by Larry Upthegrove
John Westmoreland was born in Jasper County, Ga., near Monticello, in 1816. He lived for 71 years, most of which was in the medical profession. As a small boy, his father relocated the family to Fayette County, close to the Pike County boundary, just after the treaty of 1821 made that land available to white people. Their home was a two-room hewed-log house, built by his father with the help of friendly neighboring Indians.
John spent his childhood working on this primitive farm in the warm months and going to school in the winter, until, at age 18, he graduated from the Fayetteville Academy. He was able to study medicine with one of their neighbors, a country doctor, and he went on to graduate from the Medical College of Georgia in March of 1843, establishing himself in local practice in Pike County, where he remained until 1853. In 1853, he moved his practice to the thriving young city of Atlanta, where he would contribute to the area’s health care for almost 35 years.
John brought to the city the idea of establishing a medical college in Atlanta, and he became the driving force in establishing it. He quickly was able to interest the small medical community of fine doctors in starting the college, and a deal was worked with the city government for the partial use of City Hall for lectures. Permission was granted with the stipulation that classes would only be used in the winter months so as not to interfere with city court proceedings.
Dr. Westmoreland ran for the State House of Representatives in 1855 and was elected, only going there to make a deal with the state for help in erecting a building for the school. In exchange for a $15,000 donation, John agreed to educate one doctor from each of Georgia’s congressional districts for free, for each session of the school. Work on the building began as soon as the lot (adjacent to where Grady Hospital would be located in 1892) was acquired. It was ready for classes in 1859.
In connection with the Atlanta Medical College, Dr. Westmoreland originated the Brotherhood of Physicians, which gave birth to the Atlanta Society of Medicine, which has evolved into the Medical Association of Atlanta, which boasts a current body of about 4,000 members. Together with his younger brother Willis, Dr. Westmoreland established the Atlanta Medical and Surgical Journal.
Dr. Willis Westmoreland became the Professor of Surgery at the new medical school, and held that position for many years, contributing often with articles published in the Journal.
During the Civil War, classes were suspended but the building was used as one of the hospitals, with faculty mostly providing the staffing. On Nov. 12, 1864, the building narrowly missed destruction at the hands of the Federals, who were destroying all public buildings and most private ones. Dr. Noel D’Alvigny, who was in charge at the time, was able to convince a Union demolition crew that there were sick men still in the hospital by bandaging staff members and having them take the beds and act poorly.
Dr. Westmoreland also had a family life. He married Annie Buchanan, a relative of President James Buchanan. Together they raised two children: daughter Louisa, and a son, Robert W.
Atlanta Medical College continued to turn out hundreds of quality doctors for over 40 years. In 1898 it joined with Southern Medical College (founded in 1878) to form the Atlanta College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 1913, this union merged with Atlanta School of Medicine (founded in 1905) under the old historic name of Atlanta Medical College. Then in 1915, the school became Emory University School of Medicine. At a meeting of university alumni in 1919, it was decided that graduates of the antecedent institutions would become alumni of Emory University School of Medicine.
Dr. Westmoreland never got to see the grand merger. He died in October of 1912 and now keeps a careful eye on the intersection of Memorial Drive and Boulevard, beneath the sweet soil of Historic Oakland Cemetery.
by Larry Upthegrove