Physician. Chisolm was born in Charleston on April 16, 1830, the son of Robert Trail Chisolm and Harriet Emily Schutt. He graduated from the Medical College of the State of South Carolina in 1850. He continued his studies in London and Paris for the better part of two years before returning to Charleston to practice in 1852. In 1858 he became professor of surgery at the Medical College. The following year he returned to Europe and observed the treatment of the wounded from the battles of Magenta and Solferino in hospitals in Milan during the Austro-Italian War, a matter that was to be of significance in the Civil War. Soon after his return to his chair at the Medical College, the war began and he served as a medical officer for its duration. His book, A Manual of Military Surgery, based in part on his experiences in Italy, was of major importance in the treatment of the wounded. In response to strong demand, additional editions were published in 1861, 1862, and 1864. In addition to this major contribution to the Confederate war effort, Chisolm devised a more efficient inhaler for the administration of chloroform, an anesthetic that was in short supply in the Confederate army.
After the war, Chisolm resumed his chair in surgery, becoming dean of the Medical College in 1867. He also served as president of the Medical Society of South Carolina from 1865 to 1867. Because professional prospects in postwar Charleston were bleak, in 1868 Chisolm moved to Baltimore, where he joined the University of Maryland Medical School and became its dean in 1869.
Chisolm’s career in Baltimore was one of unbroken success. On a third trip to Europe in 1871, he emphasized the study of diseases of the eyes and ears and concentrated his practice on those fields on his return. Chisolm belonged to major organizations devoted to his specialty and contributed more than one hundred papers to its literature. The honorary degree of doctor of letters was conferred on him in 1892 by the University of South Carolina. His most famous patient was Helen Keller, whom he referred to Alexander Graham Bell because he felt that she could learn to talk and be educated although she would never see or hear. A devout Presbyterian, Chisolm and other prominent Baltimore citizens in 1877 established the Presbyterian Eye, Ear and Throat Charity Hospital for people with limited means.
Chisolm married twice. On February 3, 1852, he married a cousin, Mary Eddings Chisolm. The marriage produced two children, Julia and Francis Miles. Mary Chisolm died on March 29, 1888. On June 16, 1894, Chisolm married Elizabeth Steele. His second marriage produced a daughter, Katherine.
In September 1894 Chisolm suffered a stroke, from which he never completely recovered. He died in Petersburg, Virginia, on November 1, 1903, and was buried in Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore.
Memoir in Honor of Julian John Chisolm, M.D., upon the One Hundredth Anniversary of His Birth by the Members of His Family and Former Associates. [Baltimore, 1930].
Sherman, Roger. “Julian John Chisolm, M.D., Confederate Surgeon.” American Surgeon 52 (January 1986): 1–8.
Waring, James I. A History of Medicine in South Carolina. 3 vols. Columbia: South Carolina Medical Association, 1964–1971.
Worthington, W. Curtis. “Confederates, Chloroform and Cataracts: Julian John Chisolm (1830–1903).” Southern Medical Journal 79 (June 1986): 748–52.