Looking Back; George Jean

Published 9:09 am Monday, January 8, 2018

(Editor’s note: Information for this article was taken from articles in The Advocate-Messenger Archives and U.S. Census records.)

George W. Jean, a native of Bryantsville, was a 1895 distinguished graduate of Centre College and went on to become an ophthalmologist and serve with distinction in the Army Medical Corps during World War I.

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He also wrote articles for The Advocate about his travels around the world.

One of Jean’s most important accomplishments was restoring a blind man’s sight.

J.P. Warren, an 86-year-old man of Santa Barbara, California, had been almost blind for 20 years when he learned that surgery by Jean might help him to see again.

An article in July 1933 states that Warren lost his sight in one eye, then the other eye gradually began to weaken. His doctor told him that surgery was the only way he would see again but friends were doubtful and advised him to not have the surgery because of his age.

He decided to cast his lot with science and get the operation. After the bandages were removed from his eyes, he could see light. A few days later he could see everything.

The 86-year-old Warren could read the newspaper, books and enjoy life again.

In the military

In 1901, six years after Jean graduated at Centre, he was appointed as assistant surgeon with a rank of first lieutenant in the Army.

Jean was promoted in 1918 to major in the Medical Corps National Army for his work at Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama.

Jean joined the Army after giving up his lucrative practice in New York where he specialized in diseases of the ear, eyes, nose and throat.

During his assignment at Camp Sheridan, Jean’s promotion was recommended for his service by Colonel Baker, commanding officer at the base hospital.

The Army and Navy Journal published an article about Dr. and Mrs. Jean in the War Zone in the Belgian frontier in August 1914.

Jean, retired as captain, went over to attend the Ophthalmological Congress in St. Petersburg.

They left the day war was declared on Servia in July 1914.

They waited a few days in Breslau, hoping get into Russia and and to England by the way of Belgium.

They got across the Germany frontier into Belgium the evening of August 3. Their train to Brussels was stopped 20 minutes after it had started, just before the Belgians had blown up a tunnel ahead of it.

All the passengers were ordered out of the train in the Belgian town of Belheun. They were told the German troops were moving on the town.

They eventually returned to the United States.

After Jean received a degree and the Ormond Beatty Alumni Prize for scholarship department and punctuality in the senior class at Centre,

he went on to get medical degrees from Bellevue Hospital Medical Center in New York in 1898, and the Army Medical College in Washington, D.C., in 1902. He also studied at the University of Vienna.

He was an ophthalmologist and served with distinction as a major in the Medical Corps at Rimaucourt, France, during World War 1.

He also was a frequent contributor to medical journals and is credited for creating several new surgical procedures.


Jean’s travels took him all over the world including battle zones in Europe during World War I where he sometimes barely escaped with his life. He wrote friends of his narrow escapes and also about pleasure trips.

In the fall of 1900, Jean and his wife made a trip to South America, a voyage of 12 days from New York and 3,000 miles to Para, Brazil, a city 60 miles south of the equator with a population of 100,000 people. It runs parallel to the Amazon and is separated by a large island.

Para was famous for its rubber with an annual export of $6,000,000 worth of rubber exported mostly to the United States.

The couple left New York in late fall and arrived in Para with 90-degree temperatures and where banana, mango and palms grow on streets. The city had only has 100 foreigners, all speaking Portuguese.

The death rate is high. No attempt is made at sanitation and its home of yellow fever.

A trip up the Amazon River was through one immense forest and only saw a hut or small village with a cleared space. In some places they could almost touch the bamboo and palm trees, saw coca, coconut and banana trees in profusion.

He was at Manaos, on the Rio Nigro, for three days getting rubber. The water was muddy on the Amazon and the Rio Nigro was black as ink.

America gets all the Brazil nuts from Manous. It is the only place in the world they grow and million pounds are sent annually to New York.

He said the paper currency fluctuates daily and the people clear forests and live on cocoa and bananas that grow at their door. They tap rubber trees, sell and get money, head to town for a gay two weeks, then bury themselves in the woods again.

Born in Bryantsville

Jean was born November 22, 1874, in Bryantsville, and a son of George Noel (1848-1934) of Bryantsville, and Anginette M. “Nettie” Berkele (born in 1853), a native of Connecticut. They later moved to Danville from Jeffersonville.

His parents continued to live in Danville and are buried in Bellevue Cemetery.

Prior to his death in 1955, Jean made provisions to donate $428,391 to Centre. He died in California.

He created a trust for the benefit of several members of his family, naming Centre as the ultimate beneficiary of the corpus. The last remaining beneficiary died in May 1958 and the money came to Centre.

The gift was used to endow the George W. Jean Scholarship.

Jean was an outstanding alumnus which the college recognized when it awarded him an honorary degree in 1917.