Edward Henry Cary, physician, medical educator, and civic leader, son of Joseph Milton and Lucy Janette (Powell) Cary, was born in Union Springs, Alabama, on February 28, 1872. He was a descendent of one of the first families of Virginia. He originally worked in Dallas for his older brother, but went to New York in 1895 to be trained as a physician at Bellevue Hospital Medical College. He graduated in 1898 and returned to Dallas in 1901 to set up a practice in ophthalmology that spanned a half century.
Cary was the dean of Baylor Medical College and the founder of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, both in Dallas. The former was founded in 1903 after Cary gained control of the financially troubled University of Dallas Medical Department and persuaded Baylor University to make this proprietary institution the nucleus of a school of medicine. As dean between 1903 and 1920 and dean emeritus until 1943, Cary helped the school to become one of the leading medical institutions in the Southwest. He also served it for decades (1903–43) as professor of ophthalmology and otolaryngology. During World War I he organized the Baylor Medical and Surgical Unit, which saw duty in France. In 1939 he founded and directed the Southwestern Medical Foundation, primarily Dallas businessmen who were interested in promoting medical education and research in Dallas. This group founded Southwestern Medical College in 1943, after Baylor Medical School moved to Houston. In 1949, at Cary's instigation, the school became associated with the University of Texas.
Cary headed the Cary-Schneider Investment Company and in 1921 built the Medical Arts Building, the first Dallas skyscraper with offices primarily for physicians. He was one of the founders of the Dallas Historical Society (1922-) and played a major role in its development. In the years both before and after World War II, he was an outspoken opponent of national health insurance. In 1939 he helped found and then lead the National Physicians Committee that successfully fought it. He became one of the principal proponents of group hospitalization as an alternative.
Cary maintained a highly successful practice and served as a consultant in ophthalmology at Baylor University Hospital, Parkland Hospital, and Medical Arts Hospital. He published over sixty papers on ophthalmology and otolaryngology. He was elected to the presidencies of the Texas Society of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology, the Dallas County Medical Society (1912), the Texas State Medical Association (1917–18), the Southern Medical Association (1919–20), and the American Medical Association (1932–33). In 1916 Baylor University conferred an honorary LL.D. degree on him. In 1945 he was presented the Linz Award as the outstanding citizen of Dallas. On his seventy-fifth birthday, in 1947, a scholarship fund was established in his name at Southwestern Medical School. In 1959 a junior high school in Dallas was named for him. The first permanent building at Southwestern Medical School, dedicated in 1960, was named Edward H. Cary Science Hall. On April 19, 1911, Cary married Georgie Fonda Schneider. They had five children. Cary died in Dallas on December 11, 1953.