George Washington Lawrence was born in Plymouth, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1823. He was the son of William Lawrence and Sarah Hitner Lawrence and the oldest child of three, followed by his sister (Libbie A. Lawrence) and brother (Charles Lawrence). G.W. Lawrence received his early education at the Concord Seminary, Germantown Academy Provost’s Grammar School in Germantown, and later Susquehanna Institute in Marietta, PA. As a young man, he worked for a pharmacist in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1840, he began to study medicine as he apprenticed under Dr. James H. Miller of Baltimore. By 1846, G.W. Lawrence earned his medical doctorate as a graduate from the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania and continued to work with his former preceptor, Dr. Miller, until 1849 when he departed on the USS Kirkland. On board Dr. Lawrence worked as a surgeon. His service on the Kirkland resulted in being appointed as the first assistant surgeon-general of California. In 1851, Dr. Lawrence moved back to Baltimore, although, he moved yet again in October 1851 to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Dr. Lawrence chose to remain there for the majority of the rest of his life. He established a practice and was appointed to fill the post of medical examiner. It was said he, “kept open house at his office where he practiced medicine professionally, welcomed friends socially, and fortified himself against the ills of life philosophically”. At the onset of the Civil War, Dr. Lawrence was named Inspector of Hospitals for the central Confederate Army of Kentucky under General A.S. Johnson. Later on, Dr. Lawrence served in the Confederate army as medical director of General Hardee’s Division and then three corps of the army of the Mississippi. He continued to serve through a progression of senior medical commands until Confederate forces surrendered in 1865.
After the Civil War, Dr. Lawrence took part in the post-war revival of his town. His desire to seek greater improvements in the health of Hot Springs and its townspeople earned him a new role as the “‘nestor [sic] of medicine” during its reconstruction. He strongly criticized the untrained “doctors” working for business in competition among the numerous bathhouses, hotels, and boarding houses at the time – He was subsequently barred from the new state medical society chartered in 1875 because of these “quarrels”. Nonetheless, Dr. Lawrence gained more prominence as the “Hot Springs specialist”, specializing in chronic blood, nervous, cutaneous and female disorders. He became an authority on the use of the natural thermal waters, He also continued to succeed in his appointments: twice as a delegate to the British Medical Association by the American Medical Association in 1859 and again in 1873 and once as United States Centennial Commissioner for Arkansas. Dr. Lawrence was a “broadly scientific man and besides his membership in numerous medical societies was affiliated with various purely scientific bodies” – the American Association for Improvement of Arts and Sciences and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Little Rock are two of Many.
Dr. Lawrence often practiced the use of his sword and revolver. He had interests in agriculture, horticulture, and stock raising. A railroad depot was named Lawrence Station in his honor. Dr. Lawrence married Mary S. Golder in 1848 for a short time. His second marriage was to Clara Elvina Solomon Lillanthal in 1872. He had four daughters: Ida Mary Lawrence (1876), Sally Ema Lawrence (1878), Alice Rosa Lawrence (1880), and Elizabeth Elivinia Lawrence (1882).
Dr. Lawrence passed away on 30 December 1889 in his Hot Springs residence at 115 Park Avenue (most recently the Velda Rose), Garland County, Arkansas at the age of 66. His remains were escorted to his farm, “Lawrence Plantation”, and a tombstone hewn out of native granite found on his property marked his grave. However, there is no evidence of the burial spot today. His property has been submerged under the waters of Lake Catherine since 1924.
Austin Larey (March 2019)