Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, the son of Mary Byrd Tucker and Dr. John (5) Patten Emmet, was born in Charlottesville, Virginia on May 29, 1828. He studied at the University of Virginia (UVA) where his father taught, got a medical degree from the Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia in 1850 and set up a practice in New York, specializing in gynecology. In 1855, he became assistant surgeon to Women's Hospital, was promoted to surgeon-in-chief in 1862 - a position he held for ten years before going on staff as a visiting surgeon. He wrote over 50 medical papers, and was the author of "The Principles and Practice of Gynecology," which became the standard textbook in the field, published in 1879 in the United States, England, Germany and France and going through three editions in fifteen months.
Dr. Emmet met his wife, Catherine "Kate" Duncan in May of 1853 at a resort in Florence, Massacheusettes, where he had taken his mother for the "water-cure." Kate, visiting there with her sister, and Addis, as Dr Emmet was called, became a couple; they married less than a year later in Montgomery, Alabama where Kate had grown up. The wedding took place in the house of Kate's brother-in-law, Nathan Harris rather than a church, as Kate was a Catholic and Addis was not. Their marriage lasted over 51 years and produced six children. Around 1870, some fifteen years later, Dr. Emmet walked into St. Stephen's Catholic Church on east 29th St. and heard a sermon by the priest saying that one is not expected to understand the mysteries of the Church - they are to be accepted without question as an acknowledgement of the authority of God. This was enough for Dr. Emmet. He approached the priest after the sermon and announced his intention of becoming a Catholic; this was accomplished within the hour.
By 1880, with the textbook published, Dr. Emmet began to turn his attention to two other consuming interests: the plight of Ireland and the preservation of early American history. He spent time in Ireland fruitlessly searching for the grave of Robert Emmet; he wrote a two volume masterpiece, "Ireland Under English Rule," and was involved with every American organization concerned with Irish independence. He served as President of the Irish National Federation League for nine years, gave money to Irish Relief Funds and supported a mass rally held at Madison Square Garden in the spring of 1916 in memory of Irish revolutionaries who were executed by the British - a rally described in the New York Times as a protest “against the barbarity of the English.”
Emmet's interest in American history began in Charlottesville as a child, surrounded by friends of his parents who had been involved with the early years of the government and living in close proximity to families such as the Madisons and the Monroes. His father took him to Washington when he was a young boy to see the original copy of the Declaration of Independence, which was hanging in the State Department at the time. They also visited Philadelphia, and while there he spent his 10 cent allowance on a piece of Continental currency engraved with Benjamin Franklin's sun-dial design and the words "Mind Your Business." This was the start of Dr. Emmet's collection of paper money, prints. autographs and manuscripts - a collection of some 50,000 items which was eventually bought by the NY Public Library. He was active, successfull and enthusiastic; as he put it "no one else ever gathered together more material than I in illustrating early American history."
Dr. Emmet, who left an estate of more than a million dollars, died in New York at the age of 90 in a building at 95 Madison Avenue that he had built. In his will he asked that his body be taken to Ireland "as soon as the affairs of the estate had been settled up," and accordingly he was buried in the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.