William Elias B. Davis
Davis was one of two sons born to Elias Davis, a fourth-generation physician and his wife Georgia Anne. William attended high school in Trussville where he was a top student and entered the junior class at the University of Alabama. A case of typhoid fever limited his ability to keep up with his studies, however, and he dropped out. At the suggestion of his brother, John D. S. Davis, who was a physician, William traveled for a few months and then resumed his studies at home. He first read law before he was prevailed upon to pursue medicine.
In 1882 Davis enrolled at Vanderbilt University as a medical student, transferring the next year to the Kentucky School of Medicine and in 1884 graduated from the Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York. After that he returned to Birmingham and entered into a partnership with his brother. In 1886 he was elected treasurer of the Jefferson County Medical Society and helped found the Alabama Surgical and Gynecological Association, where he served as secretary and chair of the publishing committee. As such he was one of the founding editors of the Alabama Medical and Surgical Journal, which lasted only 11 months.
In 1887 Davis traveled to Europe to attend surgical clinics in London, Berlin and Vienna. Upon his return he determined to expand the Alabama association into the Southern Surgical Association by inviting membership to physicians across the South. He continued to serve the larger group as secretary. In 1890 Davis was elected chairman of the American Medical Association's Section on Surgery. A year later he was elected president of the Tri-State Medical Society of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, and in 1892 and 1901 he served as president of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
In 1894 the Davis brothers were among the founders of the Birmingham Medical College. William became a professor of gynecology and abdominal surgery and experimented extensively by performing intestinal surgeries on dogs. He published throughout his career on topics ranging from the importance of draining the bile duct during choledochotomy to the management of abdominal bullet wounds. He also wrote on public health topics such as the provision of charity hospitals, the control of municipal water supplies, and the medical profession's duties to the public.
On February 24, 1903, a few months after addressing the 15th annual meeting of the Southern Association, Davis was killed in an accident at a railroad crossing. According to the coroner's report Davis had stopped his horse-drawn buggy at a crossing of the Alabama Great Southern Railroad. While stopped he alighted and walked forward to attend to his horse. In doing so he lost his balance and fell under the moving train. He was survived by his wife Gertrude (nee Wilson) and two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. He is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.
At its December 1904 meeting the Southern Association dedicated a heroic bronze statue of Davis, commissioned from Giuseppe Moretti, who had recently completed the monumental Vulcan statue. Moretti also completed a marble portrait bust of Davis which is part of the historical collections at UAB's Lister Hill Library.
- Dubose, John Witherspoon (1887) Jefferson County and Birmingham, Alabama: Historical and Biographical Birmingham: Teeple & Smith, Publishers; Caldwell Printing Works.
- Moore, Robert M. (May 1963) "The Davis Brothers of Birmingham and the Southern Surgical and Gynecological Association." Annals of Surgery. Vol. 157, No. 5
- Carmichael, E. B. (1966) "William Elias Brownlee Davis: Surgeon-teacher-organizer." Alabama Journal of Medical Sciences. No. 3, pp. 224-9
- Sawyers, John L. (May 1988) "Presidential Address: The Origin and Early Development of the Southern Surgical Association" Annals of Surgery. Vol. 207, No. 5