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W. W. Keen

William Williams Keen (January 19, 1837 – June 7, 1932) was the first brain surgeon in the United States. He also saw Franklin Delano Roosevelt when his paralytic illness struck and worked closely with six American Presidents.

Keen was born in Philadelphia. He studied at Brown University, where he graduated in 1859. He graduated in medicine from Jefferson Medical College in 1862. During the American Civil War, he worked for the U.S. Army as a surgeon. After the war, and two years of studies in Paris and Berlin, he started lecturing surgical pathology in Philadelphia, where he founded the Philadelphia School of Anatomy. He was the father of Dora Keen, the Alpinist and a grandfather of Walter Jackson Freeman, champion of the lobotomy in America.

He became known in the medical community around the world for inventing several new procedures in brain surgery, including drainage of the cerebral ventricles and removals of large brain tumors. Keen also performed the first successful removal of a brain tumor.

Keen also participated in a secret surgical operation to remove a cancerous jaw tumor on US President Grover Cleveland in 1893.

Keen died in Philadelphia.

Honors and recognition[]

He received honorary degrees from Jefferson Medical College and Brown, Northwestern, Toronto, Edinburgh, Yale, St. Andrews, Greifswald, and Upsala universities, and served as president of the American Surgical Association (1898), the American Medical Association (1900), the Congress of American Physicians and Surgeons (1903), and the American Philosophical Society (after 1907). New International Encyclopedia In 1914, at a meeting of the International Surgical Association, he was elected president for the meeting of 1917. After 1894 he was foreign corresponding member of the Société de Chirurgie de Paris, the Société Belge de Chirurgie, and the Clinical Society of London; honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Chirurgie, the Palermo Surgical Society, and the Berliner Medicinische Gesellschaft, and associate fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. New International Encyclopedia

procedures and signs[]

  • Keen's operationomphalectomy.
  • Keen's sign—increased diameter of the leg at the malleoli in Pott's fracture of the fibula.

Dorland's Medical Dictionary (1938 edition)


File:Gunshot Wounds, and Other Injuries of Nerves (1864).png

"Gunshot Wounds, and Other Injuries of Nerves" by Mitchell, Morehouse and Keen, 1864

He published:

  • Clinical Charts of the Human Body (1870)
  • Early History of Practical Anatomy (1875)
  • Surgical Complications and Sequels of Typhoid Fever (1898)
  • Addresses and Other Papers (1905)
  • Animal Experimentation and Medical Progress (1914)
  • an edition of Heath's Practical Anatomy (1870)
  • the New American from the Eleventh English Edition of Gray's Anatomy (Sept 1887) [1]
  • the New American from the Thirteenth English Edition of Gray's Anatomy (Sept 1893) [1]
  • the American Text-Book of Surgery (1899, 1903)
  • Keen's System of Surgery (1905–13)



  1. 1.0 1.1 Carmine D. Clemente, ed (1985). Gray’s Anatomy (30th ed.). Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger. ISBN 0-8121-0644-X.

External links[]

id:William Williams Keen tr:William Williams Keen