“KERLIN, Isaac Newton, physician, was born in Burlington, N.J., May 27, 1834. His parents were Joseph Kerlin, grandson of one of the Perm settlers on the banks of the Delaware, and Sarah Ann Ware, daughter of John T. Ware, and granddaughter of John Ware, both prominent ship-builders, the former connected with the Philadelphia navy yard, and an inventor if special methods of lighting the interior vessels.
Educated in the public schools, and the John Collins academy at Burlington, he entered the University of Pennsylvania, and was graduated as M.D. in 1856. He was appointed resident physician at Wills hospital in 1857, from which he was called to the assistant superintendency of the Pennsylvania training school for feeble-minded children, then in its infancy, in October, 1858.
He enlisted in the emergency call of 1862, when the advance of Lee’s army threatened Philadelphia,but was called from the ranks by the state surgeon, and placed in charge of the improvised hospital at the Hagerstown court house, where on the gloomy nights of Sept. 17th-21st, he gave efficient and faithful service. Three weeks after he was entrusted, by medical director A.K. Smith of the U.S. army, with the removal of the wounded, who were able to be transported to Chambersburg, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. From this service he was called by the U.S. sanitary commission, and sent to one of its outposts in Suffolk, Va. Attention was so called to the nature of his work, and especially to his sympathy with the black refugees from the Chowan, that he was recalled to Washington, and identified with an interesting epoch in the history of the war.
President Lincoln in December, 1862, was harassed and wavering as to what should be done with the great mass of negroes escaping from slavery, who were in wretched condition in and about Washington. He conceived a colonization plan; the island of Vache had been leased or acquired to carry out his project, and vessels lay in the Potomac loaded with the blacks, with provisions for establishing villages when they should have arrived at their destination. Henry Bellows, president of the U.S. sanitary commission, and Dr. Samuel George Howe nominated Dr. Kerlin to President Lincoln for the important service of director of the colony of Vache. Pending his arrangements to take charge of the negroes, small pox broke out in the fleet, heavy storms arose, and the scheme was reluctantly abandoned by the president, to be followed in the spring by the Contraband Act, which forever settled the mind of the president as to what he should do (or rather what he should not do) with the negroes.
After this Dr. Kerlin was moved by the principal officers of the commission to take charge of the field work of the sanitary commission in the army of the Potomac, then badly needing reorganizing. He remained at the work until after the battle of Chancellorsville, in May, 1863, and gained for himself the approval of the commission by his organizing ability and indomitable energy.
In consequence of troubles at home, he was recalled to his old post at the Pennsylvania training school for feeble-minded children, and succeeded Dr. Punish as superintendent in November, 1863. His name and life are inseparably connected with that institution, and with the uplifting of this unfortunate class, but he has kept himself in intimate touch with the medical profession of the state and country, contributing numerous articles bearing on the subject of idiocy, and is a member of county, state and national medical associations. In connection with the care and training of the feeble-minded he is the author of ‘The Mind Unveiled’ (1859), and the ‘Manual of Elwyn’ (1891).
In July, 1876, he invited to Elyn the superintendents of the existing American institutions for the feeble-minded, and organized a National association, the ‘Proceedings’ of which for the first decennial period was edited and published by him in a volume of 450 pages. He continues (1893) to be the secretary of this association. In 1889 Dr. Kerlin in company with his wife made a protracted foreign visit, and were the favored guests of Dr. Hack Tuke, Jonatan Hutchinson and the late Joseph Beck, visiting almost all the prominent institutions for the feeble-minded in Great Britian, Norway and Denmark.
His wife, Harriet C. (Dix) Kerlin, closely identified with, and honoring his life work, died in December, 1892, leaving to him four sons.”
Source: The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol. 4, James T. White and Co., New York, 1893, page 229.