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William Chester Minor
Personal Information
Born: June, 1834
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: March 1920 (aged 85–86)
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: Union (United States)
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: Union Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Comissioned officer (surgeon)
Service number :
Battles: Battle of the Wilderness
Relations: Thomas T. Minor, Seattle mayor
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

William Chester Minor, also known as W. C. Minors (June 1834 – March 26, 1920) was an American army surgeon who made many scholarly contributions to the Oxford English Dictionary while confined to a lunatic asylum.

Minor was born on the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the son of Congregationalist Church missionaries from New England. He had numerous half-siblings, among them Thomas T. Minor, mayor of Seattle, Washington in the late 1880s.[1] At 14 he was sent to the United States, finishing his medical education in 1863 at Yale. Becoming a surgeon in the Union Army, he served at the Battle of the Wilderness. Minor was also assigned to brand "deserters" with a D; that some of these men were Irish immigrants would later play a role in Minor's dementia delusions.

After the war Minor was reassigned to New York City, where he spent much of his time with prostitutes. By 1867 his behavior caused the Army to transfer him to a remote post in the Florida Panhandle, but his condition worsened and in 1868 he was admitted to St. Elizabeths Hospital. Showing no improvement after eighteen months, he was allowed to resign his commission, with pension.[2]

In 1871 he went to England and settled in a slum in Lambeth, an area of London, where once again he took up a dissolute life. Haunted by paranoia, on February 17, 1872 he fatally shot George Merrett, who Minor believed had broken into his room. After a pre-trial period spent in London's Horsemonger Lane Gaol, Minor was found not guilty by reason of insanity and incarcerated in the asylum at Broadmoor. As he had his army pension and was not judged dangerous, he was given comparatively comfortable quarters and was able to buy and read books.[3]

It was probably through his correspondence with the London booksellers that he heard of the call for volunteers from what was to become the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). He devoted most of the remainder of his life to that work.[4] He proved to be one of the most effective of the volunteers, systematically reading through his library and compiling lists of the occurrence of words. These he kept current with the words needed in the volume being worked on at the time.[clarification needed] As his lists grew, he was able to supply quotations on demand for a particular word. It was many years before the OED's editor, Dr. James Murray, learned Minor's background history.

Minor's condition deteriorated and in 1902 he cut off his own penis. His health failed and he was permitted to return to the United States and St. Elizabeths Hospital; he was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia. He died in 1920 in New Haven, Connecticut.


In popular culture[]

The book The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester, was published in 1998 and chronicles both Minor's later life and the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.


  • Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, HarperPerennial, New York, 1998, hardback and trade paperback, ISBN 0-06-017596-6. Template:Oclc (Original British edition has the title The Surgeon of Crowthorne, ISBN 0-14-027128-7. Template:Oclc)
  • Aurandt, Paul (1984). "14. Pen Pals". Paul Harvey's the Rest of the Story. London: Bantam. pp. 31–33t. ISBN 0553259628. 

External links[]

de:William C. Minor he:ויליאם מיינור sv:William Minor