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Samuel Pozzi, flamboyant surgeon in Paris "Belle époque"


André J. Fabre    Juin 2013 

Samuel Pozzi was an "out of all norms" character; amazingly gifted for success in all fields  but also extraordinarily complex : a century after his death, hiqs personnlity remains mysterious 


The most anciet tracks of Pozzi's family are in Italy but a branch emigrated to Switzerland, converting to Protestantism when they settled in Caanton de Vaud.

The father, Benjamin Dominique Pozzy (Samuel preferred to wear an italian name…) was a Protestant priest, pastor of Reformed Church of France. After the death of his wife, Inés Escot-Meson (Samuel was 10 years), the father remarried an English woman, Mary Anne Kempe[1].


Samuel Samuel was, from the start, an excellent pupil at school, familiar with "success streak". More ove, his charm was already there: classmates have, according to one of Pozzi's  biographers, dubbed Samuel, as "Flirty" (or ssometimes also, "the Mermaid"…


Leaving Pau and Bordeaux, Samuel arrived in 1869 to Paris to study medicine. There he will meet all successes : Anatomy assistant when he was student, Externe des hôpitaux at age 20 yrs: Interne des Hôpitaux age 22 . He was rapidly  the favorite pupil of Broca.

Samuel obtained the aggregation in 1875, was nominated Chirurgien des hopitaux  in 1877 and in 1883 Chef de service at the Hospital of Lourcine-Pascal, later Hospital Broca. In 1896 he was elected member of the Academy of Medicine

The surgical career of Samuel is particularly brilliant: he had an early start in surgery with the 1870 war, where he had engaged as volunteer

Pozzi  was a pioneer in abdominal surgery ; in 1889, gastroenterostomy, supra-pubic cystectomy, choledochotomy and even liver surgery but it is especially gynecological surgery that made famous the name of Pozzi.

In 1911 he started the Chair of gynecology, focusing mainly on congenital malformations. Ardent supporter of conservative surgery, Pozzi struggled  against all  systematic removal of uterus and ovaries.

In 1897 he founded the Journal of Gynecology and abdominal surgery. His Treatise on operative gynecology was translated into several  languages.

At the beginning of World War I, Pozzi despite his age opened a surgical deparment in hospital Lhomond Street and at hotel Astoria to take care of the wounded.

He had an early interest in transplantation, organized in 1913 with Georges Clemenceau, the famed French politician, a Paris symposium on this subject.

Pozzi was a great pioneer in the field of surgical asepsis. During WW1, he implemented the works of Alexis Carrel in the field of military traumatology.

In fact, Pozzi was interested in all fields of medicine: he had studied neurology with Broca but, also, Pozzi, had a passion for anthropology and over all, psychological side-effects in hermaphrodism and intersex. A mior aspect of his researches was on the treatment of skin carcinomas by electrical fulguration 


Samuel met often Mounet-Sully and Sarah Bernardn with whom he kept for a long time, very close relations

Sarah did not accept any other surgeon when she had to get leg amputation in 1911. For Sarah, Pozzi  was simply 'Doctor God "...

In art, Pozzi relations with the great American painter Sargent have been highly celebrated and Sargent left  a majestic portrait of Pozzi dressed in full uniform of seducers : an house coat in scarlet velvet.

Pozzi was a great art lover and collector of Tanagra, the ancient Athenian terracotta statuettes. He was also a skilled  numismatist .

All his life, Samuel was famed for his feminine conquests : among them, the singer Georgette Leblanc, the great actress Rejane and, last but not least, the legendary Genevieve Straus, Bizet's widow, daughter of 'Halevy, mother of the best friend of Marcel Proust and "muse" of Charles Haas.

However, Pozzi's great love was the daughter of a well known  art expert. Emma Fischhof who shared his  life until the end


Pozzi was familiar with "Tout Paris" Proust family, not only the father Adrien Proust, renowned epidemiologist and his son Robert, who had been intern of Pozzi but also Marcel. In 1914, when the Great War began, Pozzi wrote a certificate exempting Marcel to be drafted.

On the top of honours, Samuel was member of the most exclusive Paris Clubs as " Mirlitons" whose president was the very mediatic Marquis de Massa.

The french writer Claude Bourdet, son of Pozzi's daughter, Catherine, has left a fascinating tale of his encounter with his grand father : " One day, just before the First World War, I was coming out of the apartment block where my grandfather lived and where he had his consulting rooms, on the Avenue d’Iéna.  There was a carriage coming down the avenue and it seemed to me to be an electric carriage because I was, I remember, struck by the fact that I did not see a horse. I was four or five years old, so long ago that I can’t be sure of real impressions at that time. But what I am sure of is that my grandfather, whom we had not found at home, jumped out of the carriage and took me in his arms very tenderly, as he always did. My governess was watching on the footpath. Then my grandfather more or less threw me into the carriage where I disappeared into a mass of silk and feathers that covered me with kisses. My memories of this event are entirely agreeable, but there was more to come. My grandfather retrieved me, and returned me to my governess, and spoke words that I have never forgotten, probably because they have been repeated to me a hundred times since: “You have just been kissed by Madame Sarah Bernhardt!”   At the time, this made no impression upon me. But later, when I heard of the relationship between Sarah and my grandfather, and even later, when I read the astonishing letters in which she called him “Doctor God,” I would say to my companions, with a certain satisfaction, that I, too, had known Sarah Bernhardt." [2]


Samuel Pozzi had a relentless appetite for travels but also everything coming from abroad France. In 1874 he had published a translation of Charles Darwin's "Expressions of Emotion in Humans and Animals".

Pozzi in 1876 went to Scotland for a medical conference and met the precursor of asepsis, Lister. Later on, he went to see many surgical wards in Europe but also Nort and South America

His first trip over seas was Quebec, attending  in 1904 for the Congress of French-speaking doctors in North America. Later, in 1893, he he came to Chicago to attend the International Fair

In 1911 he visited Brazil and South America where he was widely known and appreciated.


Samuel from 1897 to 1902 was elected senator of Dordogne. His main engagement was to stand in favor of Alfred Dreyfus


Absurdity gets an end to this exceptional destiny: a former patient of Pozzi, was obsessed by the idea that Pozzi's surgical intervention (hernia) was cause of his impotency. He came to consult Pozzi in his apartment of Place Vendome and shot him to death.


Samuel Pozzi had married Thérèse Loth-Cazalis, from Lyon  high society

Samuel's brother, James Adrien Pozzi became a famous politician .He studied at the Faculty of Paris and was nominated Professor at the Médecine Faculty of Reims in 1888 after a brilliant competition with  Eugene Doyen. He became later Dean of the Faculty, then member of Chambre des Députés and Lord mayor of Reims.

The son of Samuel, John did a great career in diplomacy

Samuel's daughter, Catherine Pozzi married the success playwright and theater director Edouard Bourdet : their son was destined to a prestigious life as journalist and leftist politician. Catherine had received everything from birth, wealth and beauty, and her only failure was that she was forbidden from her father, to enter medical studies. She had with the great French writer Paul Valery a long and heartbreaking love story. Highly gifted poet, she left a It remained to be shining, too, a poet and she left heart breaking verses :

O you, my nights, O long-awaited blackness

O proud country, O obstinate secrets

O long looks, O thundering clouds

O flight beyond skies which are closed


O great desire, O scattered surprise

O beautiful journey of th’ enchanted sprite

O worst evil, O grace that flies

O open door where we enter night


I don’t know why I die today

Before th’ eternal rest above.

I don’t know for whom I’m prey

I don’t know for whom I’m love


[1] A complete family tree found on the website of the Pozzi family 

[2] Van der Potten Claude; Préface to "Samuel Pozzi chirurgien et ami des femmes" Paris Ed. In Fine, 1992. Voir aussi le site Internet ""

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Date de dernière mise à jour : 30/07/2013

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