- History of the Origin and Rise of the Society
According to the late Dr. Wm. C. Roberts, the first honorary secretary (see The Annalist for October 1, 1840), "It was commenced in June, 1844, by the exertion of two or three of the junior members of the profession [viz., Drs. Goldsmith, J. C. Peters, and L. A. Sayre], fond of pathological pursuits, who speedily associated with them a few others, the whole number of those present at the first meeting [of which no record was kept by the secretary] being seven."
Dr. Middleton Goldsmith, in a letter dated Rutland, Vermont, April 2, 1870, says: "The New York Pathological Society originate.) in the following way: Some time in 1842 or '43, I happened to spend a week in Boston, and Dr. John Mason Warren, amongst other kindnesses, took me to the Boston Society for Medical Improvement, with which Dr. J. B. S. Jackson was so long and so thoroughly identified. I was so much impressed with what I saw and heard that I inquired carefully into the objects and organization of that association, with the view of founding one like it in New York. On my return I related what I had seen and heard to Drs. John C. Peters and Lewis A. Sayre [the latter had already been thinking of establishing a purely pathological society], and we three brought the project to the notice of our personal friends. Preliminary meetings were held, and the plan for the organization of the society was soon blocked out. The first meeting was called at Dr. Sayre's office, corner of Broadway and Spring street, as his rooms were by far the largest and most commodious [and he had seconded our views, so nearly corresponding with his own, in his usual earnest and enthusiastic manner]. There were, I think, but seven or eight physicians present at this the first meeting. Among those earliest identified with the young society, I remember Drs. Robert Watts, Willard Parker, Alonzo Clark, Gustavus A. Sabine, John A. Swett, and Israel Moses.
"The New York Pathological Society was modelled, in most all of its essential particulars, upon the plan of the Boston Society, which had already existed some little time; but we three never dreamed that our cosy, chatty little gatherings would grow into a great historic association. I strove to model it on the Boston pattern, in its social as well as its scientific bearings [and simple refreshments were generally furnished]. There was only one medical college in New York in those times, and thus it happened that the majority of the original members were students or graduates of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Medical Department of Columbia College, then located in Crosby street, near Prince; and one principal hospital, the New York; and thus it turned out unwittingly, but almost necessarily and perhaps happily for us, that the professors and others affiliated with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the medical and surgical staff of the New York Hospital, were those who, in the early history of the Society, constituted the majority of its members. Dr. John C. Peters and I were engaged more particularly in the study of pathology, and we had worked together for many mouths, especially in the examination of coroners' cases, under Dr. E. G. Rawson. Hence, I think it very probable that I consulted him before any one else in the matter of commencing a pathological society, as he then stood among the foremost of the young medical men as a student of pathology. I was very intimate also with Dr. Sayre, and had faith in his enthusiasm and indomitable energy. They both belonged among a set of young doctors consisting of the Lecomtes, myself and others, whom Dr. Francis used to call the 'medical orphans,' because they had no 'uncles in the New York Hospital' [and that bound us all more closely together].
"The New York Pathological Society should never forget Dr. Jackson, who I have always understood was the originator of the Boston Society, for I borrowed the Boston ideas, and it is due to the truth of history that the borrowing should be publicly acknowledged."
It is proper to state that after the first few meetings Dr. Goldsmith was prevented from taking much part in the formation of the Society, by absence from the city.
- Dr. Lewis A. Sayre's account. — How the N. Y. Pathological Society originated.
Dr. Sayre, the president-elect for 1869, on assuming his duties for the ensuing year, remarked that, as one of the fathers of the Society, he had naturally felt the deepest concern in its prosperity, and was willing to do his utmost towards advancing its legitimate interests. Although it had not been the custom to make any remarks upon these occasions, he could not resist the temptation of taking a glance at the past and culling from it a lesson for the future. The Society was over thirty years of age, and from the humblest beginning had justly taken rank with the first scientific associations of the country.
When Dr. Sayre graduated in medicine, in 1842, pathology was taught at best in a very fragmentary way, the occasion being a stray specimen that fell into the hands of a professor; as a regular means of instruction it was not heard of in any institution in the country. Soon after he commenced practice he felt the want of a just interpretation of what he met with in autopsies, and resolved, for the sake of gaining the requisite information, to call in the aid of some medical friends and establish a society. Dr. John C. Peters, about this time, had just returned from Europe as a pupil of Rokitansky, Hasse, and others. The idea was at once seconded by him and Dr.. Middleton Goldsmith [as they had already taken steps in the same direction]. Meetings were held first at the office of Dr. Sayre every Saturday afternoon. The material was furnished from the refuse of the dead-houses and hospitals. After a while several other gentlemen became interested in the study, and very shortly after a constitution and by-laws were adopted, and the N. Y. Pathological Society was fairly founded. For a considerable time the office of Dr. Sayre was the place of meeting, and in return for that honor it became his duty, not without considerable risk of the vengeance of the police, to deposit the specimens after the meetings, in the Hudson River. After a while gatherings were held in each other's houses, the number of members was increased, and everything went on well, until it became the practice to have a supper provided after each meeting. It soon became evident that it was fast degenerating into a " bread and butter society," and Dr. Sayre [had a committee appointed, which] obtained of Dr. Alex. H. Stevens, through the influence of the late Prof. Watts, the lecture-hall of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, then located in Crosby street, as a place for assembling. The trustees of that institution have from that time until the present generously allowed us the free use of a room for a period of nearly thirty years. The further history of the Society is well known; its reputation, in fact, is worldwide. Through its influence the institutions of medical learning throughout the country have been compelled to establish chairs of pathology, the first professor being Prof. Alonzo Clark [of this college], who gave his first lecture on. that branch [in these halls] in 1847.
While the members had reason, with himself, to be congratulated on the prosperity and usefulness of the association, there was yet much more to be accomplished toward the fulfillment of its designs. In that connection he referred to the propriety of publishing the transactions in a becoming volume, and also to the practicability of having microscopes enough for the use of the members, etc.
As far as the wishes of the fathers of the Society were involved, this would have been very simple, indeed ; for they merely determined to meet every Saturday afternoon at four o'clock, bring all the specimens with them that they could obtain, and invite all their friends who were much interested in the study of pathology to meet with them.
They cared very little about the name or fame of the Association, and much less about its constitution and by-laws, or any other but the simplest rules for preserving order and some little method in their proceedings. They merely selected a permanent honorary secretary, Dr. William C. Roberts, whose knowledge of French Pathology was almost unrivalled, and whose enthusiasm in the cause was unbounded, and then selected a temporary chairman to preside over each meeting.
At the suggestion of Dr. J. C. Peters, a so-called "Culling Committee" was appointed to select, for the information of the Societv. the principal advances in pathology recorded in the latest medical books and journals of Europe and this country. Three members were detailed upon this committee, viz. : Dr. T. M. Markoe, to report from the French, Dr. Roberts Watts, from the English and American and Dr. J. C. Peters, from the German pathological literature of the day. One member, at least, of this committee was expected to report at each meeting of the Society.
The reports of the Culling Committee were made the first business of the meetings, and were always called for immediately after the reading of the minutes of the previous sessions.
Next followed the exhibition of specimens and statements of cases, each member being called upon in turn by the chairman. Every specimen of unusual interest, and every moot-point in pathology which arose during the discussions on the reports and cases, were generally referred to a special committee of one or two, which was expected to report at the next, or some early subsequent meeting.
Finally, each member, in regular rotation, was obliged to prepare and read a more or less elaborate paper at each assemblage of the Association.
All executive business was entrusted to proper committees, and the whole time of the meetings was devoted to purely practical and scientific matters. It is said that all the older members of the profession predicted the failure of the attempt to found a new medical society, and it undoubtedly would have languished, if the first few months had been frittered away over the consideration of petty rules and by-laws.