This obituary for William Johnson Smith M.D. founder of the Weymouth Sanatorium and a founder member of British Gynecological Society was published in May 27, 1885 edition of The British Gynecological Journal.
It is with sincere regret that we record the death of one of our Foundation Fellows, Dr. William Johnson Smith, of Weymouth. From the commencement of his career he had identified himself with gynecology. Dr. Smith was the third son of William Smith, of Smithborough and Orchard Vale, Ireland, by Elizabeth, sister of the late Sir Edward Johnson, K.C.G., J.P. Dorset, Lord of the Manor of Godmanstone, Dorset, and Smithborough, Ireland. He graduated at Edinburgh in 1842, and studied at Paris at the same time as Henry Bennet, Robert Barnes, and the late Dr. M’Clintock, of Dublin. He was extremely popular in Paris, and was made secretary of the Parisian Medical Society. Before this Society he read a memoir, stamped by the best qualities of originality and judgment, ‘ On the Posture of Woman in Labour.’ It was much above the level of youthful essays. Settling in Weymouth he quickly made his mark.
In 1848 he determined to found a hospital for women. At that time it required no small courage to encounter the public and professional prejudices which such a scheme had to encounter. But Smith had all the qualities of a founder: earnest conviction, unselfish philanthropy, and a strong scientific instinct. His personal character disarmed hostility and attracted friends.
The story he tells of the foundation of the Weymouth Sanatorium is characteristic of the man and interesting. He issued an appeal, to which a lady responded by sending him 10/- ‘Small beginnings,’ he said, ‘ end in large results very often; and the receipt of this 10/- was in consequence of my having issued a pamphlet in which I gave my experience of two years in a small room which I rented for the purpose of giving advice to the poor. I remember it so well that the pamphlet had not been in the hands of the public more than six hours before I had this gift of 10/- But then came afterwards what perhaps you will say was an unpleasant circumstance. Before I had finished my breakfast I had a visit from my uncle, Sir Edward Johnson, who came with my pamphlet in his hand He said to me, “William, what do you mean by this? You are going to bring all the medical men in Weymouth upon your back. You will not be able to keep your position, and what is more, you will not get a penny towards this institution.” ” Oh, well,” I said, laughingly, ” I am very sorry you view matters in this light, but I will prove you are not entirely correct, inasmuch as I have already received 10/-” I then put my hand on his shoulder and said, “What will you give me?” He could not resist my appeal, and laughing, said, “This is more than I expected.” I said to him, “I will not allow you to fix what you will give me. I only ask for the same amount as this good lady has given;” and from this origin this institution began.’
Nearly forty years have elapsed since this, and Dr. Smith has seen the complete success of his enterprise. The institution flourishes in a freehold, and with an endowment of 7,000l. Financial prosperity has been enhanced by moral success. Dr. Smith’s name will always be honourably associated with those who initiated the movement for the emancipation of gynecology from the obloquy and disabilities by which this department of medical science had been oppressed. He cordially hailed the foundation of the British Gynecological Society, which is the real charter of the freedom of gynecology.
How completely Johnson Smith triumphed over all obstacles, how thoroughly he won the hearts as well as the esteem of all who came in contact with him, is proved by the public and private honors that graced his funeral. His death is mourned as a public loss. All ranks, all professions, all classes of his fellow-townsmen and of the county of Dorset joined in the last tribute of respect. Not the least gratifying testimony to his worth was that tendered by his professional brethren. How it would have delighted the heart of his uncle, Sir Edward Johnson, could he have witnessed this, the dearest recognition of his worth, the happy falsification of his early fear!
Dr. Smith was also consulting physician to the Weymouth Royal Hospital.