

He was professor of anatomy in the Pennsylvania Dental College, which post he held for several years. In 1879 he was elected demonstrator in anatomy in the Jefferson Medical College and professor of anatomy and clinical surgery in 1886, which position he held until the time of his death. For twenty-six years, from 1862 until 1887, he served as senior surgeon of the Episcopal Hospital of Philadelphia. He was also surgeon in the United States Volunteers, and was appointed medical director of the Thirteenth Army Corps and served under General Grant during the siege of Vicksburg.

Perhaps the crowning act of Dr. Forbes’ life and the deed of which he was most proud was his authorship of the original Anatomy act of Pennsylvania in 1863, and its amendment in 1883. This act has placed the procuring of subjects for dissection in the various medical schools in Pennsylvania upon a legal basis, and has been of the greatest aid in the advancement of medical science. This act is the prototype, and has been copied by all of the States in the Union. Only last June Professor Forbes was honored by the student body of the Jefferson College by the presentation to the college of a full length oil portrait of himself. In this movement the medical alumni of the University of Pennsylvania joined in honoring Dr. Forbes by the presentation of a silver loving cup and testimonial. These acts were done in recognition of the fifty years of Dr. Forbes’ teaching of anatomy in this city and in appreciation of his contributions to medical science, including his authorship of the Anatomy act.

Member of Many Societies

Dr. Forbes belonged to the Academy of Natural Sciences, College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County Medical Society, Pennsylvania State Medical Society, American Surgical Association, was a member of the Loyal Region [sic], Penn Club and F. A. M., No. 2, Philadelphia.

In 1859 Dr. Forbes married Celenaire Bernadon Sims, the daughter of the late John C. Sims and Emeline Marion (Clarke) Sims, of Philadelphia.

He was the inventor of a new lithotrite and method of obtaining and measuring the strength of these instruments, and the measured crushing resistance of vesical calculi. Dr. Forbes wrote an essay on Harvey and the transit of the blood from the arteries to the veins, “Per Perositates,” and an article on the diaphragm as a protector of the heart, and its influence in changing the current of blood, at birth, from the ductus arteriosus, to the lungs, by compressing the ductus arteriosus until the lumen of the duct is obliterated. He devised and was the first to perform the operation of liberating the ring finger of musicians by dividing the accessory tendons of the common extensor of the digits.


The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 18, 1905