Controlling Substances: The Evolution of the American Moral and Medical Drug Policy Regime 

By Logan Heiman, Digital Collections Manager

Senate hearings on narcotic addiction in 1969.

American drug policy as we know it today categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I substance, meaning that it is considered to place users under high risk for abuse and not accepted by the FDA or DEA as safe for use as medication with or without supervision. The FDA and DEA have rejected multiple petitions to reschedule marijuana under less restrictive categories from governmental and non-governmental entities. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 governs federal drug policy in the United States as part of a broader effort to curtail the sale, distribution, and consumption of illegal drugs by the Nixon administration, later known as the War On Drugs. 

The “La Guardia Report,” 1944.

The status quo of American drug policy extends farther back than 1970, however. When the United States Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act championed by Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger in 1937, it was a watershed moment in the history of drug policy regulation. The legislation represented a victory for marijuana opponents who successfully convinced lawmakers of a link between cannabis usage and addiction, deviance, and criminality. New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia looked skeptically upon the Marihuana Tax Act and its pretext. He thus called upon the New York Academy of Medicine to prepare a report drawing from a wide variety of academic disciplines to scrutinize the drug law and the beliefs about drugs held by its proponents. In the “La Guardia Report” of 1944, the Mayor’s commission on marihuana use demonstrated that the widespread fear, even panic, around marijuana use was greatly overblown.

NYC’s Overdose Prevention Center
(Photo credit: OnPoint NYC)

In the 1950s and ’60s, the Academy continued to emphasize drug addiction as a treatable condition. During 1995 and 1996, NYAM’s Committee on Medicine in Society looked specifically at the concept of harm reduction. The Academy recommended policy changes that were, for the time, cutting edge. These included expansion of treatment programs, acceptance of methadone treatments, special efforts for those incarcerated, better training for medical professionals, and, especially, expanding needle exchange programs and decriminalizing needle distribution and possession. The Library’s Then and Now event “Drug Policy and Harm Reduction Services” brought that history up to the present time. A stellar panel mentioned NYAM’s continuing work in harm reduction, looked at the racial component of America’s drug control regime, considered the experience of those working in NYC’s new Overdose Prevention Centers, and noted that the most recent White House National Drug Control Strategy champions “harm reduction to meet people where they are.” For at least a quarter century, NYAM has supported the people-centered approach that lies at the heart of harm reduction. We wait to see where the national strategy goes next.

Library Luminaries: Dr. Archibald Malloch

This post is the second in a four-part series showcasing notable figures in the history of the Academy Library, as we celebrate our 175th anniversary. The first post focused on Dr. Samuel Smith Purple.

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

Dr. Archibald Malloch (1887–1953)
Academy Librarian, 1925–1949

On September 17, 1925, Dr. Linsly Williams, the director of the New York Academy of Medicine, sent Dr. Archibald Malloch (1887–1953) a letter offering him the position of Librarian. The offer came after the Academy’s first dedicated librarian, John S. Brownne, retired in August of 1925 after 45 years of service. His assistant, Mrs. Laura E. Smith, became the Acting Librarian, while Dr. Williams and the Committee on Library searched for a new librarian.

 

Laura E. Smith, Malloch’s predecessors
John Stuart Brownne (1854–1931) and

The Academy could not have been more fortunate in its selection of Thomas Archibald Malloch. A professionally trained physician, he had already demonstrated an interest in the history of medicine and possessed a growing knowledge of the world of rare books and libraries. Canadian by birth, Malloch was the son of Dr. Archibald E. and Mary Frances Reynolds Malloch. His father was a notable physician in Hamilton, Ontario, and had been a house surgeon to Joseph Lister in Glasgow in 1868. Malloch recalled that Lister paid a visit to the family home in 1876. The senior Dr. Malloch also established a long-lasting friendship with Sir William Osler, and the relationship extended across the generations, with family visits to Oxford and correspondence cementing the bond between the younger Malloch and the older doctor.

Malloch graduated from the medical school at McGill University in 1913 and began work as a pathologist and bacteriologist until the outbreak of World War I. He joined the Canadian Red Cross, serving in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit at Dunkirk; Antoine Depage’s military hospital at De Panne, under the direction of the Belgian Red Cross; at a hospital for convalescent officers at Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland; at Alford House in Lincolnshire, which had been converted to a hospital for officers; and finally in the McGill Unit at Canadian General Hospital No. 3 near Boulogne. After the war, he took appointments at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and Queen’s Square Neurological Hospital in London. In December 1919, Malloch moved to the Osler household in Oxford as one of the attending physicians who cared for Osler until his death on December 29th.

Despite a busy professional life, he began publishing articles about his wartime medical experiences in 1915. His first article about a specifically historical topic, “Sir John Finch and Sir Thomas Baines,” appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine the following year, prompted by his experience in Burley. That article, exploring the thirty-six-year friendship between two seventeenth-century physicians, grew into Malloch’s first short book, Finch and Baines. A seventeenth century friendship. More articles appeared, most of them about medical topics. After Osler’s death in 1919, at the request of his widow, Grace Revere Osler, Malloch continued to live in Oxford through 1921, working as one of the editors of the Bibliotheca Osleriana, the catalogue of Osler’s books that became the foundation of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University. Malloch started practicing medicine in Montréal in 1922, dividing his time between his medical work and his bibliographic work and returning to Oxford for months at a time to work on the Bibliotheca.

Archibald Malloch was a collector in his own right. Here is his personal bookplate.

When Williams offered Malloch the position of Librarian, he was about to return to England. During the last few months of 1925, he visited medical libraries in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Paris, as well as several Parisian booksellers. He took advantage of these opportunities to develop plans for the library he was about to lead. He officially took up his new duties on January 1,1926 and began thinking about how to bring his vision of a much-expanded Academy Library to life. In his first report on the needs of the Library, published in the June 1926 issue of the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, Malloch wrote of the many ways the Library could provide more services to Fellows, to the public, and to other medical libraries. He argued for a larger staff to care for the ever-increasing collection of periodicals, for exhibits, for greater outreach services, and for the expansion of both the modern and the historical collections, noting that “a library is judged chiefly by its general usefulness in supplying modern books and periodicals and those for as far back as a hundred years. But by other libraries and by the cultured and educated, a library is also judged by its possession of medical treasures in the guise of written or printed medical works.”[1] He also recognized that everything he was proposing would require a significant financial investment, an issue that would be a challenge from the beginning of his tenure until he retired due to ill health in 1949.

Malloch’s time at the Academy was marked by notable achievements. He supervised the relocation of about 140,000 books, journals, and pamphlets from the West 43rd Street building to the new Academy building—our current one—in the late summer and fall of 1926, assuring that the Library would be ready for visitors when the new building opened in November. He made brilliant hires, bringing on Janet Doe in 1926, to supervise the periodicals department, and Gertrude Annan, in 1929, to work as the rare book librarian. Both women developed enormous reputations in the world of twentieth-century medical librarianship, and both eventually succeeded him as Librarian.[2] He enlarged the Library’s holdings of unique and rare medical works by making well-considered purchases and accepting a number of important gifts. Working with Dr. Samuel Lambert and Dr. Williams, he raised $185,000 for the 1928 purchase of the Edward Clark Streeter Collection of manuscripts and important early printed medical books, adding about 1,200 volumes to the Library’s then-modest rare book collection. Twenty years later, in 1948, he also helped convince the New-York Historical Society and the Brooklyn Museum to donate the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, the most important single gift ever made to the collections.

The new “Rare Book and History Room,” opened 1933, as sketched by Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson.

Malloch’s greatest wish, however, was for a room specifically to house the Library’s rare books and the reference collection to support them. Edward S. Harkness offered a gift of $350,000 towards that project, provided that an additional $400,000 in new endowment funds be raised. With the support of Lambert, Williams, and a Building Committee headed by Dr. Arthur Duel, the funds were successfully in hand by May of 1931, as Williams reported to Malloch in a telegram: “Four hundred fund completed… Your rare book room assured.”[3] The new Rare Book and History Room opened to readers on June 15, 1933.

Malloch passed away on September 19, 1953, at the age of 67, after suffering from heart disease for several years. After his death, the rare book room was renamed the Malloch Room in his honor. As a result of a large donation from the Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Charitable Trust and Charitable Foundation, Inc., in 2012 the room was renamed again, and it is now the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room. Dr. Malloch’s many accomplishments continue to live on in the Library, though, through the richness of its collections and the settings in which readers use them to this day.


Notes

[1] “The needs of the Library.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine vol. 2:6 (1926), p. 293.

[2] Janet Doe succeeded Malloch directly, serving from 1949 to 1956, and Annan succeeded her, serving up to her retirement in 1970.

[3] Doe, J. “The Malloch Room.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine vol. 30:3 (1954): 221–2.


References

Academy Bookman. 6:3 (1953), the Malloch memorial issue.

“Archibald Malloch Librarian of the New York Academy of Medicine 1925–1949,” Academy Bookman vol. 2:2 (Spring 1949), pp. 2–5.

Doe, J. “The Malloch Room.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine vol. 30:3 (1954): 221–2.

Heaton, C. E. “Archibald Malloch, M.D.—1887–1953.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine vol. 30:5 (1954): 399–401.

“The needs of the Library.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine vol. 2:6 (1926): 287–98.

New York Academy of Medicine Archives. “Malloch, Archibald. 1925–1953. Letter engaging as librarian, 1925; correspondence; tributes…1949, 1953.”

New York Academy of Medicine Archives. “Malloch Rare Book and History Room. Correspondence re founding, 1928–1954.”

Van Ingen, Philip. The New York Academy of Medicine: Its First Hundred Years. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949.

Maternal Mortality In New York City: NYAM’s Landmark 1933 Study

By Paul Theerman, Director

NYAM’s 1933 maternal mortality report is one of the 30 highlights of “Celebrating NYAM Milestones,” prepared for our 175th anniversary in 2022.

In 1930, the New York Academy of Medicine began a major project that resulted in the landmark report Maternal Mortality in New York City, published in 1933. In its work, the Academy was part of a great movement in the first third of the 20th century that devoted greater efforts to the problem of maternal mortality. Many reasons led to this increased emphasis in public health communities. In the American context, though, the foundation of the Children’s Bureau in 1912 brought these issues to the fore.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the settlement house movement focused attention on the plight of children in urban slums and tenements. The issue eventually reached President Theodore Roosevelt, who convened the first White House Conference on Children in 1909. Three years later President Taft signed the act establishing the U.S. Children’s Bureau as a part of the Department of Labor, the first Federal agency dedicated to the welfare of children. Under its dynamic first director, Julia Lathrop (1858–1932), the bureau mounted multi-pronged programs to address the social needs of children and mothers and helped set the agenda for increased study of maternal mortality over the following years. In 1930 the bureau mounted a White House conference on child health and protection, which included maternal mortality in its scope, and in 1933, it issued a report on maternal mortality in 15 states. Its work played a leading role in the international focus on maternal health; the Library’s collections hold over 15 professional and lay studies on maternal mortality dating between 1925 and 1937, covering such disparate geographical regions as Philadelphia, Scotland, and Birmingham, Alabama. Thus when the New York Academy of Medicine took on its study, it was adding its voice to the ongoing international effort.

Dr. Ransom Spafard Hooker, 1907

The Academy began its study of maternal mortality in New York City in 1930, with the assistance of the New York Obstetrical Society and the support of the Commonwealth Fund. Under the auspices of the Academy’s Public Health Relations Committee, Dr. Ransom S. Hooker (1874–1957), a prominent surgeon, was appointed director of the study. From 1930 to 1932, the city’s Health Department provided, and the Academy analyzed, 2,014 case reports on women’s deaths from childbirth as well as deaths of pregnant women. For each case, the physician was interviewed, and if the death took place in a hospital, that institution was inspected.

The analysis found huge gaps in perinatal care and obstetrical practice, partly among midwives but chiefly among physicians. The report’s chief recommendation was for increased education and training, both popular and professional. Prospective mothers should know and be able to ask for what they needed in perinatal care. Both generalist physicians and the newly forming specialist obstetricians should receive better obstetrical training in medical schools and through hospital internships. The report called for a reduction in surgical interventions “undertaken merely to alleviate pain or shorten labor.” It recommended that hospitals provide separate obstetrical clinics, wards, and delivery rooms, overseen by trained obstetricians, with rigid rules to maintain asepsis, including masking. Based on the data—which showed better results for midwife-assisted births—the report supported the practice of home delivery. Nonetheless it called for more training and greater supervision of midwives, preferably by physicians. The report concluded that “the rate of death was unnecessarily high . . . [and] two-third of all the deaths studied could have been prevented.”

The Commonwealth Fund published the landmark study on November 20, 1933, followed by the Academy’s summary in its publication Health Examiner. Iago Galdston, secretary of its Medical Information Bureau, provided major press outlets with a précis of the study, titled “Why Women Die in Childbirth,”. One sign of its reach: the January 1934 meeting of the Maternity Center Association, attended by over 500 people, focused on the report, and emphasized public education in the search for better outcomes. Four years later, Galdston adapted the study for lay audiences, including results from Philadelphia and the U.S. Children’s Bureau, as Maternal deaths—the ways to prevention (1937), also published by the Commonwealth Fund.

Immediately after the study’s release, however, obstetricians—and especially those of the New York Obstetrical Society, which helped guide the Academy’s research—thought that their authority and expertise were being questioned. In April the society released a “counter-report” upholding its members’ obstetrical abilities against the “unskilled hands” of general physicians and midwives. Some obstetricians raised their objections within the Academy, both on the report and the publicity around it. The Academy mounted an investigation, which confirmed both the results of the report and the manner of its release. And even as it objected to the report, the Society came together with the Academy in March 1934 to jointly advise the city’s Department of Health on productive ways forward. These efforts bore fruit: from 1935 to 1938, maternal mortality rates in New York City dropped by a third, from 51 to 38 deaths per 10,000 live births, and then dropped further, reaching 22 by 1942. The trend continued over the next 40 years.

What was missing in the Academy’s analysis? Any serious consideration of why health disparities played out along racial lines. That mortality followed race was clear. Each woman’s ostensible race was noted, and the results were reported out by race. The report stated that “the death rate from puerperal causes for the Negro [sic] population . . . greatly exceeds that for the white population.” The Children’s Bureau’s 1933 report found a rate for non-white women nearly twice that of white women—a conclusion that, sadly, remains virtually unchanged almost a hundred years on. Neither of these studies directly addressed causation, and when the Children’s Bureau did so in 1940, as one historian noted, they marked out Black women as inherently poor prospects for motherhood, the origin of “the Black maternal blame narrative.”

Begun in the 1930s, NYAM’s work continues to the present in the 2018 New York Maternal Mortality Summit and the ongoing efforts of the Women’s Health Research and Well-being Working Group.

_________

Sources:

King, Charles R. “The New York Maternal Mortality Study: A Conflict of Professionalization.” Bulletin for the History of Medicine 65 (1991): 476–502.

New York Academy of Medicine, Committee on Public Health Relations. Maternal Mortality in New York City: A Study of All Puerperal Deaths, 1930–1932. New York: The Commonwealth Fund, 1933. Quotation on p. 163.

Owens, Deirdre Cooper, and Sharla M. Fett. “Black Maternal and Infant Health: Historical Legacies of Slavery.” American Journal of Public Health 109(10)(October 2019): 1342–45. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305243, accessed March 4, 2022.

“Ransom Hooker, Surgeon, Is Dead; Former Director in Field at Bellevue Made Study Here of Maternal Mortality.” The New York Times, April 12, 1957, p. 25.

Stokes, Anson Phelps. Stokes Records: Notes Regarding the Ancestry and Lives of Anson Phelps Stokes and Helen Louisa (Phelps) Stokes. 4 vols. New York: Privately printed, 1915, 3:130, is the source of the photograph of Ransom Spafard Hooker.

Taylor, Morgan. “An Untold Story: Black Maternal Mortality in the United States.” Nursing Clio, January 20, 2022. https://nursingclio.org/2022/01/20/an-untold-story-black-maternal-mortality-in-the-united-states/, accessed March 4, 2022.

Van Ingen, Philip. The New York Academy of Medicine: Its First Hundred Years. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949. Pp. 441–50.

U.S. Center for Disease Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Reproductive Health. “Achievements in Public Health, 1900–1999: Healthier Mothers and Babies.” MMWR 48(38) (October 1, 1999): 849–58. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4838a2.htm, accessed March 4, 2022.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. The Story of the Children’s Bureau. Washington, DC: The Children’s Bureau, [2012].

U.S. Department of Labor, Children’s Bureau. Maternal Deaths: A Brief Report of a Study Made in 15 States. Bureau Publication No. 221. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1933.

Library Luminaries: Dr. Samuel Smith Purple

This post inaugurates a four-part series, Library Luminaries, showcasing notable figures in the history of the Academy Library, as we celebrate our 175th anniversary.

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

The New York Academy of Medicine started collecting books for a library at its second meeting, on January 13, 1847, when Isaac Wood donated two volumes of Martyn Paine’s Medical and physiological commentaries. The Library now contains over 550,000 volumes; hundreds of thousands of pamphlets; archives; manuscripts; images; all kinds of ephemera; and even a small group of artifacts. The collections span many centuries, from the oldest item in the building, our early ninth-century manuscript of Apicius, De re culinaria, Libri I-IX, to recently published monographs in the history of medicine. The foundation of any great library, however, is the work of dedicated people, both benefactors and librarians. During this year, when we are celebrating the 175th anniversary of NYAM and of the Library, we will tell the stories of some of the people who made the Library into one of the most significant collections of materials in the history of medicine and public health in this country, if not the world.

S. S. Purple, M.D., 1822–1900”
from Portraits of Fellows of the New York Academy of Medicine (1896?)

One of the earliest and most vocal advocates for a Library was Dr. Samuel Smith Purple (1822–1900). Born in Lebanon, New York, Purple was the oldest son of Lyman Smith Purple and Minerva (Sheffield) Purple. His father made a modest living as a tanner and shoemaker, and by the time he turned 13 Purple was often working with him in the shop, limiting his formal education. The family relocated to Earlville, New York, in 1836, and when his father passed away three years later, Purple took over managing the business, supporting his mother and younger brothers. Around the same time, without telling his family, he quietly began studying medicine with the help of the local physician, Dr. David Ransom, who then helped him get a scholarship to attend Geneva Medical College for a year in 1842. The following year a relative, Dr. W. D. Purple, secured financial support for him to attend the lectures at the University of the City of New York, from which he graduated in 1844.

After a few months back home, Purple decided to see if he could succeed in New York City. He worked at the Marion Street Maternity Hospital and the New York Dispensary, and slowly grew a private practice until it provided him with enough stability to buy a house and have his mother join him. Memberships in the New York Pathological Society, the Society for the Relief of the Widows and Orphans of Medical Men, and the New York Academy of Medicine, of which he was a founding Fellow, provided a community of physicians. Through a connection with Dr. Charles A. Lee, one of his professors at Geneva, he became the editor of the New York Journal of Medicine, founded in 1843 by Dr. Samuel Forry, a position he held for a decade before returning more fully to his private practice in 1858.

Purple’s interest in collecting books and pamphlets about medicine was sparked by his relationship with John B. Beck, who taught at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The two met during Purple’s decade of editorial work at the Journal. Beck “urg[ed] the young editor to avail himself of the opportunity which his position afforded him of securing and preserving every early publication obtainable. At the same time, Beck gave Purple a large number of pamphlets, which really formed the nucleus of the enormous collection he subsequently made.”[1] Not only did Purple put together a stellar collection of books and pamphlets about American medicine, he expanded his interests to serials, and also to the early history of New York.

“Samuel S. Purple, M.D., President of the New York Academy of Medicine, 1875–1879,” from Portraits of Fellows of the New York Academy of Medicine (1896?)

Purple became the president of the Academy in 1875, and in his inaugural address, “Objects and Purposes,” delivered on January 21, he proposed taking on two large tasks. The first was to move the organization into a building of its own, specifically, the brownstone at 12 West 31st Street that the Academy had recently purchased. The Academy moved in a few months later, and the new building created an opportunity for Purple’s main objective: “a great reference Medical Library.” Purple acknowledged that earlier efforts to develop the library had been stymied by lack of space. In the new building, two second-floor rooms were set up for the library, and Purple enhanced the small existing collection by donating 2,000 books of his own.

Two years later, Purple was re-elected president and he devoted almost his entire presidential address to the subject of medical libraries, reviewing the history of every collection he had been able to document in the city of New York and then turning his attention to the Academy. He called for the establishment of a Library Fund; encouraged voluntary donations and the opening of the library to all regular practitioners in the city, not just Fellows; and reminded the audience that “No book or pamphlet is worthless; every word from the mental laboratory of the practical physician contains a fact, or, it may be a statement of facts, which, however darkly concealed or obscured by peculiarities of language or description, will ultimately be unearthed, and serve the genius of practical medicine or medical history.”[2]

To prove his point, he then recounted the story of his rescue of Dr. Samuel Bard’s An enquiry into the nature, cause and cure, of the angina suffocativa, which describes an outbreak of diphtheria in New York in 1770. Purple discovered the pamphlet in “the press-box of a second-hand paper-dealer in this city in transitu to the maw of a paper-mill. Its former owner had sold it for the eighth part of a cent, or at the rate of two cents per pound.”[3] That copy is still here in the Library today, with Purple’s bookplate and an inscription about its provenance. In 1998, at the Christie’s auction of the Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine, a copy of the same pamphlet sold for close to $3,000, a far cry from an eighth of a cent.

By the end of his second term, Purple had raised the money to expand the Library stacks, and a collection that numbered some 400 items in 1875 boasted over 9,000 by 1880. Thousands of Purple’s volumes continue to reside in the Library today. By 1900, when Purple died, the Academy had moved on to its next home, a new building on West 43rd Street. To honor Purple’s role in creating the Library, the Academy installed a bronze plaque honoring him at the entrance to the reading room. In 1926, the plaque traveled to our current building, where it sits above the door to the Library on the third floor: That plaque reads

SAMUEL SMITH PURPLE, M.D.

BORN JUNE 24, 1822 — DIED SEPTEMBER 29, 1900

FOUNDER OF THE LIBRARY OF THE

NEW YORK ACADEMY OF MEDICINE

TO WHICH HE GAVE LARGE AND VALUABLE CONTRIBUTIONS.

A PRESIDENT OF THE ACADEMY AND AN EARNEST

AND SUCCESSFUL WORKER IN ITS INTERESTS.

THIS TABLET IS ERECTED TO COMMEMORATE

HIS MANY VIRTUES AND RARE USEFULNESS.

We are still grateful to Samuel Smith Purple. His determination, foresight, and devotion to collecting the history of American medicine all contributed to the richness of the collections we continue to use today.


Notes

[1] Smith, Stephen. “Memorial Address on the Late Samuel Smith Purple, MD.” Medical Library and Historical Journal. 1903 1(2), p. 110.

[2] Purple, Samuel S. Medical Libraries: an Address Delivered before the New York Academy of Medicine, January 18, 1877, on Taking the Chair as President a Second Term. New York: Printed for the Academy, 1877, p. 18.

[3] Ibid., p. 19.

References

Flint, Austin, and Samuel S. Purple. Addresses: Dr. Austin Flint’s Valedictory : Dr. Samuel S. Purple’s Inaugural. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1875.

Purple, Samuel S. Medical Libraries: an Address Delivered before the New York Academy of Medicine, January 18, 1877, on Taking the Chair as President a Second Term. New York: Printed for the Academy, 1877.

Smith, Stephen. “Memorial Address on the Late Samuel Smith Purple, MD.” Medical Library and Historical Journal. 1903 1(2): 102–116.

Van Ingen, Philip. The New York Academy of Medicine: Its First Hundred Years. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949.


Color Our Collections 2022—175th Anniversary Edition

by the NYAM Library Team

Our annual Color Our Collections week kicks off today! From February 7 through 11, libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions showcase their collections through free, downloadable coloring books. A hundred or so books are gathered at ColorOurCollections.org. Follow #ColorOurCollections on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms to participate.

As part of the NYAM-wide celebration of our 175th anniversary, this year our coloring book presents images from our history. We feature our buildings and library reading rooms through the years, along with some of their marvelous details of design. Other images allude to NYAM’s work cleaning up the city streets, improving maternal health, and weighing in on the public health effects of using marijuana. All these stories and more are found in the new NYAM timeline. Here we present a few coloring sheets to help while away your hours; for more, check out our whole coloring book.

Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson’s pen-and-ink drawing of the new Rare Book and History of Medicine Room, from NYAM’s 1933 Annual Report.

Rabbits! A possible lobby ceiling decoration for the Academy’s 1926 building, in a pen-and-ink drawing from the NYAM archives.

“King Garbage Reigns,” from Harper’s Weekly, February 7, 1891. In the 1920s, the work of the Academy’s Committee on Street and Outdoor Cleanliness helped form NYC’s Department of Sanitation.

The pamphlet cover for A Letter to Expectant Mothers (1911), in the Records of the Committee for the Reduction of Infant Mortality of the New York Milk Committee.

Cannabis sativa, in Leonhart Fuchs, De historia stirpivm commentarii insignes (1542). The Academy’s report on the public health impact of marijuana usage, commissioned by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, was published in 1944.

The New York Academy of Medicine at 175

By Paul Theerman, Director

The 1830s and ’40s were years of ferment in the United States. Politically, a sea change began in 1828 with the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency and a break with the political elites of the Eastern seaboard. Socially, the years were ones of great transformation, as new immigrants promised to alter the country’s makeup. The decades saw huge technological innovations as well, with the spread of railroads making new regional and national connections, and the newly invented telegraph shrinking information gaps. Science took on a new cultural value across the western world, manifested in the United States with the founding of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846 as a scientific research institute, followed two years later by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Constitution and By-Laws of the
New York Academy of Medicine,
adopted January 6, 1847

The founding of the New York Academy of Medicine was part of this ferment. A group of prominent physicians in the city met informally on December 12, 1846, to see if there were interest in creating a new organization dedicated to promoting “orthodox” medicine. On January 6, 1847, the group met again to adopt a Constitution and By-Laws, to which 132 physicians affixed their signatures. At the group’s next meeting, a week later, the donation of Martyn Paine’s Medical and physiological commentaries (1840) began the Academy Library. That venture was one of the avowed purposes of the Academy: It was organized to separate “regular” from “irregular” medical practitioners such as homeopaths and other unorthodox physicians, and to provide for intellectual growth and sociability.

The new “Rare Book and History Room” in the 1930s

The Academy stood apart from the different medical societies that had arisen in New York City. Briefly, the New York County Medical Society and other county and state societies chiefly, though not exclusively, were concerned with credentialing and the business of medicine. These concerns were not absent from the Academy, or from others like the Philadelphia College of Physicians (1787), and the Richmond Academy of Medicine (1820). But the academies were more about mutual regard, professional development, and, in the tradition of the grand academies of Europe and our own National Academy of Sciences (1863), advising government on technical matters. This NYAM did throughout its history: helping to establish the city’s Metropolitan Board of Health in 1866, assisting in the creation of a chief medical examiner’s office in 1915, advising on city sanitation in the 1920s and ’30s and on maternal mortality in 1933, and providing expert opinion about marijuana as a “gateway drug” in 1944.

A teacher is observed demonstrating proper toothbrushing techniques to a group of kindergarten children

By the end of the 20th century, the Academy had moved beyond advising government to jump-starting its own programs for healthy aging, schoolchildren’s health, and healthy cities overall, and promoting urban health studies around HIV/AIDS and 9/11. By the early 21st century, working toward health equity became the goal, with a multitude of paths forward. Most recently the Academy has added its efforts to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mary Ann Payne, MD, NYAM’s First Woman President, 1987-1988

Throughout 2022 the Academy is celebrating its 175th anniversary. Today we launch a new online timeline of Academy milestones, exploring these and other high points of our history. A new series of programs, “Then and Now,” will look at signature areas of Academy work in current and historical context. We are planning a Celebration of the Library open house for the fall. Throughout the year we will be mounting blog posts on highlights and figures in Academy and Library history. We invite you to read, visit, and participate . . . so stay tuned here and on the website for more to come.

The Faces Behind Our Fellowships

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

The Library has two residential research fellowships, the Paul Klemperer Fellowship in the History of Medicine and the Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Public Health. While there is plenty of information on our website about how to apply for our fellowships, there is no information there about the people for whom they are named, and it seems appropriate to share a little bit about them.

Paul Klemperer (1887–1964) spent much of his career at Mount Sinai Hospital, where he held the position of pathologist from 1927 until his retirement in 1955. Born outside of Vienna, Klemperer first enrolled at the University of Vienna, intending to become a lawyer. At the suggestion of his father, he took a class on psychoanalysis taught by family friend Sigmund Freud and began to study medicine instead. After receiving his medical degree in 1912, he spent two years studying pathological anatomy, and then served as a physician during World War I. In 1921, he emigrated to the United States, spending a year in Chicago before moving to New York, teaching briefly at the New York Post-Graduate Medical School before joining the staff at Mount Sinai. He also taught pathology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University for many years, and after retirement continued to teach the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Paul Klemperer, M.D. (1887–1964). NYAM Library Collections.

His students and colleagues were devoted to him. In 1962, the Academy presented him with the Academy Medal for Distinguished Contributions to Biomedical Science. In his remarks George Baehr, his colleague at Mount Sinai, noted that Klemperer’s skill as a pathologist combined with his skill as a teacher made him a much-loved figure in all the institutions to which he had a connection. Neuropathologist Stanley Aronson, in a 1989 reminiscence in the Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, recalled him as “one who was shy yet effective, retiring yet generous, undemonstrative yet passionate, learned yet learning, always learning. For he was truly our teacher.”[1]

After he retired, Klemperer devoted significant time to the study of the history of medicine. He wrote the preface and introduction to the Academy’s publication of a translation of Giambattista Morgagni’s noted book on pathology, The Seats and causes of diseases investigated by anatomy, as well as translating five letters of Morgagni. He also wrote the introductions to several other volumes in the Academy’s history of medicine series. To honor his memory and his devotion to the history of medicine, some years after his death an anonymous group of donors endowed the fellowship that bears his name, first awarded in 1996.

William H. Helfand (1926–2018), a Philadelphia native, pursued a career as a pharmaceutical executive for Merck. His work dovetailed with his collecting interests in prints, posters, and such pharmaceutical ephemera as trade cards and almanacs, and he wrote extensively on their social history.[2] He and his wife, Audrey, endowed positions and fellowships at several institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Grolier Club. In 1998, the couple endowed the NYAM Library fellowship that bears their name, with the first fellowship awarded in the 1999–2000 academic year.

William H. Helfand (1926–2018). Image from the New York Times, October 5, 2018.

From the beginning, the Helfand fellowship supported research on the ways that visual materials enhance the study of the history of medicine, public health, and the medical humanities. Our own Library collections are far richer in these areas because Bill supplemented his endowment with gifts of materials from his own collections, Chief among these is the William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards, which is digitized and available here. In addition to trade cards, Bill gave the Library almanacs, broadsides, caricatures, prints, sheet music, and other medical ephemera. Our Helfand collection is one of many; others can be found at the Huntington Library, Yale University, Duke University, and the Library Company of Philadelphia.

If you are a scholar working on a history of medicine project, please consider our fellowships. Applications are being accepted until September 17, 2021, for a month’s residence at the Library. Successful applicants will be notified by October 22, and the next two fellows may work any time during the 2022 calendar year.

Lists of all the projects that have been supported through these endowments can be found on the fellowship pages for the Klemperer Fellowship and the Helfand Fellowship; application procedures are found there as well.

_________


[1] Baehr, George. “Citation and Presentation of the Academy Medal to Paul Klemperer, MD.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 38, no. 4 (1962): 240; Aronson, S. M. “The legacy of Paul Klemperer.” The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, New York 56, no. 5 (1989): 347–350.

[2]William Helfand, a Collector Intrigued by Quackery, Dies at 92,The New York Times, October 5, 2018.

Mary Ann Payne, MD, First Woman President of the New York Academy of Medicine

by Judith A. Salerno, MD, MS, President

During Women’s History Month, we at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) are celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of women in medicine and health. Dr. Mary Ann Payne (1913–2010) broke new ground as the first woman to lead NYAM, serving as its 63rd president from 1987 to 1988. She stepped in at a critical time in NYAM’s history and successfully led the restructuring of the organization to better serve the health of the public in New York City.


“Mary Ann Payne,” painted by Neill Slaughter, 2011, at the New York Academy of Medicine

Mary Ann Payne was born on August 29, 1913, and grew up in Braddock Heights, Maryland. She attended Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and then taught high school for four years after graduation. She then went on to further her education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where she received her MA and PhD in endocrinology, and finally to Cornell University Medical College where she graduated with an MD degree in 1945. Her entire medical career was spent at the college (now Weill Cornell Medicine), where she was a clinical professor of medicine and attending physician at New York Hospital.(1) Highlights of her early career included receiving the Major Arnold H. Golding Fellowship, for research on the mechanism of high blood pressure, and having an audience with Pope Pius XII in 1947.(2) Payne rose to become a member of the Board of Overseers of Weill Cornell. She also spent time working with the Communicable Disease Center, caring for members of the Navajo and Hopi tribes with hepatitis and treating tuberculosis among Alaska Natives.(3)

Payne became a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine in 1953 and served as a member of its Committee on Medical Education, vice president, and trustee. In 1987 she assumed the presidency as the first woman to hold that office. Hers was the third-to-last presidency under NYAM’s former structure.(4) Since 1847, the presidency had been a two-year honorary position. The incumbent was a Fellow and chiefly worked with other Fellows. By the early 20th century, NYAM staff reported to an executive director, and William Stubing had taken on that role in 1986. In the words of the official history, upon his hire he “visited a number of Foundation executives to discuss the potential of the Academy as an institution that could make a positive contribution towards alleviating health problems in the City. He was quite candid in his approach to these individuals, indicating the Academy had great potential that was not being achieved primarily due to its financial constraints.”(5) The trustees, the NYAM governing body responsible for fiscal affairs, led by Dr. Payne, secured the services of an outside consultant, Cambridge Associates, Inc., to review the organization’s finances. Its report recommended a series of reforms, which Payne and the trustees accepted in October 1987—a scant 10 days after Black Monday, when the stock market suffered a 25% drop in its value! NYAM’s financial reforms only pointed to a deeper problem within its structure, however. The same day that the trustees accepted the financial report, Payne reported to the Council—the NYAM governing body that oversaw its medical and public health activities—that “in her judgment, the Academy’s existing resources were insufficient to support its present program.”(6) Change was needed.

The Council set up a Committee on Strategic Planning with Payne as chair, tasked to “examine and redefine the Academy’s mission; review existing programs, consider new initiatives and establish new priorities.”(7) Everything was on the table! Cambridge Associates was reengaged to assist in this broader reassessment and provided a sobering report to the Council in March 1989. Addressing a lack of clear management structure, the report called for significant changes, most significantly establishing a full-time president with overall authority for the Academy and significantly reducing the large number of committees that had a hand in governance. The dual structure of a Council and a Board of Trustees would be eliminated, retaining just the Board. Although Payne’s presidential term had ended three months earlier, she continued to lead the process as chair of the Committee on Strategic Planning. Throughout 1989 the Fellows debated the proposals; they were overwhelmingly adopted at a special meeting on August 7, 1989. On July 1, 1990, Dr. Jeremiah A. Barondess took office under the new structure as the first full-time president of the New York Academy of Medicine.(8)


“Mary Ann Payne, M.D.” undated, published when she received the Academy Plaque in 1991. (“Academy Plaque,” 635.)

Mary Ann Payne retired in the late 1970s or 1980s—the date is not clear—while retaining attending privileges at New York Hospital. In retirement she undertook voyages to the Antarctic and Tierra del Fuego to help band penguins as a volunteer for the American Museum of Natural History.(9) NYAM honored her contributions with the Academy Plaque in 1991. At his presentation speech, Dr. Martin Cherkasky, former chair of the Board of Trustees, noted that “the very fact that she was able to overcome the conservatism of this body in matters of leadership indicates what a powerful, impressive figure she is.”(10) In 1998 Payne moved to a retirement home in Ithaca, New York, where she died on March 24, 2010.

_____

Notes

1. Obituary; “Academy Plaque.”

2. “Gets Golding Fellowship”; “Catholic Information from Abroad.”

3. Obituary.

4. Lieberman and Warshaw, 252.

5. Lieberman and Warshaw, 253.

6. Lieberman and Warshaw, 255.

7. Lieberman and Warshaw, 256.

8. Lieberman and Warshaw, 263–64, 272.

9. “Academy Plaque,” 636.

10. “Academy Plaque,” 634.

References

“Catholic Information from Abroad,” The Catholic Herald, 18 July 1947, p. 8: http://archive-uat.catholicherald.co.uk/article/18th-july-1947/8/catholic-information-from-abroad

“Gets Golding Fellowship for Medical Research: Mary Ann Payne,” The New York Times, January 9, 1949, p. 30: https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1949/01/07/84186377.html?pageNumber=30

Martin Cherkasky, MD, “Presentation of the Academy Plaque to Mary Ann Payne, M.D.,” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 67 (Nov–Dec 1991): 634–37: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1809858/pdf/bullnyacadmed00011-0130.pdf

Marvin Lieberman and Leon J. Warshaw, The New York Academy of Medicine, 1947–1997: Enhancing the Health of the Public (Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company, 1998).

“Mary Ann Payne, M.D.” Obituary, The Miami Herald, via Legacy.com: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/herald/obituary.aspx?n=mary-ann-payne&pid=143125822

Janet Doe, NYAM’s First Woman Library Director

By Paul Theerman, Director

Janet Doe (1895–1985) spent 30 years with the New York Academy of Medicine, from the opening of its new building in 1926 until her retirement in 1956. In retirement she continued to shape the profession, as consultant and expert. Her contributions to medical librarianship led to her being honored through the establishment in 1966 of the Medical Library Association’s most prestigious lecture, the Janet Doe Lecture, for “unique perspectives on the history or philosophy of medical librarianship.”1

Janet Doe, circa 1949.

Doe came to library work right after World War I. A 1917 Wellesley graduate in science, she entered a nursing training program at Vassar, followed by clinical training at Presbyterian Hospital, where she attended the rush of influenza patients.2 At the same time she took up work as an untrained aide at the New York Public Library. After a knee injury cut short her fledgling nursing career, she moved full time to the NYPL library school. With formal training in librarianship and a background in medicine, she was recruited in 1923 to the library of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University). Three years later, she moved to NYAM as head of periodicals; in 1929 she was appointed Assistant Librarian, and upon Archibald Malloch’s retirement in 1949 she became Librarian, as the director’s title was then known. Doe held this position for the next seven years, until her own retirement in 1956. Looking back on her tenure as the first woman to lead the Academy Library, she reported “no special difficulties whatever” because of her gender.3

During her 30-year tenure at the Academy, Doe saw many changes. She began soon after the Academy’s new building opened in 1926, and she was here when the extension to that building was constructed in 1933, with new stacks and offices and its jewel, the Rare Book Room. As head of periodicals and carrying on into her supervisory roles, she oversaw the main work of the Library: meeting the information needs of physicians.4 The Library met these needs chiefly through its extensive medical journal holdings, maintaining subscriptions to some 2,500 titles and welcoming anyone, not just Academy Fellows, to use them.5 All along, the Library continued to add contemporary medical books and reports, building up a “comprehensive research collection . . . its most important contribution.”6 The Library continued to add to the historical collections as well. It purchased the Edward Clark Streeter Collection of rare books in 1928; the Margaret Barclay Wilson collection on food and cookery came by donation in 1929; and the John Greenwood collection, including George Washington’s dentures, came to the Library in 1937.7

In many ways, Doe’s tenure was the last where the Library—indeed, any research library—functioned as essentially a stand-alone institution. Users came to the books; the books—or the information contained therein—did not come to them. Still in the future was the large-scale national and international sharing of information and resources that automation and then the internet made possible. Above all, the country lacked a truly national medical library with coordinating responsibilities for all medical literature. These developments came about after Janet Doe retired. Part of her story is how she helped to them to be realized, through raising the skills of librarians and supporting newer medical libraries, and by helping to establish the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

A great impetus came from the significant expansion of medical libraries that she saw during her career. Some were medical school libraries; many were hospital libraries. Of the latter, Doe reported that “[they] were poor; they had mostly untrained librarians and were only perhaps open half time.”8 As president of MLA in 1949 she shepherded through a certification program for medical librarians as a way of raising the skills and capacities of the profession. While MLA’s continuing education courses helped train a new generation of specialized medical librarians, this was not enough. To supplement those courses in 1942 she developed the Handbook of medical library practice,9 for which she served as editor, as well as co-editor of the 1956 second edition. Doe also supported new medical school libraries. In 1949 she facilitated the donation of 12,000 duplicate medical books and journals to the library of Southwestern Medical College in Dallas, Texas, founded just a few years previously.10

Janet Doe is far right in this photograph of Honorary Consultants to the Army Medical Library, from Betsy L. Humphreys’s Janet Doe Lecture: “Adjusting to progress: interactions between the National Library of Medicine and health sciences librarians, 1961–2001.”

Doe was also instrumental in establishing the Army Medical Library as the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Starting in 1944, she was one of the “surveyors” of the Army Medical Library, leading to The National Medical Library, Report of a Survey of the Army Medical Library.11 This work guided reform at that library and began the campaign to transform it into a national medical library; Doe remained active as a consultant. On April 10, 1956, in her last public appearance before her retirement, Doe testified before Congress on behalf of a bill to establish NLM, and later she worked to secure its grant-making authority.12

Three of Janet Doe’s publications deserve further mention: the Bibliography of the works of Ambroise Paré 13 was her foray into classic bibliography; in a 1953 article, “Opportunities for women in medicine: medical librarianship,”14 she both acknowledged that most medical librarians were women and saw that field as a path for career development; and, in a work done after her retirement to Katonah, New York, a village in northern Westchester County, “The Development of Medical Practice in Bedford Township, New York, Particularly in the Area of Katonah,”15 she provided a survey from colonial times to the present. Doe died in 1985, at the age of 90.


Notes

All links current as of March 10, 2021.

1For a précis of Doe’s career and significant publications, please see the Medical Library Association’s “Doe, Janet,” https://www.mlanet.org/blog/doe,-janet, and for a summary of her MLA oral history, “Doe, Janet (AHIP, FMLA),” https://www.mlanet.org/p/bl/et/blogid=52&blogaid=333. The language describing the Janet Doe Lecture is from https://www.mlanet.org/p/cm/ld/fid=26.

2Pat L. Walter, “A small window on Janet Doe’s life,” Bull Med Libr Assoc. 2001 Jan; 89(1): 83. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC31711/.

3“MLA Oral History Committee Interview with Janet Doe,” Medical Library Association Oral History Program, interview by Estelle Brodman, July 20, 1977; approved August 19, 1977; https://catalog.nyam.org/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=30365

4“The library exists first and foremost for the physicians, their needs are what it is designed to meet, and towards which its major energies are spent.” Janet Doe, “The Library of the Academy of Medicine,” November 15, 1951, talk and broadcast. On November 15, 1951, Doe spoke to a group of physicians in the Academy lecture series “For Doctors Only.” The talk was eventually broadcast on WNYC, the city’s publicly owned station, and NYPR Archives has digitized it: https://www.wnyc.org/story/the-library-of-the-academy-of-medicine/.

5Journals form the bulk of the Library’s collections, and the Library’s catalog contains bibliographical entries for over 22,000 journal titles. The figure of 2,500 active journal subscriptions comes from Doe’s talk on November 15, 1951. Since 1878, the Academy Library has been open to the public.

6Doe, “The Library of the Academy of Medicine”: “This last function, that of the comprehensive research collection, is for certain, its most important contribution. There are many other working medical libraries in New York City, some 60 or so at least, for every live medical institution of any size must have a library of sorts. But the broadly based reference library possessing the seldom called for, but occasionally indispensable report is a necessity for a research center such as New York has become.”

7For Library history highlights, please see the Library Timeline.

8Here and below the content is from “MLA Oral History Committee Interview with Janet Doe.”

9Janet Doe, ed. Handbook of medical library practice (Chicago: American Library Association, 1942).

10“Medical News,” JAMA 1949 Nov 19; 141(12): 854.

11Keyes D. Metcalf, Janet Doe, Thomas P. Fleming, et al., The National medical library; report of a survey of the Army Medical Library, financed by the Rockefeller Foundation and made under the auspices of the American Library Association (Chicago: American Library Association, 1944).

12“MLA Oral History Committee Interview with Janet Doe”; Kent A. Smith, “Laws, leaders, and legends of the modern National Library of Medicine,” J Med Libr Assoc. 2008 Apr; 96(2): 121–133.

13Janet Doe, Bibliography of the works of Ambroise Paré: premier chirurgien & conseiller du roy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1937).

14Idem, “Opportunities for women in medicine: medical librarianship,” J Am Med Women’s Assoc. 1953 Dec; 8(12):414-6.

15Idem, “The Development of Medical Practice in Bedford Township, New York, Particularly in the Area of Katonah,” Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1961 Jan; 49(1 Pt 1): 1–23.

NYAM’s First Black Fellow

by Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

In February of 1847, when the New York Academy of Medicine was just a month old, two founding Fellows of the Academy nominated Dr. James McCune Smith for fellowship, that is, formal membership in what was being set up as an elite medical organization. Smith was the first professionally trained African American physician in the United States, although he earned his degrees at the University of Glasgow, having been unable to gain admission to an American medical school because of his race. An accomplished physician who met all the criteria for fellowship, Smith was denied admission to the Academy at that time. In 2018 the Academy finally redressed that wrong by awarding him fellowship posthumously, 171 years later.

The identity of the first Black physician to become a Fellow of the Academy remained a mystery, though. Puzzling it out required reading a chapter of a frequently consulted resource, Gerald Spencer’s Medical Symphony, in a different way. Spencer was the subject of a blog post back in 2014, and his book, despite its frustrating lack of citations, provides a wealth of information about the contributions of Black Americans to medicine in New York. Chapter VII focuses on membership in local medical organizations, beginning with a section on the various county medical societies, and moving on to NYAM and others. A list of Black Americans who had been elected as Fellows by 1947, when Spencer’s book was published, appears on page 75:

Gerald Spencer, Medical Symphony (New York, 1947).

The first name on that list is Dr. Peter M. Murray. While Spencer never states that the names are listed in chronological order of election, an examination of the minutes of the Committee on Admissions confirms that this is the case. Murray appeared on the waiting list of nominees on April 6, 1932, along with the names of his three recommenders, and on January 4, 1933, he was one of 17 physicians who were recommended for fellowship. For unexplained reasons, he was not elected at that time, and he was recommended again on November 6, 1935. He was formally elected at the first stated meeting of 1936 and so became the first African American Fellow of The New York Academy of Medicine.

Physicians recommended for fellowship, NYAM Committee on Admission Minute Book, January 4, 1933, NYAM Archives. Murray’s name is 4th from the bottom.

When Murray became a Fellow in 1936, most of his major accomplishments lay ahead, although he was at the time of his nomination the president of the National Medical Association, the alternative to the American Medical Association set up by Black physicians who were often denied membership in the AMA because of their inability to join their local medical societies.

The child of a longshoreman and a laundress, Murray was born in 1888 in Houma, Louisiana. His family moved to New Orleans when he was 12, and his mother became a practical nurse at the New Orleans Women’s Hospital and Infirmary. Her experience there led her to suggest a medical career to her son. Murray graduated from New Orleans University in 1910 and got his medical degree from Howard University four years later. He then began his career as an intern at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., and continued working at the hospital as an assistant clinical professor of surgery and developing expertise in obstetrics and gynecology. At the same time, he took an appointment as a medical inspector for the public schools.

In his 1967 Journal of the National Medical Association biographical profile of Murray, W. Montague Cobb noted that “while President Woodrow Wilson was ‘Saving the World for Democracy’ and promoting the League of Nations abroad, Negro Federal employees were being discriminated against more than ever at home.”[1] Both Murray and his wife, Charlotte (Wallace), a professional singer and music teacher, felt that more opportunities would be available to them in New York, and moved there in 1921. Murray shared a Harlem medical office with Dr. Wiley Merlio Wilson, whom he had known when he was a Howard student, and initially he practiced surgery at the Wiley Wilson Sanitarium, a private hospital that Wilson opened due to the lack of opportunities to practice in other New York hospitals. The Harvard-trained Dr. Louis T. Wright,[2] had joined the staff of the public Harlem Hospital in 1919, and Harlem Hospital became the only New York institution where Black American physicians stood a chance of finding employment. Murray eventually joined the staff there in 1928 and later worked at two other hospitals, Sydenham and St. Clare’s, as well.

“Peter M. Murray, M.D.,” from Gerald D. Dorman, “Presentation of the Academy plaque to Peter M. Murray, MD.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 45, no. 8 (1969): 729.

One of Murray’s most important accomplishments occurred in 1949, when the New York State Medical Society elected him as one of its representatives to the House of Delegates of the American Medical Association. He was at that time the only Black physician from anywhere in the country elected to serve as a delegate, and he continued in that role through 1961. He was also elected president of the Medical Society of the County of New York for 1954–55. It is possible that Murray’s support of the AMA’s opposition to the development of a national health insurance program in the 1940s played a part in those elections. He took the idea of broader service to the medical profession extremely seriously, though, accepting seats on the boards of trustees of Howard University, the State University of New York, and the National Medical Fellowships; appointment to the Board of Hospitals of the City of New York; a term as vice president of the Hospital Council of Greater New York; and membership in the President’s National Medical Advisory Committee on Health Resources.[3]

Service to NYAM also mattered to him, and he spent over 20 years as a member of the Committee on Medical Education, as well as serving on a variety of other subcommittees. In acknowledgment of his many accomplishments, both inside and outside of the Academy, he was awarded the Academy Plaque, which recognizes extraordinary service to NYAM, at the April 1969 annual meeting, just eight months before his death on December 19.[4]


[1] Cobb, W. Montague. “Peter Marshall Murray, MD, 1888.” Journal of the National Medical Association 59, no. 1 (1967), p. 73.

[2] Louis T. Wright was, in fact, recommended for NYAM fellowship in 1928. After a challenge, the recommendation went through on October 1, 1930, but at the November 6, 1930, stated meeting the Fellows declined to elect him.

[3] Cobb, pp. 71, 74.

[4] Dorman, Gerald D. “Presentation of the Academy plaque to Peter M. Murray, MD.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 45, no. 8 (1969): 728.