Augustus L. Breysacher, M.D.
By Fred O. Henker, M.D.
Among the eight founders of the Medical Department of Arkansas Industrial University, Dr. Breysacher was outstanding as an ideal figure of a cultured, elegant gentleman. Dressed in his usual garb of black broadcloth frocktail suit, pleated white linen shirt with high collar and lawn bow tie, black silk top hat, small, neatly trimmed mustache and carrying a gold cane, he must have been a real fashion plate-somewhat the Adolph Menjou type.
Augustus was the son of Dr. George and Elizabeth Keller Breysacher. George, a native of Strasbourg, Germany, received his medical education at University of Heidelberg. He immigrated to the United States, married Elizabeth and located in Canton, Ohio, where Augustus was born Feb. 2, 1831. In 1832, the family moved to St. Louis where Augustus spent his boyhood as the only son of a practicing physician. Both parents died during his teen years.
He received general education in St. Louis and supplemented courses in literature and classics at St. Xavier College in Cincinnati, and graduated from Missouri Medical College in St. Louis in 1850. He was also certified as chemist and pharmacist.
Directly after graduation, Dr. Breysacher received a one-year appointment as acting assistant surgeon in the United States Army. He was assigned to Camp Alert, Kansas where his first practice was with soldiers on the western frontier. After completing his year of service, he returned to St. Louis and practiced nine months until the brewing Civil War changed his plans. He was offered a commission in the United States Army but his sympathies were with the Confederacy, so he declined it and enlisted in a Tennessee unit as staff surgeon. Here, his duty was primarily in the field, successively of battery, staff and ultimately the corps. His service was reported to have been rendered during his tour of about four years so that he was not absent from duty as much as an hour. This afforded him a breadth of professional experience rarely realized under similar circumstances. The surrender found Dr. Breysacher still at his post in Greenville, N.C.
Some good can come in the worst of situations. Dr. Breysacher met his future wife, Caroline Drucilla Pynchon, while stationed in Huntsville, Ala. In January of 1867, they were married in the Church of the Nativity in Huntsville. As soon as Augustus could obtain appropriate military clearance, the young couple left for Pine Bluff, Ark.
Shortly after locating in Pine Bluff, Dr. Breysacher had a thriving practice. In keeping with a serious interest in obstetrics and gynecology he studied them diligently and sought referrals of as many female patients as possible. Within a short time he had developed a proficiency in women’s disorders and was recognized locally as an authority and specialist in that field.
After six years of practice in Pine Bluff, Dr. Breysacher moved to Little Rock. He opened an office above a drugstore on the northeast corner of Markham and Main Streets and secured privileges at St. Vincent Hospital, then located on East Second Street adjacent to the Rock Island depot. They built a house at the northeast corner of Sixth and Cumberland Street next door to his friend, Dr. P. O. Hooper, and negotiated a partnership with Dr. Hooper. This partnership was terminated only when Dr. Hooper accepted superintendency of Arkansas Lunatic Asylum in 1886. It is considered that the Hooper-Breysacher friendship was influential in Dr. Breysacher’s decision to move to Little Rock from Pine Bluff, and his genteel reassuring manner soon made him popular in Little Rock.
Proficiency in speaking German, learned from his father, endeared Dr. Breysacher both as physician and friend to the many German speaking residents in east Little Rock. Also, being certified both as chemist and pharmacist, he was able to roll pills and to compound and dispense prescriptions from his office at his home to the patients’ advantage. He usually made house calls in a buggy operated by a driver; however, he occasionally took much pleasure in making calls riding his uncommonly beautiful white Arabian mare. The two together presented a striking, majestic appearance.
One particularly interesting case of Dr. Breysacher’s was the delivery of Douglas McArthur, the future general. It happened this way: Mrs. McArthur and her husband were stationed at Little Rock Barracks. She became pregnant and was dead set on having her baby in Virginia. Arrangements were made for Dr. Bentley, post surgeon, to provide prenatal care with a quick trip to Virginia for the actual birth. All would have gone well except Mrs. McArthur started early labor. A trip to Virginia was not possible. Dr. Bentley was called, but he was out of town. In desperation Dr. Breysacher was called and he performed a perfect delivery, thus Dr. Breysacher’s signature appears on the General’s birth certificate. As he was also a member of Christ Church he signed the baptismal certificate a few days later.
All did not go well in the Breysacher household. Wife and mother Caroline died July 29, 1893. A Miss Hattie Breysacher had been listed in the household in the City Directory. She may have been a single aunt who could take over the household for the family.
Dr. Breysacher identified with the orthodox medical groups. He was an honored and respected member of Pulaski County Medical Society, the Arkansas Medical Association, which he served as treasurer for several years, and American Medical Association, serving as a delegate from that organization to the International Medical Congress in Philadelphia in 1876.
He abhorred the deficiency of knowledge of medical science among practitioners in many parts of the state, and advocated formation of a medical school in Little Rock ― essentially the same philosophy as that of Dr. P. O. Hooper, his close friend, neighbor and professional partner. With Dr. Hooper as leader and Breysacher strongly at his side through conflict, stress and disappointment, they, along with six colleagues, formed in 1879 a private Medical Department under the charter of the Arkansas Industrial University. Each purchased stock at $25 a share. Thus the medical school began. Dr. Breysacher was made professor of obstetrics, a position he held along with his private practice until his death in 1897.
At 6:30 P.M. March 31, 1897 the Breysacher’s driver, Warren Washington was sent to the office to summon Dr. Breysacher to supper. He found him sitting in a chair, glasses on, feet crossed on a table and head drooped to one side. Taking him to be asleep he shook him but to no avail. He notified a clerk in the drugstore below who ran upstairs, put his ear to Dr. Breysacher’s chest and felt for his pulse. No activity. He was dead. He remembered Dr. Breysacher had fainted in the drugstore three months before and confided that he had heart trouble and his death would be sudden.
Coroner Young was called and he convened a jury for an inquest. Their verdict: “Dr. A. L. Breysacher came to his death from heart failure.”
The funeral was held April 2, 1897 at Christ Church with Rev. John Gass officiating. At a called meeting of Pulaski County Medical Society the previous night it was resolved that members attend the funeral in a body. Also the entire student body of Arkansas Industrial University Medical Department attended. Dr. Breysacher was buried in Mt. Holly Cemetery beside the grave of his wife, to be followed by the burial of his son two years later. Daughter Harriet married J. D. Eggiston and May Belle married C. Lee Gordy.
Though some may not remember Dr. Breysacher by name, thousands of physicians and suffering patients will reap the benefits of his intelligence, foresight, judgment, and determination as manifested in medical education and medical regulation organizations for ages to come.