Evarts Ambrose Graham was born in 1883 and raised in Chicago where his father was Professor of Surgery at Rush Medical College and a surgeon on the staff of Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Graham's academic training included a liberal arts degree from Princeton University, an M.D. from Rush Medical College, an internship at Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago, a fellowship in pathology at Rush Medical College, and two years of study as a part-time student in chemistry at the University of Chicago. In 1916, Graham married Helen Tredway, a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Chicago, and for two years the couple lived in Mason City, Iowa, where he was a surgeon in a private clinic.
During World War I Graham was commissioned to serve as a captain in the Army Medical Corps, where, because of his broad background in medicine, surgery, and chemistry, he was appointed to the Empyema Commission. The specific task of this commission was to investigate pleural cavity abscesses called empyema, a form of post-influenza disease which, in some camps, was killing as many am 90 percent of the soldiers who suffered from it. Graham contended that the chief cause of death from empyema was not the disease itself, but too early surgical intervention. He advised that the drainage of the abscesses be delayed until after the pneumonia had subsided, and the Surgeon General permitted Graham to treat a group of empyema patients at Camp Lee, Virginia, in accordance with this principle. Among the group of patients so treated, the mortality rate quickly dropped to about four percent. The reputation thus gained later won Graham an appointment as Professor of Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in 1919.
As Bixby Professor of Surgery and Surgeon-in-Chief of the Barnes and St. Louis Children's Hospitals from 1919 to 1951, Graham brought international fame to the Washington University School of Medicine. His medical achievements included the development of cholecystograpy (the x-ray visualization of the biliary tract), the first successful total pneumonectomy (the removal of an entire lung), and the experimental production of skin cancer in mice by the application of cigarette tars obtained from an automatic smoking machine.
Between 1925 and 1954, Graham served on various medical committees of the National Research Council. He also serve on on a number of Government committees including the Committee to Study the Medical Department of the Army (1942), the President's Committee to Study the Health Needs of the Nation (1952), and the Medical Task Force of the Second Hoover Commission (1953-1954). Additionally, Dr. Graham was president of various surgical and medical associations including the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (1928), the American Surgical Association (1937), the American College of Surgeons (1940-1941), the Interstate Post-graduate Medical Association of North America (1948), and the XVI Congress of the International Society of Surgery (1955). He also edited the Yearbook of General Surgery (1926-1957) and served as a member of the editorial and advisory boards of the Archives of Surgery (1920-1945) and the Annals of Surgery (1935-1957).
As a full-time professor of surgery, Graham was able to fulfill a long standing ambition to practice surgery, to engage in medical research, and to train young doctors. He trained outstanding physicians, and his students came to hold top hospital and teaching positions the world over. Such prominent surgeons as Warren H. Cole, Nathan A. Womack, Brian Blades, Thomas H. Burford, and many others are tributes to Graham's ability as a teacher. Upon his retirement in 1951, Graham became Bixby Professor Emeritus of Surgery at Washington University. He died in 1957.