H. Houston Merritt

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Hiram Houston Merritt Jr. (January 12, 1902, Wilmington, North Carolina – January 9, 1979 in Boston, Massachusetts) was one of the pre-eminent academic neurologists of his day. As the chair of the Neurological Institute of New York from 1948 to 1967, he oversaw the training of hundreds of neurologists; 35 of his former students have become chairs of academic neurology departments across the United States. He was also the dean of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons from 1958 to 1970.[1]

His contributions to neurology were countless. Among the most important was the discovery of the anticonvulsant properties of phenytoin (Dilantin). The technique he used, along with Tracy Putnam, to identify this compound ushered in the modern era of drug therapy for epilepsy. He also was the sole author of the first five editions of Merritt's Neurology; this popular textbook is in its twelfth edition (Rowland and Pedley, 2009). His early work on the normal properties of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) was updated and published by one of his students, Robert Fishman, in a text that is the acknowledged standard on the topic.

Merritt was also known in his day as an expert on neurosyphilis; his 1946 monograph on the topic provided an overview of this condition, which almost disappeared from the medical eye shortly thereafter owing to the advent of penicillin.

Charles Poser, another eminent neurologist, worked under Merritt, and credited him teaching him the importance of a thorough diagnosis.[2]


He was a son of Hiram Houston Merritt Sr. (January 6, 1870 - May 9, 1945) and Dessie Ella Cline (September 23, 1872 - January 7, 1946), who were married on January 24, 1898 in Morehead Township, Guilford County, North Carolina.

In 1968 he was sent by the Department of Health to Portugal to assist local doctors after Salazar suffered a brain haemorrhage.

Merritt died in 1979 from complications of cerebrovascular disease and normal pressure hydrocephalus; ironically, the latter condition was a syndrome whose existence he had never fully accepted during his career. His students who were treating him in New York disagreed over the proper course of action. Eventually, he was taken to the Massachusetts General Hospital, where he succumbed to the after-effects of a neurosurgical operation.


  1. ^ "A revisionist history of American neurology"
  2. ^ Dave Lounsbury. "Honouring Dr. Charles M. Poser FRCPE". Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2016-03-19. Retrieved 2016-03-15. Charles once said that the parts of neurology most attractive to him were learned from his two mentors: "Merritt, who taught me to make a diagnosis on the basis of a good history, and van Bogaert, who helped me understand the underlying pathology."

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