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Edwin Bentley (1824–1917)

Edwin Bentley was one of the eight founders of the Arkansas Industrial University Medical Department, now the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

Edwin Bentley was born to George W. and Anne Williams Bentley on July 3, 1824, in New London, Connecticut. Bentley’s early education was in the local schools and under private tutors. He received, for the time, a quite thorough medical training at the New York City Medical College, the Twenty-third Street Medical College, the Bellevue Hospital Medical College, and the medical department of the University of the City of New York, from which he received his doctor of medicine degree in 1849. Bentley then established a thriving general practice in Norwich, Connecticut.

With the onset of the Civil War, Bentley enlisted in the Fourth Connecticut Infantry in June 1861 as an assistant surgeon and moved rapidly to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In January 1862, this unit became the First Connecticut Heavy Artillery. He received commendations for his service as brigade surgeon during the siege of Yorktown, Virginia, in May 1862.

In September1862, Bentley was placed in charge of the Third Division U.S. Army General Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, and, in 1864, all the area hospitals, including L’Ouverture Hospital. This hospital was designated for the treatment of African-American and Native American soldiers.

During this time, Bentley successfully courted Marguerite Ellan Williams of Washington DC. In 1871, the couple had a son, Carle Edwin Bentley, who became a prominent physician in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

After the Civil War, Bentley was appointed assistant surgeon in the Regular Army, remaining in Washington until 1869. He was successively stationed at Russell Barracks and Lincoln Barracks in Washington, then at Camp Reynolds and Point San Jose in California. While in Washington, Bentley was named the first professor of anatomy at Howard University, a position he held from 1868 to 1870.

With his military assignment to California in late 1869, Bentley served as superintendent of the California Insane Asylum and was professor of descriptive and microscopic anatomy and pathology at the University of the Pacific Medical School at its reopening in 1870. He was the assistant surgeon at the Presidio of San Francisco from November 20, 1872, until March 1873. In 1872, he accompanied the Fourth Artillery into the Black Hills during the Modoc War and took charge of the field hospital on May 25, 1873. Because of the hardships encountered on that assignment, Bentley developed health problems that troubled him for years.

In 1878, Bentley was transferred to the Army’s Little Rock Barracks as post surgeon. His family quickly immersed itself in the military, social, and medical circles of Little Rock. Bentley joined the local medical societies, and his wife was appointed a commissioner of the Little Rock Columbian Art Memorial.

Factions had developed in the Little Rock medical community, particularly on the subject of medical education. In an effort to resolve the disputes, a conference was set for April 4, 1879, and Bentley was selected as chairman. With careful arbitration, Bentley and a few others brought the factions together, and on October 7, 1879, the Medical Department of Arkansas Industrial University opened. Bentley gave the opening address and on March 2, 1880, delivered the valedictory address for the first commencement.

On July 3, 1888, Bentley retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel and entered into the private practice of medicine in Little Rock. He was elected president of the Arkansas Medical Society for 1888–1889 and maintained his relationship with the medical school, serving as dean from 1904 to 1907.

Bentley continued to practice medicine until a few weeks before he died at his home in Little Rock on February 5, 1917. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

For additional information:
Baird, W. David. Medical Education in Arkansas, 1879–1978. Memphis: Memphis State University Press, 1979.

Cobb, W. “Edwin Bentley, M.D. 1824–1917: Connecticut Yankee in Washington and Little Rock.” Journal of the National Medical Association 72 (October 1980): 1012–1014.

Fred O. Henker and Max L. Baker
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Last Updated 7/26/2006

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