The History of New York State
Book 12, Chapter 13, Part 7

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


One young surgeon, John Allan Wyeth, who was graduated in medicine in 1869, in a southern college, practiced only for six weeks before becoming convinced that he "needed a thorough clinical and laboratory training, and could not conscientiously practice without it." In 1872 he came to New York City, but, to this surprise and disappointment, found that the city medical schools afforded no opportunity for graduate study, except by attending the lectures in common with undergraduates. However, he took the degree of ad eundem at Bellevue hospital Medical College in 1873, and in that year became an assistant demonstrator of anatomy therein. He did so because he sought opportunities for research that in no other way were open to him. New York University Medical College saw the need of graduate study and established a graduate course or post-graduate course as it is called, in 1875. It was directed by a supplementary faculty, so-called to differentiate the graduate school professors form those of the governing faculty of the undergraduate school of medicine. As the years passed, the supplementary faculty wished to have wider authority. This was not possible, as the university itself was in serious financial difficulties in the late seventies. In February, 1881, the University Council considered a proposal to suspend temporarily the academic department and divert its assets "to the project of rendering autonomous and independent the Post-Graduate department in the school of Medicine." The council deemed that such a diversion of its funds would constitute "a perversion of the trust"; so the plans of the Graduate School of Medicine could not be carried out. The professors had asked for a separate building, realizing how "utterly impossible" it was for them to "give adequate instruction in the manner in which things were arranged--the undergraduates and graduates together." It was charged that "the examinations were a farce"; and, as there was little hope of conditions becoming better, owing to the financial limitations of the university, the seven professors of the post-graduate faculty resigned on April 4, 1892.

That very day may be looked upon as the date of the organization of the New York Post-Graduate medical School, for it was in their freedom to act after resigning that these seven professors resolved to continue their lectures to graduates in an exclusively graduate school which they would found.

The seven professors, whose names as "founders of the institution" were subsequently deposited in the cornerstone of the building erected for the New York Post-

Graduate Medical School and Hospital, were William A. Hammond, James L. Little, D. B. St. John Roosa, Frederick R. Sturgis, Montrose R. Pallen, John W. S. Gouley, and Henry G. Piffard. However, had the trustees of Cornell University confirmed the action of their executive committee, in offering to unite the incipient New York Post-Graduate Medical School with an undergraduate medical department, to belong to Cornell University, the plans of the seceding professors would necessarily have been altered. The negotiations with Cornell took place in 1882, after the seven professors had withdrawn from New York University.

Two graduate schools of medicine came into existence in 1882, the New York Polyclinic and the New York Post-Graduate. Both claim to have been the first. As a matter of fact, they should be looked upon as almost simultaneous--indeed, almost as part of the same movement. I the Polyclinic should pay emphasis on the fact that its first session opened in 1882, fifteen days ahead of the first session of the Post-Graduate, the latter might, with some justification, add to its life the seven previous years in which the Post-Graduate founders and faculty constituted to all intents the graduate department of New York University Medical College. It seems that the founder of the New York Polyclinic, Dr. John Allan Wyeth, while he was still a teacher in Bellevue, planned to established a graduate school. In 1877, he went so far as to undertake to organize such a school. His plan met with the approval of several eminent medical men, among them Drs. J. Marion Sims, Willard Parker, Frank H. Hamilton and Abraham Jacobi. They, however, hesitated to join Dr. Wyeth, felling that such a project could be successful only of well endowed. Dr. Wyeth "tried without success to raise the amount deemed necessary," and finally, in the early winter of 1881, had to abandon the undergraduate feature and concentrate upon the organization of a graduate school. During the winter of 1881-82, the following physicians and surgeons accepted professorships in the Polyclinic School; John A. Wyeth, Virgil P. Gibney, E. Gruening, W. Gill Wylie, Landon Cater Gray, A. R. Robinson, Richard Brandeis and Louis Elsberg. In the "Journal of the American Medical Association," issue of February 5, 1916, is to be found the facsimile of a letter written by Dr. Wyeth on March 28, 1878, to Dr. J. Marion Sims, who was then in Paris, which letter substantially corroborates the version stated above of the Polyclinic movement. So, perhaps, in tracing the points to their finest, it is seen that the Polyclinic appears in the calendar just a little before the Post-Graduate. Of great satisfaction, however, is it to realize that these two schools bring to New York the distinction of being the first State in the world to organize and establish an entirely graduate school of medicine.

One version of the organization of the two schools is that the Polyclinic school "was talked over and agreed to in some kind of way" in 1881, but that "no public announcement was made until after the Post-Graduate School was fully launched." As a matter of fact, those who were trying to found the Polyclinic sought, in 1880, to draw the professors of the New York University graduate department into their project, and might have done so had the financial basis of the projected school been reasonably secure. Thus it seems that even then the ultimate founders of the Post Graduate School were to some extent parties to the Polyclinic movement.

The meeting for organizations of the New York Post-Graduate Medical School was held on June 15, 1882. In July of that year public announcements was made, and on November 6, 1882, 100 graduates began a course. Six physicians were in attendance, as demonstrators, though the first annual announcement shows the names of nine professors, eight associate professors and eight instructors. The demonstrations were given in the old College of Pharmacy building on East twenty-third Street, and, inasmuch as they had no hospital, the teachers were compelled to supply their clinics with such patients as were able to walk to the building. It was inconvenient, but the faculty resolutely adhered to the fundamental principle upon which the school was organized, viz.: That all teaching should be actual demonstration of patients, and that didactic lecturing should have no part in its methods of instruction. In 1884, however, the Post-Graduate School was able to follow out the hospital idea to an extent. A ward for surgical diseases of women was opened, also come rooms for individual pay-patients, the school having no endowment with which to support free beds.

The Polyclinic Medical School began less auspiciously, but the institution was able in its first year to provide better clinical opportunities for its students than were possible to those of the rival school. The first session began in what has been described as "the old barn," the basement and ground floor at 214-16 East Thirty-fourth Street being rented for a number of years for dispensary and school purposes. Eighteen students were present on the opening day, October 23, 1882, but during the session the number increased to 182. The "Report of the Free Dispensary of the New York Polyclinic" for the first two years (October 23, 1882 to October 31, 1884) show that 15,960 patients received gratuitous treatment during the period, at the cost of $19,376.17, "every dollar of which, with the exception of $502 received fro the excise fund, was contributed by the board of directors."

This altruistic spirit was in evidence in both schools, as indeed it is in many professional schools and hospitals. For instance, an early announcement of the Post-Graduate School made clear the fact that no professor benefited pecuniarily, their labors being given mainly for the betterment of the professional body in general. "It has always been an inflexible rule of the school," states the announcement, "that no teacher should be allowed to give private instruction to students for which he received a fee." More than that, any deficit in the expense of conducting the school was met by the faculty. The altruism which marked the early years of both schools was continued even after they became strong institutions. After three or four decades of operation, one of the journals of the New York Polyclinic Medical School was able to state that the institution "stands for an ideal which represents the highest and best in scientific medicine and surgery; it stands for an altruism which is evidenced in the fact that 350 men and women, laboring day in and day out for its success, are not only working without remuneration, but many of them are giving, in addition to their time and labor, generously of their private means."

Imbued with such a helpful spirit, it is not surprising that the two graduate schools, huge as is their hospital service, have grown steadily. The Post-Graduate School is somewhat larger, but each is larger then any other graduate school of medicine in the world. Prior to 1918, when the New York Polyclinic Medical School and Hospital became the Post-Graduate Medical Department of Columbia University--retaining its original name however--the Polyclinic had graduated more than 20,000 students, the matriculates coming from all parts of the United States, as well as from Canada, Mexico, the south American countries, West Indies, Australia, China, Japan. The achievements of the New York Post-Graduate medical School and Hospital had been even greater. More than a thousand physicians take its graduate courses in a normal year. Not all become specialists, but medical practice is certainly bettered by the knowledge gained in graduate schools. In the graduate medical schools of New York lay, according to one writer, "the chief stimulus to the advance of medical thought and science in the United States; a stimulus that was felt not only throughout this country. . . . .but across the sea as well, where this system has been adopted, in London and other cities." As was stated ina recent Port-Graduate Medical School announcement, "the day of the haphazard association of clinical facts is passed. Modern medical teaching must be scientific, and the old fallacious idea of scientific versus practical work is a thing of the past. The physicians represent higher ideals than heretofore, and his work demands more and more scientific training."

Out of the needs of specialization is coming the medical centre--the grouping of almost all branches of medical instruction within a radius that will facilitate instruction and observation. Heretofore, medical students, undergraduates and graduate, "would have to travel from one end of the city to the other to get to the eye and ear clinic or the nose and throat hospital, and back to school again." "Now, a new vision dawns upon the medical world--the vision of the old family physician and the unified medical school reborn in a great group enterprise which will take the scattered specialists in every field, along with the hospitals and clinics which have grown up around them, and gather them all together in one vast collective agency dedicated to the more effective service of the individual patient and the advancement of the medical profession." #26 The age of the medical centre is here. The idea has taken root and medical centres have been built around the Harvard Medical School in Boston, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, and elsewhere. New York has not been a pioneer in this, but more than a decade ago Dean Lambert, of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, of Columbia University, voiced his suggestions for the full utilization of New York's unrivaled opportunities for medical research and instruction; and since the World War seriously crippled most of the European medical centres, America has actually become the medical centre of the world. The importance of this to New York is in the undoubted fact that New York City, with its 7,000,000 of people, with its immense wealth--represented in medicine by some of the largest and best equipped medical schools, hospitals and research institutions in the world--could and should be made the leading medical centre of the world. Columbia University, with the College of Physician and Surgeons, and the Presbyterian Hospital have been steadily working out the idea for the last decade, and plans have passed the embryonic stage. The only element that made New York inferior to Paris, Vienna, or Berlin in medical teaching and research was the lack of proper coordination between hospitals and schools; and the first step to correct this state was taken in 1915, when options was taken of land situated at Broadway and 168th Street upon which Dr. Lambert's plans might be developed. These plans cdalled for alliance between Columbia University Medical Department (the college of Physicians and Surgeons) and Presbyterian Hospital, with other institutions, including the Vanderbilt Clinic, Sloane Hospital for Women and other hospitals, so as to bring within the medical centre one or more institutions representing each specialized branch of medicine, to wit: The eye and ear, joint diseases, nose, throat and lungs, skin and cancer, dentistry and so forth.

This vision of a comprehensive medical centre has not yet been brought to fullest consummation, but the institutions which have already agreed to become associated with the medical centre, besides the College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Presbyterian Hospital, are as follows:

The New York State Psychiatric Institute and Hospital, a state institution authorized by legislation in 1920, when the New York Assembly and Senate by law provided for the construction of a state hospital to have as its objects "the study of the causes, nature and treatment of diseases affecting the mind, brain and nervous system; to discover and apply more efficient measures of prevention treatment and cure of such disorders. . . .(and). . . . conducting courses of instruction for physicians and others." In 1924 the State Hospital authorities agreed with the Columbia-Presbyterian governor to build this hospital on land adjoining the Medical Centre, a to make its facilities available to the Medical Centre. With it will be merged the State Psychiatric institute now housed on Ward's Island.

The Neurological Institute, an organization for the treatment of nervous disease, now on East Sixty-seventh Street.

The Babies' Hospital, now at Fifty-fifth Street and Lexington Avenue, an institution which for thirty-five years was under the direction of Dr. L. Emmett Holt, and which, for twenty-five years has been associated with the College of Physicians and Surgeons as a teaching institution.

Sloane Hospital for Women, which is at Amsterdam Avenue and Fifty-ninth Street. Like the Presbyterian and Babies' Hospitals, the Sloane is am independent institution which for years had been open to the College of Physicians, operating under a teaching agreement with Columbia.

Vanderbilt Clinic, a general clinical institution long affiliated with the college of Physician and Surgeons, and situated at Amsterdam Avenue and Seventieth Street.

Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing, a noted training school which should expand appreciably as one of the grouped institutions of the Medical Centre.

The grouped institutions will take upon some of the features of most consolidated endeavors, in that economic waste and duplicated effort will be more easily discerned and checked, though the Medical Centre will never, it is thought, take on the aspects of a "trust," as the word is applied in business parlance. Such an environment would not harmonize with the wishes of the projectors or with the spirit of the profession. The only way in which the Medical; Centre will suggest "big business" will be in its magnitude. "While in terms of bricks and mortar, the new centre will probably be the largest health plant in the world, it is proposed to give patients and students all the personal and professional benefits of the smallest and most intimate hospital or school."

The idea of collective advantage and individual opportunity will be carried into all plans made for buildings of the Medical Centre group. Medical students will find clinical opportunities "just down the hall," instead of a mile or two distant. The hospital buildings will be of such size that, it is thought, every floor will be, to all intents, a separate institution, devoted to a particular branch of medicine, and with that identical department of medical instruction situated on the same floor in the adjoining medical-school building, with communication between hospital and school floors.

Construction of the combination building which will house the Presbyterian Hospital and the College of Physicians and Surgeons was begun in 1925. Its estimated cost is $10,000,000. These first units will no doubt soon be followed by others, giving New York City what Dr. Lambert hoped for--a group of medical schools, hospitals, institutes, clinics "that would be without its equal anywhere as a centre of medical teaching, of medical research, and of medical influence."

Nursing and Hospital Service.--Although women did not come, as physicians, into the medical records of New York until the last century, nursing as a profession has been practiced in the State since its early years. In fact, a nursing service was established some years before the arrival of the first physician in the Dutch colony of New Netherland. Two zieckenstroosters, or visitors of the sick--Sebastian Jansz Crol and Jan Kuyck--came with Director-General Minuit from Holland in 1625. Rev. Jonas Michaelius, the first ordained minister, arrived two years later, and among his many offices was that of consoler of the sick. In the early decades of the province, there were also some female nurses, elderly matrons who were called upon mainly in maternity cases. One of these caretakers of the sick was Trynte Jonas. Another was the mother of Annetje Jans. A house was built for her in 1635, on Pearl Street, New Amsterdam. The first chirurgeon to settle came in 1633, and the first regular and lettered physician to take up practice in New Netherland arrived in 1637. Thereafter, the male and female tenders of the sick probably took status of minor importance in medical practice; nevertheless, it seems that midwives were of good standing throughout the Dutch period, for when the English entered into possession of the province, in 1665, one of the first laws passed sought to regulate the practice of "chirurgeons, midwives, physicians," the three classes of practitioners being referred to in the order shown.

As years passed and the practice of medicine expanded, it would seem that women had less part in medical service then was their scope in pioneer days. Maternity nurses there always were, but physician seemed to prefer to cal in male nurses for general cases. A close study of instructional medical history of New York indicates that the pioneers of the nursing profession for worm were, mainly, those noble self-sacrificing women of holy orders whose contact with the world was in ministering to the sick and destitute. Many of the best hospitals of today had their beginning in the God-given labors of saintly sisters of Roman Catholic orders. Usually these ministering angels of charity worked humbly where their aid was most needed-- among the destitute sick; and although inmost cases they began heir missions of charity almost as destitute of material resources as the poor people they sought to serve, they had unbounded faith that their labors would be blessed and that the future would yield what they lacked. To cite one instance; St. Francis' Hospital of New York City received as patients during is first fifty years 108,439 persons, yet when it was founded, in 1865, the one Sister of the Poor of St. Francis and a postulant who constituted the whole of the hospital staff entered upon the charity possessed of "no means whatever, and no financial support." Two empty houses were to be their hospital, and the loaf of bread which the postulant brought was their sole food supply on the first day, and the empty straw tick that each carried, after being filled with straw by a friendly undertaker in the neighborhood, was the only furnishing of their humble quarters.

Soon, however, financial support was given them, and after the arrival of four more sisters of the same order, the furnishing were rearranged, and the hospital service expanded. These sisters "were the first to appear (in New York City) in their religious garb to solicit alms." They suffered many vicissitudes during the early years, but "through the unremitting assiduity of these Christian women," the work steadily progressed. A somewhat similar history might be written of the early years of many other New York hospitals founded under the fostering inters of the Roman Catholic Church. In all cases, the sisters constituting the nursing staff, and the success of the hospital service depended mostly upon their sisterly zeal and kind hearts. St. Francis' was not the first such hospital established, and Roman Catholic sisters were not the first to work in this way among the ailing poor of New York, but their charitable efforts went so generally and so extensively along this line that is seems right to place them in pioneer place among nursing sisters.

The New Amsterdam (New York City) Almshouse dates back, in hospital service, to 1658, when Surgeon Varvanger was Master. In all probability, the nursing was done by one or more of the women caretakers of the sick. In 1736, the Almshouse hospital consisted of six beds. In 1804 a lying-in ward was opened at the Almshouse, and although deliveries were undoubtedly made by regular physicians, women were probably the attendants in this maternity ward. This, of course, was a city charity. Its service eventually was taken over by the Bellevue Hospital, where in the first training school for nurses was organized in later years.

The New York Hospital, founded in 1771, was State-aided institution, and until 1821 had to are for insane patients as well as conduct a general service. In this work more male than female attendants would be needed, but part of its plant was rented to the New York Lying-in Hospital. The latter had begun its service in 1799, in "a very commodious house," No. 2 Cedar Street, with "a woman of respectable character" as matron. This Cedar Street maternity hospital was closed in 1801, the Society for twenty-six years thereafter using a ward of the New York Hospital. For the next quarter-century the Society was dormant, but from 1855 to 1892 it conducted a home service somewhat like that of the old Marion Street Maternity Hospital. Through the interest and benefactions of the late J. Pierpont Morgan, the Lying-in Hospital in 1893 again became possessed of a hospital building, and eventually built one of the largest maternity hospitals in the country.

The present New York Nursery and Child's Hospital in New York City continues the activities of the oldest nursery, the oldest child's hospital, and the oldest maternity hospital in New York City. The Marion Street Maternity Hospital was founded in1823, and four years later was incorporated as the New York Female Asylum for Lying-in Women. For the next seventy years, the institution was known by that name. In addition to the hospital service, its object was "to supply competent medical care for respectable married women" during confinement at their homes. "It was the pioneer in the city in sending physicians to such homes to attend at childbirth." In 1899 it was consolidated with the New York Infant Asylum, which had had its beginning in 1865, as a mission of rescue and reformation of unfortunate young women found in the maternity wards of Bellevue Hospital. Through the efforts of Mrs. Richmond and Miss Alice Sanford its work was carried on to sound foundation and to alliance with The Nursery and Child's Hospital. The latter was first known as The Nursery for the Children of Poor Women. Two years later, in 1856, owing to the necessity that arose of caring for sick children, the corporate name was changed to The Nursery and Child's Hospital, its charity soon being extended to illegitimate as well as legitimate children. This institution, which is claimed to have opened "the first refuge for erring penitent mothers" in New York City, was conducted mainly by women. "During the first fifty years of its existence the chief administrative office, that of directress, was held by only two persons," Mrs. Cornelius du Bois, it founder, from 1854 to her death in 1889, and her successor, Mrs. Algernon S. Sullivan. One branch of its work was the training of nursery maids, who after a systematic course in the care of young children, were sent into service in private families.

Another noble and capable worker along more general lines during the same period was Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. As has been stated on earlier pages of this chapter, she was the first women to be given the degree of Doctor of medicine by a regular New York medical college. Prejudice of make practitioners for many years thereafter prevented the entry of men into medical practice in New York, and Miss Blackwell found that her sphere of usefulness in the profession lay more in teaching medicine to other women than in practicing it. In 1853 she thought of opening a dispensary for poor women and children, but she discovered that the prejudice against women practitioners was so pronounced and so general that no "respectable boarding-house" would rent a room to her with privilege of putting a sign on the house. However, after much difficulty, she established her dispensary in a room near Tompkins Square. By the end of 1853 her service to women had so expanded that Dr. Blackwell was able to take a house on Fifteenth Street. There, in the first year, she treated two hundred patients. Most of them were poor women, but some came to her because of their reluctance to explain their ailments to physicians of the opposite sex.

Convinced that there was a positive need of women physicians, Miss Blackwell strove determinedly to break down the professional and popular prejudice that barred the way. This she could do more effectively by teaching other women what she knew of medicine. However, she continued her hospital service. Her dispensary ultimately became the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, which three-quarters of a century later possessed a hospital plant worth about $500.000. She began with fifty dollars, and has unique place in New York medical history, indeed in American history, for her little infirmary it is claimed, was "the fist women's hospital" opened in the United States. She did more, she formed a school of clinical instruction for women students of medicine, and one of her earliest objects was to train women nurses, for servo not only in hospital wards but in homes. No training school for nurses, male or female, had yet been formed in Europe or in America, and the medical fraternity, as a whole, thought--if they thought at all of the subject--that medical science was the forte of men, not women.

However, public opinion was slowing changing. The work of Florence Nightingale among the British troops during the Crimean War, 1854-55, accelerated the drift, but the opposition of the medical fraternity continued to be stubborn. Miss Blackwell had become acquainted with Florence Nightingale in England, and had become infused with much of her enthusiasm. Dr. Blackwell was aided in her work in New York by her sister, Emily, who, in 1854, had also gained the medical degree. She had graduated from a medical college in the Middle-West and had had graduate instruction in European schools of medicine. The two sister Blackwell clung to their endeavor, but made slow progress until a national exigency swept away prejudice, at least temporarily. War had brought Florence Nightingale into conspicuous notice in Britain, and the Civil War brought recognition to Elizabeth Blackwell in America. When the Central Relief Association was formed, in May, 1861m, Dr. Blackwell's pioneer work in the training of nurses was acknowledged. She was made the chairman of the committee on the training of nurses, and as such as a accorded more professional freedom. Not until that emergency were the wards of the general hospitals of New York opened to women who wished to enter the nursing service. Even then, this privilege was to apply only to army nursing.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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