The Brandeis Family and Madison Indiana Part One


The subject of Brandeis’ uncle and cousins came up at work recently. There is near the University of Louisville campus a Brandeis Avenue and a Brandeis Elementary school, and the popular assumption is that these are named after Louis D. Brandeis. But, like many popular assumptions, this is incorrect. Brandeis left Louisville when he was 18 and was in many ways forgotten by his native city until a few years before his ascension onto the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, other members of his family rose to prominence in his absence. His father Adolph and his brother Alfred were partners in business, and as wealthy merchants, became well known throughout town. Adolph’s brother Samuel (Louis’ uncle) was one of the premiere doctors in the city and it is he who the street was named after. Samuel’s son Albert Brandeis was, like his cousin Louis, a lawyer. He got an undergraduate degree from Harvard and then a law degree from Columbia University. (It is also possible he took a class or two at the University of Louisville law school.) He became an attorney for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and apparently did some work for the city’s public schools as Brandeis Elementary is named after him.

Finding out this information led me to dig around for more information about Brandeis’ family. A Google search led to the discovery of a 3 page typed biography of Samuel Brandeis held in the Jefferson County Historical Society in Madison Indiana. As Madison is only an hour’s drive from here, this sounded like an ideal excuse for a road trip.

The story of how the Brandeises emigrated to the United States is a story that has been told many times, most notably in the book The Pilgrims of ’48. Three families, the Brandeises, the Wehles and the Dembitzes decided to come emigrate together to the United States. But first, they sent Adolph Brandeis ahead to scout out various cities. Adolph decided that they should move to Madison, partly because the trade on the Ohio River made Madison seem like a city with a future and partly because Madison seemed immune from the cholera epidemics then sweeping the country. (Adolph proved to be wrong on both counts. Louisville quickly overcame Madison as a commerce center, and cholera would hit Madison a few weeks after the families settled there.) The families moved into Madison in June 1849, but they did not find Madison life to their liking and left a few years later: the Wehles to New York and the Brandeis’ down river to Louisville.

I thought perhaps that since the Brandeises were in Madison for a couple years, the Historical Society might have a few items of interest and I was not disappointed. The friendly and very helpful staff dredged up all kinds of goodies while I was there. Since this post is already running a little long, I’ll just talk about the biography that started in the inquiry in the first place and then discuss the other items in my next post.

The biography turns out to have been written by Samuel’s daughter Florence. A striking person in her own right (those Brandeis genes must have really been something) Florence was one of the first female doctors in Louisville. There is no date attached to it but it appears to have been written shortly after Samuel’s death in 1899. Since it is so short, I figured I would recreate the entire document rather than just synopsize it. Enjoy.

Dr. Samuel Brandeis — born in Prague Austria on December 4th, 1819. His father Simon Brandeis was for many years an extensive manufacturer of Calicoes and chintzes and his mother, a woman of intellect and culture was a guide and inspiration to her ambitious son.

The early education was acquired in the Catholic Gymnasium in his native city and his medical studies were pursued at the University of Vienna where he was a private pupil of the great anatomist, Professor Hyrtal. Dr. Brandeis completed his medical studies in 1845, then engaged in practice in his native city until May of 1849 when for social and political reasons he with a large number of his kin emigrated to the United States.

He settled in Madison Indiana, then a growing river town, was early married to Caroline Wehle of Prague and rapidly acquired a flourishing practice, The prevalence of Cholera in our midst at that time gave him the much longed for opportunity to show his skill and from that [point] on his position was assured. In April of 1852 he removed with his family to Louisville Kentucky in search of more fields to conquer and repeated his successful experiences in Madison. He in the course of years acquired a practice second to none at that time.

His work was that of a general practitioner with a strong leaning towards Obstetrics and Gynecology and he was widely known and acknowledged as a diagnostician of rare skill.

In 1860 he occupied the chair of Clinical Medicine in the Kentucky School of Medicine but discontinued that work at the outbreak of the Civil War. He served his country as visiting surgeon in the Government Hospitals in Louisville and later was given important work on the examining board of the Pension Department — these duties he filled with zeal and credit to himself.

Dr. Brandeis was always abreast of the times and being a great reader and owing to his familiarity with the French and German languages was usually one to introduce new methods, drugs and instruments to the profession in Kentucky. Thus he was the first man to import the hypodermic syringe and the laryngoscope into his adopted State.

He was an active member of his local, state and National Medical Societies, at one time President of the Board of Health of Louisville, President of the Louisville Clinical Society, and Medical Examiner of several Insurance Companies, besides being a contributor to medical literature and a popular consultant. He was by nature genial and fond of literature and the arts, with a leaning towards music and floriculture.

Dr. Brandeis passed away in his 70th year after a lingering illness due to organic heart disease. He was survived by his devoted wife and six adult children, his son Dr. Richard C. Brandeis of New York having gone before.


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