Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)

Physician, Poet, Professor & Author

Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cambridge on August 29, 1809 in a “gambrel-roofed house” near the Cambridge Common which is no longer standing.

An historic photograph of a colonial style house surrounded by trees.
Birthplace of Oliver Wendell Holmes in Cambridge

During his 85 years, Holmes became an author, lecturer, poet, scholar, doctor, medical reformer, and one of the leading voices of Boston culture. His poem “Old Ironsides” (1830) led to public support to keep the USS Constitution from being scrapped. He coined the word for “anesthesia” as well as the term “Boston Brahmin” and offered the name for the Atlantic Monthly. It was also Dr. Holmes who nicknamed Boston as the “Hub” of the solar system.

Over his many years, he befriended many of the most important figures of his generation, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell. Dr. Holmes outlived all of them and, as each of his friends died, he wrote a poem to their memory. When Dr. Holmes himself died in 1894, however, none were left to memorialize him in verse, effectively making him “The Last Leaf,” just as he predicted in his 1831 poem of that name. He wrote that if he were “the last leaf upon the tree” that people should “smile, as I do now.”

Dr. Holmes is buried in his wife’s family lot 2147 Lime Avenue.  In 2009, in honor of Dr. Holmes’s bicentennial, the Friends of Mount Auburn held an event to celebrate his life, his accomplishments, and his memory.

A marble gravestone surrounded by greenery

Visitors to Mount Auburn frequently inquire about the whereabouts of Holmes’ son Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the Supreme Court Justice.  He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.


Portrait of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes: Staudenbaur, R., Engraver, Notman, James, photographer. Oliver Wendell Holmes / photographed by Notman, Boston ; R. Staudenbaur sc. , 1886. June 5. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2012649668/.