February 5, 1898: Dr. Thomas Leidy Rhoads Appointed Assistant Surgeon of the United States Navy


By Margaret Leidy Harner from her book One Day at a Time: A Social History of Boyertown, PA.

February 5, 1898: Boyertown native, Dr. Thomas Leidy Rhoads, has been appointed by President William McKinley as Assistant Surgeon of the United States Navy. He was a graduate of Boyertown High School, the Hill School, Muhlenberg College and Jefferson Medical College, where he was first in his 1893 class and its valedictorian. Following graduation from medical school, he entered the United States Navy with the highest score in the history of naval medical examinations with an average of l841 (the previous record was .826).

He served with distinction in the Spanish-American War and then switched to service in the United States Army. During World War I, he was the Commanding Chief Surgeon of the American Expeditionary Forces in France, in charge of the Department of Sanitation and Public Health with more than one million people in his care. He received the Distinguished Service Medal at the close of the war. As the Army’s Surgeon General, he had a world-wide reputation for competence and later became the surgeon in charge of Walter Reed General Army Hospital.

United States President William Howard Taft selected Rhoads, whom he called his intimate friend, as his personal physician while he was in the White House. Rhoads also became Taft’s aide de camp (chief advisor) when the man holding that position was killed in the Titanic disaster.

Col. Rhoads had an illustrious 32-year military career; upon his retirement from the United States Army, he returned to private practice in Boyertown. In his will, he created the Leidy Rhoads Scholarship Fund that has helped hundreds of students living in Boyertown to pursue further education beyond high school, as well as a trust to provide money for incidental expenses for indigent students in the Boyertown Area School District, such as field trips, SAT exams and clothing.

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