« AnteriorContinuar »
THE PERSONAL FACTOR IN THE WORK OF THE
AMERICAN GYNÆCOLOGICAL SOCIETY.*
By ELY VAN DE WARKER, M.D., SYRACUSE, N. Y.
A QUARTER of a century is the unit of measure in the evolution of a people. It is the life time of an idea. The seed thought is sown, it germinates, it reaches maturity and involves multitudes of other brains, and if it is one of those thoughts that is worthy of life, it becomes a part of the conscious being of all who think, and gains force and complexity as time moves on. The men who conceived the idea of this Society and had the diplomacy and energy to give their idea staple form and unity were, I believe, the product of the intellectual awakening that was taking form a quarter of a century ago and had proved itself worthy of survival. Previous to that time we were reading English books. The tradition of the formative period in American letters were brought down by a trinity of superb American poets. The American noveliststhe men who were inspired by native types had not yet received recognition. We were without a drama indigenous to our people, but the stage was occupied by foreign play-wrights who introduced exotic characters.
In medicine and surgery we were slavishly subservient to foreign models of thought and methods. American publishing houses were laying the foundations of great fortunes by pirated reprints of foreign medical authors, while the young physician who hoped to reach the teaching rank was powerless to realize his ambition without foreign study.
* Read before the American Gynæcological Society at Washington, D. C., May 3, 1900.
American gynæcology was in the stage of dogma, and Hodge, Meigs, Bedford and Thomas laid down the law and the practice which none denied, and the only rays of light that gave promise of a clearer vision clustered like a halo about the head of Sims.
Then the young nation, just one hundred years in building, awakened to the throbs of conscious life and threw off the bonds of the intellectual inheritance from its many fatherlands and began to reach out with sure and certain grasp for new thoughts and new types of intellectual life, untrammelled by tradition or inheritance, the products of its own abundant life, its own culture, and the moral revolt against ideas which in the expanding national life it had outlived and outgrown.
One of the intellectual products of this uplifting was the American Gynæcological Society. It was a society of protest. It found gynæcology, both here and abroad, made up of irrelevant material, and its current literature a mass of aimless argument about trivial things. To prove the inutility of all that had gone before it needs but to be stated that in less than ten years from its foundation the old literature had ceased to be authority and the man of dogma had given place to the man of action. The theorist had disappeared and the scientific observer was crowding the pages of history with classified facts gained at the point of the scalpel. From its inception the Society became a great teaching body. It taught the physician and the surgeon how to shift his point of view, to make his methods expedient rather than methodic, to cast off the fetters of tradition and authority and how to assert his freedom and strike out in new channels of work and thought.
Nothing shows more clearly the wisdom of the men who worked out the problem of the Gynæcological Society from its inception than the selection of the small group of men who was to compose it. Each one was selected because he was in a certain measure an iconoclast. He had either done some work or had carried on some original research that was forceful and defiant of authority. The older fellows were, without exception, men who had acquired by the force of their personality and brilliant work a national repute and gave at once luster and renown to the young society. Thirty-nine original Fellows were enrolled, of whom twenty-eight attended the first meeting, which is a fair example of the devotion to the work of the Society. From that date began as strenuous a life as was ever lived by any scientific body. The early volumes of the Transactions bear witness to what a few earnest men can accomplish when they are devoted to the cause which banded them together.
There were papers in these early volumes that made history: papers
that threw light into obscure controversies that had burdened gynæcological literature in the past, and made the old academical disputes impossible in the future; others that gave orderly array to old facts and correct grouping to the new that makes to the building of a science, and others that opened the gateway to the pelvis and made possible the masterful Surgery that gave imperishable renown to American art. What we may call the formative period of gynæcology as we know it to-day, the period embraced in the first decade of the Societies' history, saw all of those great pelvic operations, that are made with such brilliancy by some and such avidity by others, placed upon a practical and legitimate footing. The great revival in science and methods and expediency that constitute gynæcology took form and order during this period. It would be presumption in me to say that this Society did all of this, but it is not too much to assert that without this society as an active factor in this formative period, this orderly marshalling of theory and methods with the certain demonstration of truth that gave the profession and the people confidence in daring innovations never would have taken the form it did.
Nothing went out as something new and out of the usual order practical surgery that did not pass under the fire of fearless criticism. As a critical body it exerted its greatest moral force, that knew no compromise and had no reservations. No reputation, no position so high among its Fellows that would exempt one from the ordeal of question and dissent that were sure to follow the reading of a paper, or the expression of too radical an opinion in debate.
While it began as a Society of protest much of the force and vigor of its potential life hung upon this spirit of criticism. It began, and has continued the most exclusive Scientific body connected with the profession of medicine in this, or any other country. This exclusiveness in no way interfered with the absolute democracy that prevailed from the first year of its existence. No new Fellow was admitted who had not won his spurs in the literature of the science or who had failed to submit an inaugural thesis that was a material contribution to our science. If the candidate belonged to the teaching body and was the author of a compiled text book and his paper was academic, he failed of election, it mattered not who were his sponsors. On the contrary, he may have had no position in school or hospital, but if, by his previous work, he had demonstrated his ability as an original investigator and his thesis reached the high standard that was a tradition in the Council he was certain of election, no respect being shown to age or social position. Once the sacred mantel of fellowship had been thrown over his