John Berrien Lindsley, MD


John Berrien Lindsley

Dr. John Berrien Lindsley, a University of Nashville professor, advanced public health, public education, and medical education in Tennessee and the South.

John Berrien Lindsley

John Berrien Lindsley was born on October 24, 1822 at Princeton, New Jersey, the son of Philip and Margaret Lawrence Lindsley. His father, who was acting president of Princeton University, resigned in 1824 to become president of the University of Nashville. Growing up in Nashville, John received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1839, and his master of Arts degree in 1841 from the University of Nashville in 1841. He received his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1843 from the University of Pennsylvania, Department of Medicine. One of his classmates was his good friend William Walker, of Nicaragua fame. This friendship continued for many years until the death of Walker in 1860.

John Berrien Lindsley had interests in other fields as well. Joining the First Presbyterian Church, Nashville in 1840, he was ordained on April 10, 1845 by the Presbytery of Nashville, and served in several nearby country churches. Of historical interest was the fact that he was preaching at the Hermitage Church located near the home of Andrew Jackson, and was present at the bedside of the former President when he died on June 8, 1845. He also ministered to slaves and the poor under the appointment of the Presbyterian Board of Domestic Missions. Earning a degree of S.T.D. from Princeton University in 1858, he was a lecturer in the Theological Department of Cumberland University, in Lebanon, Tennessee.

His greatest accomplishment, however, was in the field of education. It was a result of his efforts, in cooperation with Dr. W. K. Bowling and others, that in 1850 that the Medical Department of the University of Nashville was organized. He was a professor of chemistry and served in that position until 1873. He was dean of the medical faculty until 1855, when he was elected chancellor of the university. Largely responsible for the survival of the university during the Civil War, he oversaw the union of the collegiate department of the University of Nashville with the Peabody Education Fund, which provided additional funds from the state to establish a teacher training institution. He established Montgomery Bell Academy in 1867, and also had a role in the formation of the Tennessee College of Pharmacy in 1870.

University of Nashville Central Hall
University of Nashville Central Hall

Lindsley, playing a very active role in government, was instrumental in the development of Nashville's public school system, serving on the Board of Education from 1856-1860, and as superintendent of schools in 1866. He also worked industriously for the passage of the law that in 1877 established the Tennessee State Board of Health. He served as secretary of the board from its establishment until his death. He was also public health officer in Nashville from 1876 to 1880.

Representative of his broad interests and talents, Lindsley was an active member and held office in a number of diverse organizations including: the American Public Health Association, Medical Society of Tennessee, American Medical Association, American Academy of Medicine, American Chemical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science (one of its founders), the American Historical Association, and the Tennessee Historical Society.

Married to Sarah McGavock of Nashville on February 9, 1857, he was the father of six children. He died on December 7, 1897.

Dr. J. Berrien Lindsley, Guardian of the University of Nashville
Rare Book Collection, Nashville, 1862

This article, published in the "Nashville Tennessean" on December 10, 1929, was written by Dr. Lindsley's daughter, Louise G. Lindsley

J. Berrien Lindsley was chancellor of the University of Nashville when Tennessee entered the War Between the States. He was appointed post surgeon having charge of all the Confederate hospitals. The University's buildings became one of these hospitals. He took every care of these books, reserving two rooms in the Stone building in which to store the library and Garrard Troost's famous collection of minerals.

University of Nashville Stone Building
"Stone Building"

When the Federals took possession of Nashville, everything changed. The following is copied from Dr. Lindsley's diary:

"Feb. 25, 1862, 8 a.m. Witnessed from University Hill the arrival of the Federal fleet, a noble but distressing sight. Nelson's brigade of 5,000 passed by the university about 4 p.m. A number of Federal surgeons came by the University during the day. Being directly in the way of the army, it was not surprising that the surgeons so quickly took it.

Feb.26. Troops passing all day--busy visiting our hospitals and advising incoming surgeons. By sunset both of our buildings crowded. Army passing still; all the airs and assumption of a conquering host. The surgeons with whom I had to do, not a little truculent."

Some time later Dr. Lindsley called on Maj. Gen. Thomas at his headquarters (now the Hermitage Club) and from him obtained the following special field order NO. 85: "The Medical College of the University of Nashville with the library, Museum, and chemical apparatus, surgical instruments, will be turned over by the medical department of the U.S.A. to the chancellor of the university, and all military persons in the service of the U.S. are forbidden to interfere in any manner with said property except upon an order from these headquarters."

Then came the task of moving these books from the Stone building to the Medical college building, and here is the pass given Dr. Lindsley: "Pass Chancellor Lindsley and his men into any of the university buildings and allow them to box and remove the property of the university. Police guards will also pass the same persons in and out of camp between Reveille and Tattoo."

When George Peabody College fell heir to these books, Doctor Lindsley felt that they were safe and that his guardianship was over. So these books have heard the laughter, the jokes, and the light tread of many hundred merry cadets. They have also heard the heavy tread of the soldier and the groans of both Confederate and Federal wounded. They have listened to the music from the Confederate and Federal bands. Now they rest in the quiet of the beautiful George Peabody College Library.

The Eskind Library also has a collection of Dr. Lindsley's personal papers. For more information, please consult the Inventory of the John Berrien Lindsley Papers.


In 1979 when Vanderbilt and Peabody College merged, Dr. Lindsley's medical library was moved to the Historical Collection of the Vanderbilt Medical Library