by Kathy B. Lauder.
Born October 24, 1822, John Berrien Lindsley came to Nashville in 1824, when his father, Philip, became president of the University of Nashville. Young Lindsley was educated at home by his parents and a neighbor, Septima Sexta Rutledge.1 At 14 he entered the University of Nashville, earning a B.A. at 17 and an M.A. two years later.2 In 1842 he entered the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, receiving his M.D. in March 1843.3 Here Lindsley began a lifelong friendship with adventurer William Walker.4
Lindsley’s next pursuit was theology: in December 1843 the Nashville Presbytery accepted him as a candidate for the ministry.5 He was licensed to preach in April 1845,6 shortly before attending to Andrew Jackson at his deathbed.7 Lindsley ministered to churches at the Hermitage and in Smyrna and, beginning in 1847, preached to slaves and the poor.8 An 1849 cholera epidemic9 kindled his interest in public health.
When Philip Lindsley left the University of Nashville in 1850, his son John Berrien became Chancellor. He proposed to rescue the faltering university by merging with the Western Military Institute of Georgetown, Kentucky,10 and by establishing the long-awaited medical school. Though apprehensive, Board members permitted the merger. Lindsley spearheaded the development of the medical school in 1851, became its first dean, and taught there until 1873.11 [Note: the following year the University of Nashville Medical School was incorporated into Vanderbilt University, which had been founded in 1873 by virtue of a grant from Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. From that point on, it would be known as the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.]
In 1857 Lindsley married Felix Grundy’s granddaughter Sarah “Sallie” McGavock, with whom he had six children. He served on the Nashville Board of Education and was secretary of the State Board of Education, administering the Peabody Education Fund and overseeing the transition of the University of Nashville into Peabody College.12 Having received a Doctorate of Sacred Theology from Princeton (1858), he lectured in the Cumberland University Theological Department in Lebanon.13
Following the capture of Fort Donelson (February 1862), Lindsley became post surgeon of Nashville hospitals. His valiant efforts to protect university property during federal occupation saved the library, laboratory equipment, and the valuable Troost mineral collection.14
After the war, Lindsley served on the Nashville Board of Education and was superintendent of Nashville public schools. He helped establish Montgomery Bell Academy (1867) and the Tennessee College of Pharmacy (1870),15 and in 1875 presided over the State Teachers Association. Having promoted the passage of an 1877 law establishing the State Board of Health, he served as its first executive secretary.16 As Nashville Public Health Officer from 1876-1880, he supervised all health efforts in Tennessee during the 1878 yellow fever epidemic.17 He taught Sanitary Science and Preventative Medicine at the University of Tennessee from 1880-1897.18
Distressed by wartime divisions within the Presbyterian Church, Lindsley became a minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1874.19 He authored History of the Law School of Cumberland University at Lebanon, Confederate Military Annals of Tennessee, and many works on medicine and public health. He was an early member of the Tennessee Historical Society and a fellow of the American Academy of Medicine.20 His many talents led Alfred Leland Crabb to call him the “Benjamin Franklin of Nashville.”21
John Berrien Lindsley died December 7, 1897, in Nashville. He is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. (2014)
1 Windrow, John Edwin. John Berrien Lindsley, Educator, Physician, Social Philosopher. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1938, 8.
2 Lindsley, John Berrien. Diary, Volume 4, 1849-1856. Lindsley Family Papers, ca. 1812 – [1840-1940] – 1953, Box 1, Folder 21. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
3 Windrow, 11.
4 Lindsley, John Berrien. Letter to Adrian Van Sinderen Lindsley, April 8, 1843. Lindsley Family Papers, ca. 1812 – [1840-1940] – 1953. Oversize folder (49). Tennessee State Library and Archives.
5 Lindsley, John Berrien. Diary, Volume 4, 1849-1856.
6 Windrow, 12.
7 Lindsley, Philip. Journal. Lindsley Family Papers, ca. 1812 – [1840-1940] – 1953, Box 2, Folder 33. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
8 Lindsley, John Berrien. Diary, Volume 4, 1849-1856.
9 Pyle, G. F. “The Diffusion of Cholera in the United States in the Nineteenth Century,” Wiley Online Library, accessed 1-4-2014. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1538-4632.1969.tb00605.x/pdf
10 Conkin, Paul K. Peabody College: From a Frontier Academy to the Frontiers of Teaching and Learning. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2002, 83.
11 John Berrien Lindsley Papers, Collection No. 41. Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The Annette & Irwin Eskind Biomedical Library, Special Collections: Accessed 1-5-2014. http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/diglib/sc_diglib/biopages/jlindsley.html
12 State Board of Education Records, 1815-1958. Record Group 91, Volume 55, 1875-1885. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
13 John Berrien Lindsley Papers, Vanderbilt University.
14 Crabb, Alfred Leland. The Historical Background of Peabody College. Nashville: George Peabody College for Teachers, 1941, 20-21.
15 John Berrien Lindsley Papers, Vanderbilt University.
16 Lindsley, John Berrien. Diary, Volume 5, October 6, 1856 – January 1, 1866. Lindsley Family Papers, ca. 1812 – [1840-1940] – 1953, Box 1, Folder 23. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
17 Windrow, 140-141.
18 Windrow, 159-160.
19 DeWitt, Rev. M. B. Letter, March 11, 1898, quoted in Windrow, 13-14.
20 John Berrien Lindsley Papers, Vanderbilt University.
21 Crabb, Alfred Leland. Nashville: Personality of a City. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960, 95.
Conkin, Paul K. Peabody College: From a Frontier Academy to the Frontiers of Teaching and Learning. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2002.
Crabb, Alfred Leland. The Historical Background of Peabody College. Nashville: George Peabody College for Teachers, 1941.
Windrow, John Edwin. John Berrien Lindsley, Educator, Physician, Social Philosopher. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1938.