William Williams Keen

William Williams Keen

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William Williams Keen

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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 on January 19, 1837. He attended Philadelphia Central High School.

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 married around 1870 and had as his children: Dora Keen, the Alpinist.

He started lecturing surgical pathology in Philadelphia. He was president of the Philadelphia School of Anatomy from 1875 to 1889.

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 Grover Cleveland in 1893.

Keen died in Philadelphia on June 7, 1932.

Honors and recognition

He received honorary degrees from Jefferson Medical Collegeand Brown, Northwestern, Toronto, Edinburgh, Yale, St. Andrews, Greifswald,...
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