Geddings, Eli

ca. 1799–October 9, 1878

Geddings was an active participant in the intellectual life of antebellum Charleston. He was a friend of the author William Gilmore Simms, who dedicated one of his books to Geddings, and was an early subscriber to the works of John James Audubon, whom he also knew.

Physician. Geddings was born in Newberry District, reputedly of impoverished parents, and was raised by his stepfather, Major Frederick Gray. As a youth he studied at Abbeville Academy, became a physician’s apprentice for two years beginning in 1818, and was licensed in Charleston in 1820. He attended lectures at the University of Pennsylvania in 1821 and 1822, and after a brief practice in Colleton District, he settled in Charleston. He enrolled in the Medical College of South Carolina in 1824 and served as demonstrator in anatomy both before and after becoming the school’s first graduate in 1825. He married twice, first to a Mrs. Grey, née Wyatt, with whom he had a daughter and three sons. All three sons became physicians. Geddings and his second wife, Laura Postel, had no children.

After completing his education at hospitals in London and Paris, he returned to Charleston in May 1827 to embark on a career comparable only to James Moultrie in national prestige for a South Carolina medical practitioner in the nineteenth century. Geddings held chairs in a variety of disciplines. After serving as demonstrator of anatomy at the Medical College and conducting his own one-man private school in medicine, he accepted the Chair in Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Maryland in 1831 and held it for six years. Returning to South Carolina, he became Professor of Pathological Anatomy and Medical Jurisprudence at the Medical College in 1837, a post created specifically for him, and he twice held the Chairs of Medicine and Surgery simultaneously.

Geddings was also an active participant in the intellectual life of antebellum Charleston. He was a friend of the author William Gilmore Simms, who dedicated one of his books to Geddings, and was an early subscriber to the works of John James Audubon, whom he also knew.

Geddings made several important contributions to medical literature. While in Baltimore, he founded the Baltimore Medical and Surgical Journal and Review, which became the North American Archives in Medical and Surgical Sciences. His national reputation attracted offers of professorships in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Kentucky. Like his contemporary, James Moultrie, Geddings was involved with the educational concerns of the American Medical Association. In 1870 he submitted a report recommending premedical preparation and a nonrepetitive three-year curriculum in medicine. Despite offers from medical schools across the country, Geddings cast his lot with South Carolina and shared in the catastrophe of the Civil War and its aftermath. His library, including the manuscript for a textbook, and his Audubon Folio were destroyed in the burning of Columbia.

With his finances ruined by the war, Geddings was forced to return to active practice at the age of sixty-six. He remained active at the Medical College as professor and consultant until 1873 and continued to serve on an occasional basis until his death in Charleston on October 9, 1878. He was buried in Magnolia Cemetery.

Waring, Joseph I. A History of Medicine in South Carolina. Vol. 2, 1825–1900. Columbia: South Carolina Medical Association, 1967.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Geddings, Eli
  • Coverage ca. 1799–October 9, 1878
  • Author
  • Keywords Physician, Newberry District, Medical College of South Carolina, Chair in Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Maryland, Professor of Pathological Anatomy and Medical Jurisprudence, twice held the Chairs of Medicine and Surgery, founded the Baltimore Medical and Surgical Journal and Review,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date December 2, 2020
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 9, 2016
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