The Life and Experiences of Dr. John Matthews


The medical bag and instruments below belonged to Dr. John Matthews, an ophthalmologist whose practice was held in the Nix Medical Arts Building (now the Emily Morgan Hotel), in San Antonio.  Dr. Matthews was a prominent member of San Antonio’s medical community. As a physician and active member and leader in local medical organizations, Dr. Matthews played a significant role in the establishment of the South Texas Medical Center. On the board of the San Antonio Medical Foundation and President of the Bexar County Medical Society, Matthews secured the endorsement of the Texas Medical Association, initiating the development of a medical center in the 1950s. Once appropriate requirements were met and important decisions made, Governor Preston Smith signed the bill approving the Medical Center’s construction in Northwest San Antonio.

Contents of Medical Bag: (from left) Diagnostic set, 2 Tonometers, metal syringe, box of Heat Sterilized Catgut Sutures, double-set case for 1 Cystotome and 1 Von Graefe's cataract knife, surgical kit, stethoscope, 2 Binocular Loupe (1 is a pair of bifocals)              From Left: Diagnostic kit, 2 Tonometers and surgical kit.

The University Archives houses an oral history with Dr. Matthews conducted by David LaRo on February 10, 1995.  Approximately 87 years old at the time of the interview, Dr. Matthews discusses various aspects of his life, his experiences as a physician, and the changes he had seen, and hoped to see, within the medical field.

Born in San Antonio December 15, 1908, Dr. Matthews spent his childhood in Eagle Pass, Texas only to move to Laredo, Texas in 1919 after his father lost his job at the Border National Bank. Not until 1922 did Matthews return to San Antonio, where he would retain a permanent residence. Matthews first decided to pursue a career in medicine under the influence of Dr. Homer T. Wilson, a general practitioner who had a background in surgery. The guidance of Dr. Wilson proved valuable as Matthews attended the University of Texas at Austin and then transferred to the University of Texas at Galveston’s Medical Branch for his medical training.

In his last year of medicine in Galveston, Matthews started a two-year rotating internship with the Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia. Following the internship, he returned to San Antonio and entered a general practice until 1938. Upon his return to San Antonio he joined the Army Reserve as a First Lieutenant in the 111th Medical Regiment. Dr. Matthews admits he had little interest in the field of ophthalmology up until this point. He took a correspondence course in military medicine (around 1935) and the subject intrigued him; it was then that he decided to pursue ophthalmology. Shortly after entering general practice, Matthews left San Antonio when he secured a two year residency at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. In 1940, Matthews returned to San Antonio and opened his office in the Nix Building in the general practice of ophthalmology.

From Left: metal syringe, box of Heat Sterilized Catgut Sutures, Binocular Loupe—bifocals, Stethoscope, Binocular Loupe, His first year of practice in San Antonio was interrupted when he was called into federal service and transferred, as Flight Surgeon, to the 111th Observation Squadron out of    Houston. The Squadron would remain encamped at what later became the Brownwood Airport until December 7, 1941. January, 1942, Matthews was transferred to the School of Aviation Medicine, in Randolph Field, as an instructor for the Department of Ophthalmology. Matthews examined cadets for aviation training and lectured in the field of optics. In 1943 Matthews became the Chief of Ophthalmology at the school and would hold that position until 1945. As Chief of Ophthalmology, Matthews was privy to some of the advances made in the field of ophthalmology during the war, particularly those involving color vision and the effects of radar on the human body. Such research led to the development of night vision and color vision testers used by the service.

In 1945, Matthews was released from the School of Aviation Medicine and he and his wife decided to return to the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia for a “little refresher work.” Discharged in 1946, they returned to San Antonio and Matthews re-opened his practice in the Nix Building until his retirement in 1994. After 59 years as a physician, Matthews was asked how the medical field has changed. Not only has he witnessed a number of advancements made in surgical techniques and drug therapy, he has also witnessed the role of the doctor change. Dr. Matthews suggests that increased specialization has taken away the “greatness” of being a physician, and that the doctor-patient relationship has lessened significantly. Would you agree? What changes have you experienced in the medical field? What changes would you like to see?


Thank you for taking time to read my post.  If you have a story of medicine in San Antonio to share, please send it to or call 210-567-2470.

The transcribed interview with Dr. Matthews is also available for review through Matthews Interview Transcript_1995

Audio clip of his oral history is available by clicking the play button below:


Trinaé Weldy, Special Collections Intern


Information Courtesy of:

“About Us.” Bexar County Medical Society. Bexar County Medical Society, n.d. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

“Building History.” The Emily Morgan Hotel: A Doubletree by Hilton. Blue Magnet Interactive. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

“History of Medicine.” Texas Medical Association: Physicians Caring for Texans. Texas Medical Association, n.d. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

“History of the Foundation.” San Antonio Medical Foundation. N.p.. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

Matthews, John L. Interview by David LaRo. 10 Feb 1995. 4 Nov 2013. Print.

“The Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.” UT Health Science Center Library. UTHSCSA Libraries, 29 Jan 2013. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

“Who We Are.” South Texas Medical Center. N.p.. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

References for Medical Instrument Identification and Use:

Blaufox, Donald . “Ophthalmology.” Museum of Historical Medical Artifacts. Web. 9 Oct 2013. <>.

“Equipment.” Frank’s Hospital Workshop. Web. 7 Oct 2013. <>.

“Images from the History of Medicine (IHM).” U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 23 Jul 2013. Web. 9 Oct 2013. <>.

“Miltex 18-262 Ziegler Knife-Needle.” 4MD Medical Solutions: Solutions 4 All Your Medical Needs. 4MD Medical Solutions, n.d. Web. 9 Oct 2013. <>.

“Ophthalmology.” British Columbia Medical Association: Medical Museum. British Columbia Medical Association, n.d. Web. 9 Oct 2013. <>.

“Ophthalmic Surgical Eye Instruments: Products.” Ophthalmic Surgical, LLC: Not Just Another Instrument Company. Ophthalmic Surgical, LLC . Web. 7 Oct 2013. <>.