The Academy’s 1964 Report on Homosexuality

By Logan Heiman, Digital Collections Manager, and Paul Theerman, Director

When the New York Academy of Medicine published its 1964 report in its Bulletin,[1] it followed a salvo of other reports sounding the alarm about “the problem of homosexuality.” The committee’s findings, reported in the New York Times and other outlets, made plain the Academy’s position on the issue: “homosexuality is indeed an illness. The homosexual is an emotionally disturbed individual who has not acquired a normal capacity to develop satisfying heterosexual relationships.” The committee’s attention to homosexuality arose from its concern about a perceived connection between homosexuality and two other phenomena it had previously studied—the proliferation of “salacious literature,” as stories with gay characters became more and more visible; and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Committee members linked several factors to the emergence of homosexual traits in early childhood, many of them related to parenting practices, including “neglect, rejection, overprotection, [and] overindulgence.”

The report also struck a harsh note against efforts by gay and lesbian activists to promote acceptance over tolerance, prescribing psychotherapy as offering “the greatest probability of benefit.” The Committee on Public Health offered improved sex education as another needed intervention, citing society’s “preoccupation with sex as a symbol” as a challenge to implementing this recommendation.

Excerpt from Barbara Gittings’s editorial
rebuking the Academy’s report.
The Ladder: A Lesbian Review 8(11) (August 1964).

In its immediate aftermath, as well as in the following years, the report drew sharp criticism and condemnation from gay and lesbian activist groups and medical professionals. In June 1964, the Daughters of Bilitis, the United States’ first political and civil rights organization for lesbians, strongly rebuked the findings of the report, writing in a June 13, 1964, letter “to express our disappointment in noting that a report so widely publicized, and originating with so reputable a group as yours, offered so little substantiation for the claims made.”[2]

A decade later, Dr. William Ober wrote to Dr. James McCormack of the Committee on Public Health asking the New York Academy of Medicine to host a conference based on changing public attitudes regarding homosexuality and the views of doctors who “had to revise their thinking.” No evidence exists to suggest the committee responded to this request. But in the course of that decade came the Stonewall riots, in June/July 1969, protesting police aggression against the LGBTQ+ community. Professional opinions changed. Famously, Dr. John E. Fryer (1937–2003), disguised as “Dr. Henry Anonymous,” addressed the 1972 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association to share the challenges he faced as a gay psychiatrist. His testimony, as well as the work of pioneering psychological researcher, Evelyn Hooker, had an effect. In 1973 the APA, under the leadership of NYAM Fellow Alfred M. Freedman (1917–2011), removed “homosexuality” as an illness in its authoritative Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, a move hailed as “the single most important event in the history of what would become the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement.”[3]

Rainbow colors symbolize NYAM’s commitment to all people in its 175th year, expressed here on the Academy building entrance at its Access: Health event, June 7, 2022.

Since the time of the report, the medical community has increasingly “de-medicalized” gayness.[4] The Academy has itself taken steps to become a more open, equity-focused institution. During Pride Month 2021 we looked at our own history in “Virtual Visit: From the LGBTQ+ Archives.” For this year’s Pride Month, NYAM formally disavows the 1964 report on homosexuality. In an official statement, NYAM President Dr. Judith Salerno wrote, “The report was incorrect and perpetuated views that were not supported by science, and we recognize that NYAM’s inaction on addressing its content is shameful. It has taken us since 1964 to publicly acknowledge this report and we apologize for the hurt that this report, and our silence, has inflicted on the LGBTQIA+ community.” Read the full statement here.


[1]Homosexuality: A Report by the Committee of Public Health, The New York Academy of Medicine,” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 40(7) (July 1964): 576–80. The article notes the committee’s approval of the report on May 11, 1964.

[2] The letter was reprinted in The Ladder: A Lesbian Review immediately following Gittings’s editorial.

[3] A concise historical article is Jack Drescher, “Out of DSM: Depathologizing Homosexuality,” Behavioral Sciences 5 (December 2015): 565–75; a more popular account is Ray Levy Uyeda, “How LGBTQ+ Activists Got ‘Homosexuality’ Out of the DSM,” JSTOR Daily, May 26, 2021, accessed June 8, 2022. For Freedman’s role, see “Alfred Freedman, a Leader in Psychiatry, Dies at 94,” The New York Times, April 20, 2011. Sue Hyde, LGBTQ activist and organizer, provided the assessment quoted in the obituary.

[4] Resistance in the medical community to the APA diagnostic change was long-lived. In 1976, a group of psychiatrists met at NYAM, though not under its auspices, to promote that homosexuality was an indicator of mental illness. Gay activists “zapped” them with disruptive demonstrations, recounted in John D’Emilio, “Zapping the New York Academy of Medicine, April 6, 1976,” Outhistory: It’s About Time!, n.d., accessed June 8, 2022. Even in 2002, Dr. Jack Drescher, chair of the APA’s Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues, noted that “every year, we get a group of people who . . . ask for homosexuality to be put back in the manual. . . . They’re, interestingly, the only group who does it. Every other group wants their diagnoses taken out . . . .” Drescher is quoted in Robert DiGiacomo, “Dr. H. Anonymous ‘Instant cure’ recalled: Being gay was an illness 30 years ago,” AGLP Newsletter, 28(3) (August 2002): 16–18 (reprinted from the Philadelphia Gay News), accessed June 8, 2022.

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.

‘Sick and In Prison’: Airborne Disease and Prison Reform in the career of John Howard (1726–1790) 

By Dr. Paul E. Sampson, Assistant Professor of History, The University of Scranton 

2020 Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellow in the History of Medicine and Public Health 

Over the course of the past year, I have had the privilege of spending four weeks researching in the spectacular rare book collection of the Library of the New York Academy of Medicine. My book project is entitled “Ventilating the Empire: Environmental Machines in Britain, 1700–1850” and comprises a scientific and social history of ventilation in Britain and the British empire during the long eighteenth century, roughly 1688 to 1815. By examining the design and deployment of ventilating machines in slave and naval ships, prisons and public buildings, I ask how devices designed to protect human beings from environmental hazards became a means of dividing British society along class and racial lines.  

Text Box

The primary subject of my research has been the life and career of prison reformer John Howard (1726–1790). I examine Howard’s career through the context of his work on “Jail Fever” (AKA typhus) which contemporary physicians and medical experts understood as an airborne disease. I argue that a key feature of Howard’s celebrity was his perceived invulnerability to airborne diseases. In addition, his influence helped to shift the discourse of prison reform away from overall institutional sanitation and towards methods intended to control the hygiene and morality of individual prisoners. 

For those unfamiliar, John Howard was a noble-born, intensely religious man who was appointed sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1773. One of his duties was to inspect local prisons. Unlike many of his genteel contemporaries, he took this job seriously. He was appalled by the conditions of the prisons in Bedfordshire, and to spur reform and gather ideas for improvement, he made a series of lengthy tours to visit as many prisons as he could throughout the British Isles and continental Europe. His first published book, The State of the Prisons in England and Wales (1777), detailed his visits to dozens of county jails and bridewells (workhouses), including careful notes of the fees charged to prisoners, their daily workload, the prison diet, and the overall sanitation.  

One of the primary goals of Howard’s travels was to find the best means of preventing the spread of disease. By the 1750s, prisons were increasingly perceived as public health hazards. The filthy and diseased condition of prisoners in London’s Newgate prison became a public scandal after the Lord Mayor and 56 others died of jail fever in the weeks following an audience with prisoners. Following the contemporary etiology of fever, the outbreak was attributed to the “putrid effluvia” exhaled in the breath of sick prisoners that had imparted a “poisonous quality” to the air in the courtroom.1 By 1774, Howard had achieved celebrity status by helping to author the “Act for Preserving the Health of Prisoners in Gaol.” This act stated that jail fever was caused by the “want of cleanliness and fresh air” and mandated that all interior walls and ceilings be scraped and white-washed annually and “constantly supplied with fresh air, by means of hand ventilators or otherwise.”2  

However, in the wake of this achievement, Howard’s attitudes about preventing fever had begun to shift. During his tours of European prisons, he was puzzled that he rarely encountered “jail distempers” there. To explain the disparity between these and disease-ridden English institutions, Howard developed a theory of jail fever based entirely on his own “experience.” He argued that prisoners could only be infected if privation, filth, and personal intemperance weakened them enough for the contagion to take hold. Young and healthy convicts who were used to “vigorous exercise” quickly became infected due to the “sudden change of diet and lodging” that “so affects the spirits of new convicts, that the general causes of putrid fevers exert an immediate effect on them.” As a counter-example, Howard pointed to himself. During his first tours, he wrote, he had attempted to avoid breathing in contagion by “smelling to vinegar… and changing my apparel…constantly and carefully.” A few years later, however, he wrote that he “entirely omitted” such precautions. In his opinion, the real protection against infection were his habits of “temperance and cleanliness” as well as the power of “divine providence.”3 

Image 2: Howard was keenly impressed by the prison regime in Bern, Switzerland. Howard wrote that the city was “one of the cleanest I have seen” and included illustrations of the employment of male and female prisoners as street cleaners. Note the iron collars with hooks affixed to the prisoners’ necks to deter escape attempts.  
“Employment of Criminals” and “Employment of female Criminals,” in John Howard. The State of the Prisons in England and Wales. 2nd. Ed. (Warrington: T. Cadell, 1780) 109–10. Images courtesy of the New York Academy of Medicine Library. 
 

By the time the second edition of State of the Prisons came out in 1780, Howard had visited hundreds of disease-ridden institutions and avoided contracting a serious infection. While friends privately cautioned him against such continual risk-taking, Howard’s superhuman invulnerability to disease had become a key feature of his celebrity.4 Celebratory poems about Howard became, in the estimation of two literary scholars, “nearly ubiquitous in the 1780s and 1790s” as poets from Erasmus Darwin to William Cowper celebrated his arduous travels and selfless virtue.5 William Hayley’s 1780 Ode, Inscribed to John Howard attributed Howard’s “matchless fame” to his “valor’s adventr’ous step” through “malignant cells” where “fierce contagion, with affright, repels.”6

Image 3: George Romney’s study for a never-completed painting of John Howard visiting a prison or lazaretto. Howard is the figure standing defiantly on the far left.  
George Romney, John Howard Visiting a Lazaretto (1790–95). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. 
 

This vision of Howard as a heroic and invincible figure appeared in numerous prints and lithographs and was captured evocatively in an unfinished work by famed painter George Romney, who depicted a defiant Howard striding confidently into scenes of melodramatic suffering and disease.7  

Despite his reputation, Howard wasn’t able to evade contagion forever. While travelling through southern Ukraine in the winter of 1790, Howard contracted a serious fever and died two weeks later.8 Notwithstanding his untimely death, Howard’s emphasis on invigorating labor, self-regulation, and instilling personal hygiene in convicts exerted an enormous influence. By the heyday of the modern penitentiary in the mid-nineteenth century, Howard was lauded as the founder of “prison science.”9 While jails designed during Howard’s life reflected the eighteenth-century emphasis on eliminating effluvia via ventilation, their nineteenth-century successors focused instead on insuring that each inmate was placed in solitary confinement and given a strict regimen of work and moral instruction.10  

In my larger project, I argue that this is partially due to a shifting locus of responsibility for preventing airborne disease. The attention of reformers shifted from the condition of the institution to the character of the individual, who became responsible for his or her own cleanliness and ventilation. To briefly illustrate this point, I will conclude with a quotation written several years after Howard’s death by naval health reformer Gilbert Blane: 

Those only whose duty leads them to consider the subject, are aware how much the welfare of the human species depends on ventilation and cleanliness; and no one could render a greater service to his fellow creatures, than to impress on their minds the necessity of cultivating them as moral and religious duties.11 


1. See, for example: John Pringle, Observations on the Nature and Cure of Hospital and Jayl-Fevers (London: A. Millar, 1750); “Account of the Fatal Assize,” CLA/035/02/049, Gaol Committee, 1750–1755, Notes on Ventilating Newgate, London Metropolitan Archives.

2. Act for Preserving the Health of Prisoners in Gaol and Preventing the Gaol Distemper, 1774, 14 Geo. III, c. 59.

3. John Howard, The State of the Prisons in England and Wales 2nd. Ed. (Warrington: T. Cadell 1780) 430–31.

4. Thomas Taylor, Memoirs of John Howard (London: John Hatchard, 1836) 386–87.

5. Gabriel Cervantes and Dahlia Porter, “Extreme Empiricism: John Howard, Poetry, and the Thermometrics of Reform,” The Eighteenth Century, 57:1 (Spring 2016): 97.

6. William Hayley, “Ode, Inscribed to John Howard” (Boston: J. White et. al. 1795 [1780]).

7. George Romney, John Howard Visiting a Prison or a Lazaretto, 1790–95, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.

8. John Aikin, A View of the Life, Travels, and Philanthropic Labours of the Late John Howard (Boston: J. White et. al., 1794) 120–25.

9. William Hepworth Dixon, John Howard and the Prison World of Europe, 2nd ed. (London: Jackson and Walford, 1850) 1.

10. Robin Evans, The Fabrication of Virtue: English Prison Architecture 1750–1840 (London: Cambridge UP, 1982) 104–114; Michael Ignatieff, A Just Measure of Pain (London: Penguin, 1978) 3–14.

11. Gilbert Blane, “Letter to John Hippisley,” in Observations on the Diseases of Seamen (London: 1799): 614–15.

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.

Health and Heresy

By Paul Theerman, Director

Because medicine deals with the human body, emotions can run high. When the issue is contraception, emotions run even higher. As part of Banned Books Week, consider two early U.S. works on birth control that shaped a congressional career, led to imprisonment at hard labor, and resulted in a conviction for blasphemy.

The first author is Robert Dale Owen (1801–1877). Son of Robert Owen, the British textile manufacturer and socialist reformer, Owen emigrated to the United States in 1825 to the utopian community that his father had founded that year in New Harmony, Indiana. There, with feminist and socialist Frances Wright (1795–1852), he published the newspaper New-Harmony Gazette, an outlet that expressed their then-radical views on women’s rights, slavery, public education, marriage, and birth control. After he and Wright relocated to New York City, they published Owen’s Moral Physiology; or, a Brief and Plain Treatise on the Population Question (1830), one of the first books on birth control in the United States. The book was a response to the ideas of English economist Thomas Malthus (1766–1834), who posited that, otherwise unchecked, population would always outpace food supply; Owen also saw birth control within a broader political and social context of personal freedom and equality of the sexes.

Title page of the Library’s copy of Robert Dale Owen’s Moral Physiology; or, a Brief and Plain Treatise on the Population Question, 5th edition, 1831, published through Owen’s partnership with Frances Wright.
“Alas, that it should ever have been born!” frontispiece to Owen’s Moral Physiology, showing a mother leaving a child at a foundling hospital. The engraving is by American artist and engraver Asher B. Durand, based on a work by French artist, Pierre-Roch Vigneron.
Title page from the Library’s copy of Charles Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy; or, the Private Companion of Adult People, 4th edition, 1839. (The title varied slightly from edition to edition.)

While in New York, Owen became acquainted with Charles Knowlton (1800–1850), a western Massachusetts physician. A materialist and freethinker, Knowlton published Fruits of Philosophy; or, the Private Companion of Young Married People in 1832. Designed as an aid to the couples he attended, the book was originally published anonymously and printed in a small format so it could be readily concealed. Fruits of Philosophy was the first U.S. birth control book written by a physician and went into detail on methods and practicality.

Birth control was a contentious issue for many reasons. Besides the works’ frankness about subjects not openly discussed, contraception was opposed on moral and religious grounds. One reason was the traditional idea that sex within marriage should have procreation as its purpose. Beyond this, birth control was thought to lead to greater immorality, promoting sex outside of marriage and even prostitution, as the natural obstacle against freer sexual activity—that is, pregnancy—had been removed.

Owen’s and Knowlton’s books had consequences. Owen returned to Indiana in 1833 and became an Indiana state legislator in 1835. Twice, though, he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and lost, partly on the reputation of Moral Physiology. He eventually prevailed on the strength of a Democratic electoral wave and served in the House from 1843 to 1847, helping to establish the Smithsonian Institution. His plans to remain in the House failed, though, due in part to his views on birth control, and he was defeated for re-election in 1846.

For Knowlton the consequences were far more severe. After he published Fruits of Philosophy, he was prosecuted and fined for obscenity. His booklet was then taken up by a former Unitarian minister, Abner Kneeland (1774–1844), who printed a second edition in Boston in 1832. The resulting publicity led to Knowlton’s again being convicted for obscenity and this time imprisoned for three months at hard labor. The controversy played into Kneeland’s trial for blasphemy, still a crime in Massachusetts. He was convicted in 1838 and served 60 days in jail, the last person to be imprisoned on that charge in the country. Upon his release, Kneeland moved to Iowa and set up “Salubria” (Health), a community of like-minded freethinkers.

Restricting access to contraceptive knowledge was American practice up to the mid-20th century, under the guise of anti-obscenity laws. The 1873 Federal statute known as the Comstock Law, made it illegal to use the U.S. Postal Service to distribute such information, while a 1909 act extended this ban to interstate common carriers such as railroads. Many states also had their own laws. Congress made one of the most severe laws for the District of Columbia, over which it had direct control: giving birth-control literature to another Washingtonian could result in 5 years’ imprisonment at hard labor and a $2,000 fine. Not until 1972 were all these laws overturned.

Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month: Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, PhD, RN, FAAN

By Logan Heiman, Digital Collections Manager

September 15 marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates the cultures, traditions, heritage, and achievements of those in the United States who trace their roots to Spain and the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. At the New York Academy of Medicine, we are celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of Hispanic Americans to medicine and public health in the United States. According to survey data compiled by the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis in 2018, more than 10% of registered nurses in the United States identified as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish. Contrast this with Ildaura Murillo-Rohde’s remarks about the paucity of representation in Washington, DC, for Hispanic nurses early in her career: “I saw that I was the only Hispanic nurse who was going to Washington to work with the federal government, review research and education grants, etc. There was nobody else. I looked behind me and thought: ‘Where are my people?’”

Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, PhD, RN, FAAN (1920–2010). National Association of Hispanic Nurses.

Ildaura Murillo-Rohde (1920–2010) was a Panamanian American nurse, academic, and health policy advocate who championed of the unique health care needs of Hispanic populations. Murillo-Rohde earned a nursing diploma from the Medical and Surgical Hospital School of Nursing in San Antonio, Texas, before obtaining an undergraduate degree in the teaching and supervision of psychiatric nursing from Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1953. Upon graduation, she joined Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, working with patients diagnosed with “Puerto Rican syndrome,” the name for a condition first used to describe traumatized Puerto Rican soldiers in the Korean War. Wayne County General Hospital’s Psychiatric Division in Michigan then recruited her before she returned to New York to open Elmhurst General Hospital’s first psychiatric division in Queens. In 1971 she became the first Hispanic nurse to earn a PhD from New York University.

Throughout her career Murillo-Rohde maintained a strong commitment to growing the ranks of Hispanic nurses. Informed by her experience as a reviewer of federal research and education grants, she also sought to boost the number of policy experts advising lawmakers on the health care concerns of Hispanic communities. In the 1970s, Murillo-Rohde was an active member of the American Nurses Association (ANA), where she mounted a two-year-long effort to include the Ad Hoc Committee of the Spanish-Speaking/Spanish Surname Nurses’ Caucus in the ANA’s administrative structure. In 1975, with a group of about 15 nurses, Murillo-Rohde formed the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) after the ANA rejected attempts to formally recognize the caucus.

Murillo-Rohde in the 1970s. Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, MC 172.

Since its inception, NAHN has worked broadly to improve health care delivery and outcomes for the Hispanic community in the United States. Today, the organization sponsors an award for distinction in nursing scholarship, research, and practice, as well as a scholarship for Hispanic students enrolled in nursing programs that lead to licensure.

NAHN also publishes Hispanic Health Care International, featuring research and scholarship on issues of import to US and international Hispanic populations. Judith Aponte, a 2012 NYAM Fellow and Associate Professor of Nursing at Hunter College, is a former editor-in-chief of HHCI.

Beyond her role as founder and first president of NAHN, Murillo-Rohde was an expert on psychotherapy, marriage, and family therapy, and served in several roles in academic administration, including Dean of the College of Nursing at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Murillo-Rohde’s influence was felt internationally as well through her appointment as WHO’s psychiatric consultant to the Guatemalan government, establishing a pilot program to train personnel in psychiatric care. She further served as Permanent UN Representative to UNICEF for the International Federation of Business and Professional Women. Murillo-Rohde passed away in her native Panama in 2010 at the age of 89.

References

1. Aponte, Judith. School of Nursing at Hunter College, City University of New York, 2021. http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/nursing/faculty/judith-aponte

2. Brush, Barbara & Villarruel, Antonia (2014). “Heeding the Past, Leading the Future.” Hispanic Health Care International. 12. DOI: 10.1891/1540-4153.12.4.159.

3. Feldman Harriet, PhD, RN, FAAN, et al. Nursing Leadership: A Concise Encyclopedia. 2nd ed., Springer Publishing Company, 2011, p. 393.

4. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde Papers, Barbara Bates Center for The Study of The History of Nursing, School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania.

5. Portillo, Carmen. “25 and Counting.” Minority Nurse Magazine. 30 Mar. 2013. https://minoritynurse.com/25-and-counting/

6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Center for Health Workforce Analysis. 2019. Brief Summary Results from the 2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, Rockville, Maryland. https://data.hrsa.gov/DataDownload/NSSRN/GeneralPUF18/nssrn-summary-report.pdf

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.

Uncovering Literature’s Hidden Medical Powers in the NYAM Library

by Angus Fletcher, PhD, 20032004 Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellow

Did you know that after William Shakespeare lost his son Hamnet, he forged a literary invention that can alleviate grief by acting on the emotional circuitry of our brain’s amygdala? Shakespeare tucked it into Hamlet, from where it made its way into modern literary classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

Did you know that there are two types of PTSD—and that literature contains therapies for both? The first was devised by Greek playwrights in fifth-century BCE to help military veterans recover from the psychological damage of battle; the second by the modern American cartoonist Alison Bechdel to help survivors of chronic domestic abuse.

And did you know that ancient fairy tales contain an antidote to the mental malady that modern psychiatrists refer to as catastrophizing? Or that the antidote was removed by the 18th-century French author Charles Perrault when he penned his version of Cinderella—which is why it doesn’t exist in the modern fairy tales of Disney’s magic kingdom?

These remarkable—and even fantastical—claims are backed by empirical research that originated during two summer months that I spent at the New York Academy of Medicine Library back in 2003. I had just completed a PhD on Shakespeare at Yale, but my prior background was neuroscience: devoting four years to studying how brain cells communicated and publishing my findings in decidedly nonliterary venues such as The Journal of Biological Chemistry. And, in fact, my focus on the brain was the main reason I had ventured out of a science lab into a literature seminar. I had discovered that the world’s earliest known work of literary criticism, Aristotle’s Poetics, had hypothesized that literature possessed a psychological—in fact, medical—function: purging trauma via a mysterious mechanism termed catharsis.

Despite my curiosity about these matters, I never found anyone willing to fund my research into literature’s healing properties. Until, that is, I approached the New York Academy of Medicine, which granted me $5,000 to devote to exploring the question: Can literature actually do what Aristotle supposed? Can theater, poems, and novels nurture our mental health and well-being?

In the New York Academy of Medicine Library I began grappling with those questions by focusing on a specific case study: the rebellion launched by a group of early-20th-century novelists—Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Virginia Woolf among them—against the “rest cure,” a now discredited psychiatric treatment, chiefly prescribed to women, for “neurasthenia,” or what we might call heightened cognitive reactivity.

To help me understand what the rest cure was—and why Gilman and Woolf found it so repugnant—Arlene Shaner and the New York Academy of Medicine’s librarians took me on a tour of the pseudoscientific works of the rest cure’s inventor, Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, including his eerily titled Fat and blood: an essay on the treatment of certain forms of neurasthenia and hysteria (New York: J. B. Lippincott Co, 1888). From there, I was guided through the Library’s collections to consult a first edition of William James’s Principles of Psychology (New York: Henry Holt, 1890), the textbook that inspired the novelists to replace the rest cure with an alternative literary treatment.

S. Weir Mitchell, Fat and Blood: An Essay on the Treatment of Certain Forms of Neurasthenia and Hysteria, 4th ed. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1885), title page.

That literary treatment worked by stimulating what James referred to in Principles of Psychology as a “stream of consciousness” whose fluid liquidity gentled the emotional “shocks” of heightened cognitive reactivity.

William James, The Principles of Psychology, 2 vols. (New York: H. Holt and Company, 1890), 1:239, from Chapter IX, “The Stream of Thought.”

Prior to Woolf, versions of that stream had been attempted by novelists such as Marcel Proust, Dorothy Richardson, and James Joyce. But while Proust and Richardson had written in a fluid first-person style, and Joyce had written in an atomistic third-person style, Woolf realized that James’s therapy could more effectively be translated into literature by combining Joyce’s third-person with Proust and Richardson’s fluidity. That combination allows our reading mind to flow above a troubled consciousness, observing its ripples without feeling their shock. Consider this passage from Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, where the novel’s innovative machinery encourages our thoughts to register the “something awful” while our emotions glide tranquilly past.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, ‘Musing among the vegetables?’—was that it?—’I prefer men to cauliflowers’—was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace—Peter Walsh. He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which, for his letters were awfully dull. . .

George Charles Beresford, “Virginia Woolf in 1902,” via Wikipedia.

The spirit I found in the NYAM Library was as important as the documents I perused there. A physical library in the halls of medicine can seem an old-fashioned thing nowadays, when JAMA pre-publishes its newest articles online and few physicians can spare the time to ensconce themselves in a reading carrel. But I benefited deeply from the reflective experience of having the Library’s physical books, manuscripts, and papers before me as my guide, providing a respite from modern life’s relentless speed and carrying me back to the dwelling places where medicine began: the mind’s curiosity and the heart’s care.

In the many years since, I have gone on to partner with doctors, psychologists, and neuroscientists on collaborative research. Most recently, I have engaged in a three-year longitudinal study with Ohio State’s College of Medicine on how reading novels and memoirs can reduce burnout in medical students. And I have authored dozens of book chapters for university press publishers such as Johns Hopkins, Oxford, and Princeton, and dozens of articles for such scholarly journals as Critical Inquiry, Narrative, and New Literary History on the medical and well-being benefits of literature.

None of this work would have happened without that summer, which became for me, as for the many thousands of seekers who have been given the chance to use the New York Academy of Medicine’s Library, a testament to the power of books. The power age-old but vital as ever. The power to teach, to uplift, and even to heal.

_____

Angus Fletcher is Professor of Story Science at Ohio State’s Project Narrative. A popular account of his research into literature’s medical and well-being effects, including the rest-cure alternative invented by Virginia Woolf, can be found in Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature (Simon and Schuster, 2021). This work has been praised by Martin Seligman as “enchanting,” by Dr. Rita Charon as “a tour-de-force,” and by Antonio Damasio as “the perfect counter to our season in hell.”

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.