Guide to the Ferdinand Ludwig Von Herff Papers, 1820-1912
Ferdinand Ludwig von Herff was born in Darmstadt, Germany on November 29, 1820. His parents, Christian von Herff and Eleanora von Meusebach, were aristocrats, with his father serving as chief justice of the Hessian Supreme Court. Herff attended the University of Bonn while living with his uncle, the president of the university, and was able to meet many famous people. Studying under influential medical scientists and learning avant garde concepts and techniques, he began his medical education at Berlin, spending his first two years there. He then continued at Giessen, where he passed his final exams in 1842, and received his M.D. degree in 1843. He became a surgeon in the Hessian Army (1843-1847) and quickly became known for his brilliant surgical work. He developed ingenious techniques in plastic surgery, such as making artificial noses, and successfully treated tuberculosis by draining tubercular lung abscesses.
Because of the popular socialist and communist beliefs in Germany at this time, many Germans were emigrating, especially to America, to establish colonies. In 1847 Herff helped organize a group composed mainly of university-educated professionals, Die Vierziger (the Forty), to found an idealistic commune in Texas. He secured leave from the army to accompany the colony to Texas. They settled on the Llano River near Castell, naming the commune Bettina. The enthusiastic settlers were ill prepared to cope with stern frontier realities, however, and within eighteen months the commune failed. Herff returned to Germany in 1848 to marry his fiancé Mathilde Kungel Hoeffer, but he was determined that Texas would be his ultimate home. Germany, however, was in the turmoil of revolution, and he was impressed into military service. His successes in treating battle casualties were attributed to his dexterity and his scrupulous attention to cleanliness (prior to antisepsis).
He returned to Texas with his wife in 1849, became a citizen, and dropped the nobility title "von" from his name. He and his wife settled briefly in New Braunfels, then moved in 1850 to San Antonio, where Herff became the first surgeon in Texas and began one of the most prolonged careers in Texas medicine. The couple had 6 sons, several of whom also practiced medicine.
Due to the lack of hospitals and medical clinics, surgery was performed in homes, hotels, and even in open-air locations. Herff was known for his low infection rates despite the less-than-ideal circumstances in which he was forced to perform surgeries. Many patients were unable to pay, and the family suffered financial hardship for a while as Herff dedicated his career to caring for the patient regardless of financial circumstances. His reputation grew as a result of remarkable medical feats, including the removal of two large bladder stones from a Texas Ranger, an operation which was Herff's first use of chloroform and was witnessed by a crowd of onlookers including Ranger William A. A. (Big Foot) Wallace. He removed cataracts to restore eyesight; corrected a depressed skull fracture to alleviate traumatic epilepsy; and removed arrows. He performed cranial surgery to remove bullets, a piece of wood, and tumors. He also performed gastrostomy on a young girl who had ingested lye, and at age eighty-four under primitive ranch conditions he operated on his daughter-in-law, who had an ectopic pregnancy.
Dr. Herff was also a keen medical observer. He made many valuable observations on the various parasites of ‘entozoa’ found in Texas. He recorded his observations in a letter to Dr. Allen J. Smith, professor of pathology at the University of Texas Medical Department. The letter was published in the Texas Medical Journal in 1894.
Dr. Herff performed his last operation in 1908 at the age of eighty-seven. He was the first in the United States to trephine for epilepsy. He performed the first lithotomy and the first cataract surgery in Texas. He performed the first gastrostomy and first hysterectomy in the United States and diagnosed the first uncinariasis in Texas.
Herff was very active in city, cultural and medical affairs. He was city alderman from 1850-1851. He served as city health officer in 1860 and was a Confederate Army surgeon during the Civil War. He was instrumental in founding San Antonio’s first infirmary, operated by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, and is known as the Father of Texas hospital care. Herff worked tirelessly to achieve high standards of medical practice. He helped organize the Bexar County Medical Society, the West Texas Medical Association, the Texas Medical and Surgical Record, and the Texas Medical Association and served on the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners in 1880. He received many honors, including recognition from the University of Giessen and the St. Louis College of Physicians and Surgeons. He died in San Antonio at his home on the river on May 18, 1912.
"Herff, Ferdinand Ludwig." Handbook of Texas Online. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhe27, accessed July 28, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Nixon, Pat Ireland. A century of medicine in San Antonio : the story of medicine in Bexar County, Texas. San Antonio, Tex: Privately published by the author, 1936.
Herff, Ferdinand Peter. The Doctors Herff : a Three-Generation Memoir / edited by Laura L. Barber. San Antonio, Trinity University Press, 1973.
Home of Dr. Ferdinand Ludwig Herff - Texas Historical markers on Waymarking.com. http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM5548, accessed July 30, 2013.
The Herff papers contain four documents, a newspaper clipping dated 1880 describing an operation to remove bladder stones, a letter by F. Herff on parasitic entozoan printed in the Texas Medical Journal, a copy of H. B. No. 173 regulating the practice of medicine in Texas, and a report of the Bexar County Medical Society Committee on Medical Ethics.
The collection is open for research use. Materials may be viewed in the reading room of the P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, located on the 5th floor of the Briscoe Library at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Access to patient records is restricted.
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Some materials are very brittle or torn on the edges and may require an electronic copy or photocopy for use.
[Identification of item], in the Ferdinand Ludwig Von Herff Papers, 1820 - 1912, MS 200, University Archives, UTHSC Libraries, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
These papers were donated in 1970 to the library of the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio by the Bexar County Medical Society.
Received as part of a donation of manuscripts and historical books from the Bexar County Medical Society Library in 1970.
Finding aid created by: Anne Comeaux, July 2013
Detailed Description of Collection