William Osler’s Connections to UTMB

George Dock MD

Texas has always had a strong connection with the American Osler Society; as it was co-founded in 1970 by John. P. McGovern, MD (1921-2007). The UTMB’s historical connections with Sir William Osler are less well documented.  Here we hope to shed light on the little-known genealogical, archival and museological connections between Sir William Osler and Galveston, Texas. 

In 1884, Osler left Montreal for Philadelphia, where he was appointed professor of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, he continued his clinical investigations, spending many hours in the postmortem rooms performing autopsies. He maintained his earlier emphasis on superior patient care, conducting famous ward walks in Old Blockley, a unit of Philadelphia Hospital.  Osler’s tenure at Penn was brief. After only four years, he moved to Baltimore in the fall of 1888 and became the physician-in-chief of the recently organized Johns Hopkins Hospital.

During the early 1880s George Dock, MD (1860-1951) studied medicine under Osler at Penn, beginning what Marilyn Miller Baker described in her book titled, The History of Pathology in Texas (1996) as a “genealogical tradition” that would link the master and his students across Texas. Dock served as a pathologist at the Texas Medical College and Hospital from 1888 to 1891.  

picture of William Osler and Grace Revere Osler and George Dock taken in the Netherlands during a visit in the summer of 1901The George Dock Scholar Fund was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on June 10, 1993. The purpose of the fund is two-fold:

1. To broaden and strengthen the field of pathology by supporting graduate students, residents, and fellows,
2. To provide recognition for young pathologists who have distinguished themselves by the quality of their instruction and service to students.

Former UTMB President, Dr. Truman Blocker, Jr., in his book about the first 75 years of history for the UTMB, referred to George Dock as “another example of the caliber of the Texas Medical College Faculty.”  It was the precursor program from which UTMB emerged in 1891.  George Dock combined a serious interest in Internal Medicine with his work in Pathology.  In fact, Dr. Chauncey D. Leake referred to him as “probably the first qualified internist in Texas.”

A recent archival find, housed in the Truman G. Blocker, Jr. History of Medicine Collections, Moody Medical Library at the UTMB, has established a second connection with Osler. Allen J. Smith, MD (1863-1926) also studied under Osler at Penn. Osler examined and graded Smith’s Medical News Prize-winning essay titled: A Mycological Method for the Recognition and Approximate Quantitative Estimation of Sewage Contamination in Water, with a description of a New Species of Chromogenic Bacillus (1886). 

Allen J. Smith MD

Dr. Smith had already discovered the Bacillus coeruleus (pseudomonas smithii) and had won the Medical News prize and other anatomical prizes when he arrived in Galveston in September of 1891 with his wife and two-year-old son. He was appointed to one of 8 faculty positions at the newly organized Medical Department. The first professor of all subjects taught with a microscope - histology, embryology, bacteriology, parasitology, microscopic pharmacology, as well as tropical medicine, nervous and mental diseases, inorganic chemistry, and clinical pathology - was twenty-seven years old. He lectured for a time on medical jurisprudence and was dean on two different occasions. In 1902, he published a textbook titled, Lessons and Laboratory Exercises in Bacteriology. Dr. Smith and Dr. William Gammon, a member of the second graduating class at UTMB in 1893, constituted the faculty of the Department of Pathology during the early years. In 1903 Dr. Smith left Galveston and returned to Pennsylvania to become a professor of pathology at the University of Pennsylvania.

New Species of Chromogenic Bacillus

A Mycological Method for the Recognition and Approximate Quantitative Estimation of Sewage Contamination in Water, with a Description of a New Species of Chromogenic Bacillus written by Allen J. Smith, Med Dept. Univ. of Penn. 1886

frontispiece of Dr. Smith’s thesis with  William Osler’s initials

Here’s the frontispiece of Dr. Smith’s thesis with William Osler’s initials.

Old Red Museum

Former Pathological Museum, “Old Red”, c 1900 where some of Smith’s specimens may form part of the UTMB’s historical pathological collection. 

As Ellen B. Koch described in her publication titled, Historical Perspectives on Pathology in Houston and Galveston (1998) Dock and Smith “embodied a growing dichotomy in pathology that has persisted to this day.” One tradition (advocated by Dock) emphasized laboratory tests and quantitative measures; the other (employed by Smith) relied on descriptive pathology.   

Osler emphasized the importance of practical medical education, and the museum played a key role in this process. Maude Abbott’s curatorial practice at the Medical Museum of McGill University was influenced by Osler.  Both Dock and Smith founded and curated pathological museums while in Galveston. Unfortunately, nothing survives of Dock’s museum, however, some of Smith’s specimens may form part of the UTMB’s historical pathological collection. 

William Bennett Bean

Of honorable mention is William Bennett Bean (1909-1989), born in the Philippines to Dr. Robert Bennett Bean, a physician who had once been a resident under Sir William Osler.  Dr. Bean was a co-founder and first president of the American Osler Society and, like Dr. Osler, was an outstanding physician, educator, humanist and historian.  The American Osler Society created a student award in his honor for the support of projects that expand our knowledge of medical history and the use of literature and the arts to improve medical practice.  Between 1937 and 1974 Bean published over 600 works, and for over thirty years, he served as editor for fifteen journals, most notably the Archives of Internal Medicine.  He also was selected by two different Presidents to serve on the National Library of Medicine’s Board of Regents.  His papers are held at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University.  In 1974, Dr. Bean was appointed the first director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities and Professor of Internal Medicine at UTMB.  In 1980, he retired from the UTMB and returned to the University of Iowa College of Medicine as Sir William Osler Professor Emeritus.