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.

Highlighting NYAM Women in Medical History: Emily Dunning Barringer, MD

By Paul Theerman, Director

Academy Fellows lead by serving, now during the COVID-19 crisis as in the past. This is the sixth entry in our 2020 series on early women NYAM Fellows and their contributions to society. For earlier posts, see Sara Josephine BakerMartha WollsteinDaisy Maude Orleman RobinsonSarah McNutt, and Elizabeth Martha Cushier. Please also see our biographical sketch of Mary Putnam Jacobi, the first female Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine.

While Emily Dunning Barringer (1876–1961) shares many things in common with other early women Fellows of the Academy, she can claim one unique distinction: having her life story made into a feature film. The Girl in White—based on Barringer’s 1950 memoir, Bowery to Bellevue: The Story of New York’s First Woman Ambulance Surgeon—debuted in 1952 and starred June Allyson. In the film as in her life, Barringer overcame both institutional barriers and deliberate affronts as she pursued a career as a woman professional in an overwhelmingly male world.

June Allyson portraying Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer in the 1952 film The Girl in White. Promotional photograph from the private collection of NYAM Fellow Patricia Gallagher.

Barringer was born in 1876 to a wealthy family in Scarsdale, New York. Her parents, Edwin James Dunning and Frances Gore Lang, believed that all children, regardless of gender, should be educated and trained to support themselves. The family fell on hard financial times when Barringer was 10, and a well-meaning friend’s suggestion that perhaps the young girl should train as a milliner only served to strengthen Frances Dunning’s resolve for her daughter to receive a college education. With the support of her uncle, Henry Sage, one of the founders of Cornell University, Barringer did so, graduating from Cornell in 1897 before going on to medical school at the College of Medicine of the New York Infirmary, which merged with the new Cornell University School of Medicine during her time as a student.

The NYAM plaque honoring Barringer’s service as an ambulance surgeon in New York City hospitals.

Graduating from medical school in 1901, Barringer applied for a residency at New York City’s Gouverneur Hospital but was rejected despite receiving the second highest score on the qualifying exam. Undeterred, and with the help of Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, she reapplied the following year and this time was accepted, becoming the first woman to earn a position as surgical resident. Acceptance into the program, however, did not mean acceptance by other residents or their supervising physicians, and in her autobiography, Barringer recounted that she had been harassed and given the most difficult and unpleasant assignments and schedules. One difficult role, however, she sought herself, that of ambulance physician, and when she was given the position, she achieved a second “first”: the first female ambulance surgeon. Overcoming the skepticism of her male colleagues who felt that a woman would not be able to withstand the physical challenges of the role, she went on to earn not only their respect, but also the respect of city firefighters, police officers, and the patients she treated in Manhattan’s Lower East Side tenements.

She fell in love with fellow doctor Ben Barringer during her residency, and they married in 1904 when her residency ended. She immediately experienced frustration because her opportunities for work and further training were so much more constrained than her new husband’s. The pair lived for a short time in Vienna where both attended class, and then returned to New York City. Barringer took a position on the gynecological staff at New York Polyclinic Hospital and worked as an attending surgeon at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, where she specialized in the study of venereal diseases.

Poster for the 1952 MGM film The Girl in White. From the private collection of NYAM Fellow Patricia Gallagher.

During World War I Barringer served as vice chair of the American Women’s Hospitals War Service Committee of the National Medical Women’s Association (later the American Medical Women’s Association). In that role, she spearheaded a campaign to raise money for the purchase of ambulances to be sent to Europe. When the war ended, she became an attending surgeon at Brooklyn’s Kingston Avenue Hospital and subsequently its director of gynecology. She was a member of the American Medical Association and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and The New York Academy of Medicine. In 1941 Barringer was elected president of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA).

Over the course of her long medical career, Barringer advocated for legislation that would control the spread of venereal disease and authored numerous articles on gynecology. As Chair of the Special Committee of the American Medical Women’s Association, Barringer was decorated by the King of Serbia for championing the service of female physicians during World War I. As co-chair of the War Service Committee, she helped to organize the American Women’s Hospital in Europe, which provided medical and surgical care during the war and postwar reconstruction. During World War II, Barringer successfully lobbied Congress to allow women physicians (who had been allowed to work only as contract physicians and were consequently denied the benefits earned by their male counterparts) to serve as commissioned officers in the medical corps of the Army and Navy.

After World War II, Emily Barringer and her husband retired to Connecticut. She died there in 1961.

_____

References

Changing the Face of Medicine: Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer; National Library of Medicine. https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_23.html. Accessed November 10, 2020.

Women Physicians in WWII: Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer; American Medical Women’s Association. https://www.amwa-doc.org/wwibios/dr-emily-dunning-barringer/. Accessed November 10, 2020.

Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer; Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. https://www.cwhf.org/inductees/emily-barringer. Accessed November 10, 2020.

Women in Medicine: Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer; Mental Floss. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/63610/women-medicine-dr-emily-dunning-barringer. Accessed November 10, 2020.

Highlighting NYAM Women in Medical History: Elizabeth Martha Cushier, MD

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

Academy Fellows lead by serving, now during the COVID-19 crisis as in the past. This is the fifth entry in our series on early women NYAM Fellows and their contributions to society; for earlier posts, see Sara Josephine BakerMartha WollsteinDaisy Maude Orleman Robinson, and Sarah McNutt. Please also see our biographical sketch of Mary Putnam Jacobi, the first female Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine.

When Elizabeth Cushier (1837–1931) was elected a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine in 1889, she was only the third woman to be invited into the Academy, joining two of her colleagues from the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi and Dr. Sarah McNutt.

Cushier was born in Jamaica, New York, on November 25, 1837, a daughter of John Henry and Martha Lumley Cushier. She was the sixth of eleven children, but three of her older siblings had died before she was born; five other younger siblings followed. In her autobiography, published as an appendix to Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead’s Medical Women of America, Cushier said this about her childhood: “We were brought up in the strictest economy, as my father’s income was a very limited one, but we were, as I remember, a happy, healthy lot, quite enterprising and consequently often trying.”[i] When she was sixteen, the family moved to Little Falls, New Jersey. Cushier quickly became friendly with the Hinton family, who had also relocated from New York, and forged a life-long friendship with Ione Hinton. The family’s wide-ranging intellectual interests, along with their support of abolitionism and women’s suffrage, resonated with her and encouraged her independent spirit.

After her mother died in 1859, Cushier took on much of the household responsibility, caring for her father and her four living younger siblings. His remarriage a year later freed her to go to New York, where she got a position singing with a church choir and gave private voice lessons. In the summer of 1868, she happened to read a medical article that sparked her interest, and she enrolled in the homeopathic New York Medical College for Women before transferring a year later to Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell’s Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, graduating in 1872.

Cushier’s 1872 graduation noted in the Annual Announcement of the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, noting her thesis topic as “Endometritis.” Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary (N.Y.). Annual catalogue and announcement. New York: S. Angell, 1871.

Cushier stayed on at the Infirmary, beginning as an intern before becoming a resident physician. Her practice was devoted to obstetrics and gynecology, but an interest in normal and pathological histology led to eighteen months of study in Zurich with a Professor Ebert, who offered her laboratory opportunities that were not yet available to women in the United States. Laboratory research, pathological and post-mortem study, lectures, and bedside clinics all enriched her knowledge before she returned to New York.

The Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary on Stuvvesant Square. Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary (N.Y.). Annual catalogue and announcement. New York: M.J. Rooney, 1891.

On her return, Cushier went right back to the Infirmary, and worked to expand the practice of gynecological surgery there. Thomas Addis Emmet and T. Gaillard Thomas, who were on the staff at the Woman’s Hospital (and both of whom were NYAM Fellows), allowed her to attend clinics there, and the Infirmary, in its larger home on Stuyvesant Square, eventually added a modern operating room for both gynecological and abdominal surgeries. As her work at the Infirmary and her private practice continued to grow, she published articles and case studies, mainly about gynecological and obstetrical subjects.[ii]

In 1882, Cushier’s personal life changed significantly when she and Emily Blackwell (1826–1910) began to live together in Blackwell’s home on East 20th Street. Cushier and Blackwell also bought a summer home, Seawold, near York Cliffs, Maine, in 1893. After the Woman’s Medical College closed its doors in 1899, both women retired from practice and headed to Europe, where they spent eighteen months. On their return, they gave up their city home, moving to Montclair, New Jersey, where Cushier’s niece, Dr. Emily Mercelis, also lived. When Blackwell died in September 1910, just a few months after her older sister Elizabeth (1821–1910) died in England, Cushier called the moment “an irreparable break in my life.”[iii]

Elizabeth Cushier and Emily Blackwell’s home in Montclair, NJ. Photograph by Elisa Rolle, originally published in her Queer Places: Retracing the Steps of LGBTQ People around the World. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.

Cushier lived for another 20 years, going to Maine in the summers and living in Montclair for the rest of the year. No longer engaged in the practice of medicine, she felt her days were not useful, until the First World War brought the opportunity to do relief work for French and Belgian women and children and for servicemen through the Red Cross. She died on November 25, 1931, her 94th birthday, and is buried, alongside her parents, in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

________

Notes

[i] Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead, MD. Medical Women of America: A short history of the pioneer medical women of America and a few of their colleagues in England. Froben Press; 1933: 85.

[ii] A full list of Cushier’s publications can be found in Creese, Mary RS. Ladies in the Laboratory? American and British Women in Science, 1800–1900: a survey of their contributions to research. Scarecrow Press, 2000: 392.

[iii] Hurd-Mead. Medical Women of America, 92.

Highlighting NYAM Women in Medical History: Sarah McNutt, MD

By Miranda Schwartz, Cataloger

Academy Fellows lead by serving, now during the COVID-19 crisis as in the past. This is the fourth entry in our series on early women NYAM Fellows and their contributions to society; for earlier posts, see Sara Josephine Baker, Martha Wollstein, and Daisy Maude Orleman Robinson. Please also see our biographical sketch of Mary Putnam Jacobi, the first female Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine.

The interconnected medical interests of New York Academy of Medicine Fellow Dr. Sarah McNutt show deep curiosity, energy, and a dedication to service: “She trained as a pediatrician, gynecologist, and pathologist and developed a special interest in the study of pediatric neurologic disorders.”[1] During her professional life in New York City, she worked closely with prominent women doctors Emily and Elizabeth Blackwell and Mary Putnam Jacobi. With Jacobi and others she was key in founding the New York Post-Graduate Medical School and Hospital; with her twin sister Julia, also a doctor, she founded the Postgraduate Training School for Nurses and Babies’ Hospital.[2]

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Sarah Jane McNutt (July 22, 1839–September 10, 1930) was the second female Fellow of NYAM (admitted 1888). She was the first woman to be inducted into the American Neurological Association, and cofounded Babies’ Hospital in NYC. Portrait of Sarah J. McNutt, M.D., undated, From the National Library of Medicine.

McNutt was born in Warrensburg, New York, in 1839, to James and Adaline McNutt. She attended Albany Normal School and then continued her education at the Emma Willard Seminary in Troy, New York. She worked as a teacher before attending medical school at Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary (founded by the Blackwell sisters). After her graduation in 1877, she did a two-year internship at the Infirmary’s hospital.[3]

In the mid-1880s McNutt saw the city’s clear need for more beds for pediatric patients; at the time New York had only a handful of beds for sick children under the age of 2.[4] With her sister and three other women, McNutt founded Babies’ Hospital at its first location at Lexington Avenue and 45th Street.[5] Babies’ Hospital also ran a “Summer Branch” in Oceanic, NJ, where the children went between June and October to recover away from the city heat and noise.[6] Babies’ Hospital existed as its own entity until 1943, when it became fully part of Presbyterian Hospital; today, its successor institution, Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian, is one of the country’s most highly rated pediatric hospitals.

Babies Hospital NYHS cropped

Babies’ Hospital moved a few times. This Lexington Avenue building designed by York & Sawyer was its home from 1902 to 1929. (From the George P. Hall and Son Photograph Collection, New-York Historical Society, undated.)

McNutt also collaborated with Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi and others to establish the New York Post-Graduate Medical School and Hospital on East 23rd Street, “an institution dedicated to the continuing education of male and female physicians, especially through the sponsorship of weekly lectures on medical topics.”[7] At this institution, “lectures by capable women were as acceptable as those by men”[8]; here, McNutt gave regular weekly lectures on pediatric diseases, one of her own special areas of study.

But it was not only in the lecture hall that McNutt imparted her knowledge: her use of morgue research in pediatric neurology was a key contributor to a fuller understanding of hemiplegia and its causes, as well as other conditions. “The idea of utilizing the material at the morgue for instruction in the pathological conditions of children was original with her, and thus her classes at the New York Post-Graduate Medical School had practical experience on all the operations performed on children, while she found here an excellent opportunity to perfect herself in gynecological surgery and abdominal work.”[9]

In 1884 Dr. R.W. Amidon, who knew McNutt from the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, nominated her for admission to the American Neurological Association. She had an excellent reputation as a gynecologist, pathologist, surgeon, and lecturer. The ANA required an original unpublished work for a candidate to be considered for admission and limited the number of active members to just 50.[10] McNutt’s thesis paper for admission, “Double Infantile Spastic Hemiplegia,” was “an important contribution to medical literature in the United States”[11] and she was admitted to the select group. Her 1884 achievement stands out even more in light of the fact that the ANA did not elect another woman member until 1935, with Dr. Lauretta Bender. In 1888, McNutt became NYAM’s second female Fellow.

Sarah McNutt helped establish leading local medical institutions, lectured on pediatric diseases, performed gynecologic surgery, contributed to prestigious professional organizations, and led the way in morgue research. Her desire to serve, her entrepreneurial initiative, and her hands-on approach to research, coupled with her close connections to other prominent female physicians, made her an integral part of the New York medical community.

________

Notes

[1] Stacy S. Horn, DO, and Christopher G. Goetz, MD. The election of Sarah McNutt as the first woman member of the American Neurological Association, Historical Neurology. 2002; 59: 113–117.

[2] Ibid, 114.

[3] Ibid, 113.

[4] Ibid, 114.

[5] Tom Miller. The 1902 Babies’ Hospital — 135 East 55th Street. http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-1902-babies-hospital-135-east-55th.html. Accessed August 25, 2020.

[6] Robert J. Touloukian. Origins of Pediatric Surgery: Patient, Doctor and Hospital. John Jones Surgical Society. Summer 2007; volume 10 (number 1): 5–6.

[7] Horn and Goetz, 114.

[8] Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead, MD. Medical Women of America: A short history of the pioneer medical women of America and a few of their colleagues in England.  Froben Press; 1933: 38.

[9] The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume XV. New York: James T. White & Company; 1916: 264.

[10] Horn and Goetz, 116.

[11] Ibid, 116.

References

Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead, MD. Medical Women of America: A short history of the pioneer medical women of America and a few of their colleagues in England.  Froben Press; 1933.

Stacy S. Horn, DO, and Christopher G. Goetz, MD. The election of Sarah McNutt as the first woman member of the American Neurological Association, Historical Neurology. 2002; 59: 113–117.

The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume XV. New York: James T. White & Company; 1916.

Robert J. Touloukian. Origins of Pediatric Surgery: Patient, Doctor and Hospital. John Jones Surgical Society. Summer 2007; volume 10 (number 1): 5–6.

Reflections on Past Pandemics: A Bibliography of Historical Articles

By Hannah Johnston, Library volunteer

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The plague in Danzig (in what is now Poland) in 1709, giving the death tolls from within the city (24,533), the outskirts (8,066), and the total of the two (32,599). From “Abbildung von der groszen Pest in Dantzig, 1709

From July 2019 until March 2020, with few exceptions, I spent one day out of every week in the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room of the NYAM Library. As a volunteer, I wrote for this blog, Books, Health, and History, on various topics that utilized sources from the Library’s collections; I wrote about monsters, famous female physicians, and even libraries themselves. In March, as the threat of COVID-19 became clearer, the reading room closed, and I (among many others) could no longer consult the physical collections at the NYAM Library. After discussing with Library staff, I decided that my next project would use the digital resources and collections I am lucky to have access to as a student. I compiled a bibliography of historical literature on the topic du jour—pandemics. 

Awareness that one is living through a historical moment is relatively rare; this awareness has led many to look to the past for hints as to how the current COVID-19 pandemic might impact the world going forward. In compiling this bibliography, I hoped to curate a resource that historians and history enthusiasts alike could use for research on epidemic history, personal interest, or simply to try to place our present moment in a larger historical context. I searched through several databases, including JSTOR, Project MUSE, and the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine database, looking specifically for journal articles from the last two decades which used a historical perspective to discuss pandemic or epidemic diseases. 

 

Fasciculus Plague 1509

A plague visitation scene from a 1509 edition of Fasciculus Medicinae, one of the earliest illustrated medical books to be printed. Image from the NYAM Digital Collections.

I limited my search to only those articles which are available in full digitally. This choice was made in part out of necessity—during a pandemic, a person may not be able to visit a library to find and read the journal they are looking for. Since I was “volunteering from home,” I could only read through and write descriptions for articles to which I had full digital access. Of course, this is not a perfect solution. Many articles were omitted from this bibliography because they are not available online, and they would surely have been useful.  The digital articles are still for the most part only available to readers with either individual or institutional subscriptions to the relevant databases or journals.

 

My own experience compiling this bibliography taught me quite a bit about the long and ever-changing relationship between humanity and disease throughout history. Some diseases and disease events, such as the influenza pandemic of 1918, can provide an example (or a warning) of how different public health responses can affect long-term outcomes. Others, such as the Black Death, HIV/AIDS, and countless others, show us how disease has changed art, politics, the environment, and even the minutiae of human behavior. We have already seen many of the ways COVID-19 has changed our daily lives. While it is important not to underplay the devastation wrought by epidemic disease, reading about the impacts of other, similar disease outbreaks makes it clear that this pandemic will bring with it (and perhaps already has) significant cultural, social, and economic change, and perhaps offers us some guidance in navigating the “new normal.”

 

1918 flu pandemic

Red Cross volunteers wearing and making gauze masks at Camp Devens near Boston in 1918. From the Centers for Disease Control 1918 Pandemic Historical Image Gallery.

 

Compiling the bibliography was certainly a survey for me in the history of disease, but also highlighted several obstacles brought on or exacerbated by the modern-day pandemic. The biggest of these, at least in relation to this bibliography, is access—for all the work I did to collect and curate these digital articles, and despite the fact that many databases, journals, and other resources have made some or all of their articles free to read, many of them are still accessible only to a select few. The debate over who has or should have access to academic works is one that predates the pandemic, and is perhaps beyond the scope of a blog post. The COVID-19 crisis, however, impacts everyone, and the articles in this bibliography would almost certainly be of value to any reader. When the day finally comes that the coronavirus is no longer the threat it is today, it will still be important to read and write about it—work which everyone should have the resources to do.

I hope this bibliography can be a useful and informative resource for anyone who wishes to better understand how the coronavirus pandemic fits into a much larger historical context. The history of epidemic disease can inform how we interpret our experiences and plan our next steps in the current crisis. No less important, we can consider how our modern-day experience with a pandemic informs the ways we interpret the past.

Check out Pandemics in Historical Perspective: A Bibliography for Evaluating the Impacts of Diseases Past and Present .