Charles Phelps,M.D., Epsilon, 1855, Phi Alpha 1865-1866
December 12, 1834 – December 30, 1913
Charles Phelps, Epsilon, 1855, was a famous New York City physician and surgeon pioneering several surgical procedures. He graduated from the College of Physician and Surgeons in New York in 1858.
After graduation, he was named the surgeon on the steam ship, Arago. The Civil War
soon began and the Confederate submarine, Merrimac, sank the federal ships
Cumberland and Congress before the Union submarine the Monitor had been tested.
The federal government hastily fitted out and strengthened three transports, of which
the Arago was one, with the goal of ramming and sinking the Monitor. Brother Phelps
volunteered and was accepted for this military service, but the Monitor arrived before
the transports got into action.
In addition to his private practice, Dr. Phelps was on the staff as a visiting surgeon at
both Bellevue and St. Vincent’s Hospitals for almost thirty five years. He was also a member of the Board of Police Surgeons of New York City and soon became interested in the treatment of varicose veins, then, an important cause of disability for members of the police force. He devised an operation, multiple ligature (New York Medical Journal,1889) for the radical cure of the condition.
He was among the first in the United States to employ the open method in treatment of
a fracture of the patella (New York Medical Journal, 1898) and performed the operation
many times. Much of the success of the modern operation of suture of the patella is
based on Dr. Phelps’ work.
In his later years, Dr. Phelps devoted himself especially to the study of injuries of the
brain following fractures of the skull and pistol shots of the head. His book, “Traumatic
Injuries of the Brain” was the medical standard for brain injuries for many years.
Brother Phelps was the thirteenth initiate of the Epsilon chapter at Brown University. He
continued his involvement and support of the fraternity throughout his life. During his
tenure as Phi Alpha, the Pi chapter at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) was