Wellesley Historical Society

Ether Day - History Mystery, October 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016

 

Question - October 15, 2016

Every October, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) celebrates Ether Day. On this day, a Wellesley resident is recognized as being the first person to publicly demonstrate the use of ether for anesthesia during surgery at MGH on October 16, 1846.  This person lived in the home pictured above, appropriately named "Etherton Cottage.” Do you know the name of this noted Wellesley resident?  Return on Oct. 28th for the answer!

Answer - October 28, 2016

The name of the Wellesley resident who lived at Etherton Cottage was Dr. William Thomas Green Morton.  Surprisingly, Dr. Morton was a dentist, not a medical doctor, when he demonstrated the use of anesthesia.  Dr. Morton manufactured artificial teeth and did so in an outbuilding on his property.  In fact, it was his patients’ discomfort while having teeth pulled that led to his interest in anesthesia.

Dr. Morton lived at Etherton Cottage with his wife and five children when Wellesley was still part of Needham.  The property had extensive grounds with barns and outbuildings.  Morton farmed the land and raised Jersey cows, geese, hens and ducks. When William Morton died in 1868 the property passed to his wife and children.  His family sold the property to H.H. Hunnewell in 1878.  Shortly after Wellesley was incorporated in 1881, Mr. Hunnewell gifted the land to the town to build a town hall and library.  H.H. Hunnewell had Etherton Cottage moved to a nearby flat section of land, aptly named Morton Field, where it stood for about 40 years before it was torn down.  

Wellesley Town Hall still stands on the property formerly occupied by Etherton Cottage.  If you are ever up for a game of hide and seek, see if you can find the stone marker pictured below.  It is located at Town Hall and reads, “Here lived Dr. W.T.G. Morton, He gave to the world the use of ether in surgery A.D. 1846.”

For more information on Morton and his role in the discovery of anesthesia, please click on this PBS article: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/the-painful-story-behind-modern-anesthesia/

Ellen Murphy, Volunteer Research Assistant

 

 

 

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