William Dabney

William Cecil Dabney (1849 – 1894) 300

William Cecil Dabney (1849-1894) was an American physician and obstetrician

Active in promoting legislation for the licensure of physicians and in 1884 became the first president of the newly-appointed Virginia State Board of Medical Examiners.

On Tuesday, June 5, 1888, Dabney recorded a case of ‘Devil’s grip’ (pleurodynia), the first to be published in North America.

  • Born on July 4, 1849 in Albermarle County, Virginia
  • 1868 – Graduated in medicine at the University of Virginia
  • 1869 – Residency ion Baltimore
  • 1870 – General practice in Roanoke, Virginia
  • 1873 – Dissertation on “The value of chemistry to the medical practitioner” awarded the Boylston Prize
  • 1886 – Professor of obstetrics and practice of medicine in the University of Virginia, Charlottesville
  • Died of typhoid fever on August 20, 1894

Medical Eponyms
Bornholm disease (‘Devil’s grip’ in 1888)

Acute, transient viral myositis associated with Coxsackie B. Viral myositis involving the intercostal and abdominal muscles characterized by fever and sharp, spasmodic pain in the chest wall or abdomen.

On Tuesday, June 5, 1888, Dabney recorded a case of pleurodynia, the first to be published in North America.

[The child] had been taken suddenly a few hours before with violent pain in the left side of the chest nearly over the region of the heart. His temperature was 103°F and the skin extremely hot and pungent to the touch…His chief complaint was of the pain in the chest, which was excruciating and aggravated by the slightest movement, or by drawing a long breath. Nothing abnormal could be discovered about the thoracic organs, however, on physical examination.

Dabney 1888

Dabney described 29 cases in all, and “saw at least as many more subsequently, but, being extremely busy with the final examinations of the medical students, did not take notes of them.” The Virginia epidemic was notable for its occurrence in children, including one of Dr. Dabney’s, and its familial distribution.

The pain was by far the most striking feature..In character it was usually sharp and lancinating, and was much more violent when the patient attempted to move or to draw a deep breath. (So agonizing was this pain that it was nicknamed the “devil’s grip” by a sufferer from the disease in Rappahannock County, Virginia, and this name became a common one there afterward, as I was told by Dr. W. F. Cooper.) There was slight tenderness over the seat of pain in every case, but it was not nearly so marked as the pain itself. The seat of the pain was usually in the left side of the chest just below the nipple but in some of the cases there was pain in the opposite side, or in the shoulder of the opposite side; and in a few of the cases, especially in children, there was pain in the abdomen, usually in the epigastric region

Dabney 1888

Major Publications



Eponymous terms


BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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