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Fisher, Edward Carrington

by J. Marshall Bullock, 1986

16 Nov. 1809–12 Jan. 1890

Edward Carrington Fisher, physician and hospital administrator, was a native of Richmond, Va., and one of ten children born to Ann Ambler and George Fisher. His aunt, Mary Willis Ambler, was the wife of Chief Justice John Marshall. From 1824 to 1828 he attended Hampden-Sydney College and was graduated with the A.B. and M.D. degrees. He also studied medicine at the University of Maryland in 1831. Fisher practiced in Richmond and Staunton, Va., until 1849, when he was appointed assistant physician to the superintendent of the Western Lunatic Asylum in Staunton. The superintendent of the asylum, Dr. Francis T. Stribling, was the adviser to the legislative commission establishing the North Carolina Asylum for the Insane in Raleigh, and Virginia officials charged that he had hired Fisher for "the admitted purpose of qualifying him to fill an office in a similar institution in a neighboring state." An investigating committee of the Virginia asylum's trustees found no reason for censure of Fisher's appointment, and he served for eighteen months.

On 1 Oct. 1853, upon Stribling's recommendation, Fisher was appointed superintendent of construction and medical superintendent of the North Carolina Asylum for the Insane at a yearly salary of $1,200. He succeeded Dr. Edmund Strudwick, of Hillsborough, who had served as interim superintendent in overseeing the construction of the hospital. The hospital, designed by the noted New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis, was among the most modern in the nation and was equipped with its own gas lighting and steam heating plants. During its construction, Fisher traveled as far as Boston to compare and inspect other hospitals. To obtain additional insights on the details of constructing, equipping, and staffing the hospital, he visited and frequently corresponded with Dorothea Dix, the country's leading proponent for the improved care of the mentally ill and the original instigator for the North Carolina asylum.

Upon his arrival in 1853, Fisher found the hospital in a financially unstable condition. It was due to his efforts that an $80,000 bond was raised to complete and furnish the asylum, and that legislation was enacted providing the asylum with a steady income from county land and poll taxes. The hospital admitted its first patient under Fisher in February 1856; by the outbreak of the Civil War there were 195 patients. In recognition of his work at the hospital, Fisher was elected to membership in the North Carolina Medical Society in 1857.

During the Civil War the asylum continued to operate under Fisher's guidance, although it faced many "difficulties and embarrassments" because Raleigh merchants refused to honor state-issued money. Upon the federal occupation of Raleigh the asylum suffered a serious loss in the destruction of the wall that enclosed the asylum grounds, forcing the patients to be kept indoors. Fisher, however, applied to Union Major General John M. Schofield, who repaired the damage and—along with General Jacob D. Cox and General Thomas H. Ruger—kept the asylum supplied with provisions.

In April 1865, Fisher's contract as superintendent was renewed for seven years by the provisional state government. But the Reconstruction legislature of 1868 declared Fisher's office vacant, and he "resigned" to be replaced by Dr. Eugene Grissom. Returning to Virginia, Fisher became an assistant physician at the Western Lunatic Asylum in Staunton in 1871. He served at this institution until his death, except for the period from 1881 to 1884 when Virginia Reconstruction politics caused his removal. At the time of his death, Fisher was assistant superintendent of the asylum.

Fisher and his wife, Lavinia Page Fisher, had six children: George, Charles, Eliza, Ann, John Page, and Edward Carrington. Fisher was a Democrat and an Episcopalian. He died in Staunton, but his funeral service was held at St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond where he was buried in Hollywood Cemetery.


George D. Fisher, Descendants of Jacquelin Ambler (1890).

General Catalog of the Officers and Students of Hampden-Sydney College, 1776–1906 (n.d.).

House Bill No. 31, North Carolina Legislative Documents, 1858–59 (North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

Margaret C. McCullock, "Founding the North Carolina Asylum for the Insane," North Carolina Historical Review 13 (1936).

"Report of the Superintendent of the Insane Asylum," North Carolina Constitutional Convention Documents, 1865–66 (North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

Staunton (Va.) Vindicator, 19 Jan. 1890.

Virginia Medical Monthly 16 (1890).

Stephen B. Weeks Scrapbook, vol. 2 (North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

Western Lunatic Asylum, Annual Reports (1850, 1873, 1884, 1889), and Report of the Investigating Committee (1851).

William and Mary College Quarterly 15 (1906).

Richard D. Wills, Medical Librarian, Western State Hospital, Staunton, Va., correspondence with author, May-June 1978.

Additional Resources:

"Obituary: Dr. Edward Carrington Fisher." American Journal of Insanity 51. (July 1894). 138-140.

Hurd, Henry Mills. The institutional care of the insane in the United States and Canada. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins Press. 1917. 397-398. (accessed February 28, 2014).

North Carolina Medical Journal. 25, no. 2 (February 1890). 110, 125-127. (accessed February 28, 2014).

du Bellet. Louise Pecquet. Some Prominent Virginia Families vol. 1-2. 96. (accessed February 28, 2014).

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