Physician, educator. Wilson was born at Stateburg on August 23, 1867, the son of the Reverend Robert Wilson, M.D., and Ann Jane Shand. His father was a graduate of the Medical College of the State of South Carolina and a surgeon in the Confederate army but had given up medicine after the death of his first wife. Wilson grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where his father was parish priest. He attended the College of Charleston and graduated from South Carolina College in 1887. After traveling in Europe and teaching school, he entered the Medical College of the State of South Carolina, graduating in 1892. He married Harriet Chisolm Cain of Pinopolis on November 27, 1895. They had three children.

After attending the New York Postgraduate Medical School, Wilson joined the faculty of the Medical College of the State of South Carolina in 1893. He served the school for fifty-one years, first as instructor in bacteriology, then as professor of medicine and nervous diseases, and later as professor of medicine and head of the medicine department. He became dean (president) in 1908 and held this position until 1943. He was also physician in chief of the Roper Hospital staff from 1913 to 1943. As a teacher, Wilson emphasized a conservative approach to medicine, which encouraged a meticulous physical examination and a close analysis of the findings to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. In the first half of the twentieth century his service, example, and accomplishments had a lasting influence on the physicians of the state as well as the lives of those who were associated with him.

As the first bacteriologist for the city of Charleston (1897–1912), Wilson worked to improve the quality of the city’s water supply. Possessing a deep interest in public health matters, he was a member of the state Board of Health from 1898 until 1935, serving as chairman from 1907 until 1935. Following the 1909 publication of the landmark Flexner Report, which harshly criticized almost all medical schools in the United States, Wilson realized the need to find a source of regular funding for the Medical College. He established an unlikely relationship with Governor Coleman L. Blease. In 1913 they persuaded the General Assembly to assume ownership of the Medical College and provide financial support. The Charleston business community raised funds for a new building, which was built on Lucas Street near Roper Hospital.

Wilson also served as president of the South Carolina Medical Association (1905), the Medical Society of South Carolina (1920–1922), the Tri-State Medical Association, and the Southern Medical Association. He was an early editor of the Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association and organized the Medical His- tory Club that now bears his name. He received honorary LL.D. degrees from the University of South Carolina in 1918 and from the College of Charleston in 1922, and the doctor of civil laws degree from the University of the South, Sewanee, in 1926. He died in Charleston on May 20, 1946, and was buried in Magnolia Cemetery.

Biographical files. Waring Historical Library, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston.

Waring, Joseph I. A History of Medicine in South Carolina. Vol. 3, 1900– 1970. Columbia: South Carolina Medical Association, 1971.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Wilson, Robert
  • Author Jane McCutchen Brown
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date March 31, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date July 7, 2016
  • Date of Last Update July 11, 2016