American Physiologists in German Laboratories, 1865–1914

  • Robert G. FrankJr.


Anniversaries have a way of eliciting from those who celebrate them an epitome, a summary judgment, of the past. The banquet celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the American Physiological Society (APS), held in 1938, was no exception. Warren Plimpton Lombard, eighty-two years old and the retired professor of physiology at the University of Michigan, spoke to the assembled Society and engaged in a bit of reminiscence:

In ‘85 I came back from Ludwig’s laboratory in Leipzig; like any other young man I was full of aspiration; I wanted to teach physiology and above all I wanted to get into a good laboratory where I could do some research work, because in Ludwig’s laboratory I caught the disease.1


American Physiological Society AMERICAN Context Physiological Laboratory Physiological Chemistry German Laboratory 
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  1. 1.
    William H. Howell and Charles W. Greene History of the American Physiological Society: Semicentennial 1887–1937 (Baltimore, MD: American Physiological Society, 1938), p. 197.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 56. The quotation is from Article 4 (of 13) in the Society’s constitution, as adopted by the founding meeting at the Physiological Laboratory, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, Friday, 30 December 1887.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Howell, “The American Physiological Society During its First Twenty-Five Years,” in Howell and Greene, History, pp. 1-89; quote from p. 3.Google Scholar
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    For general overviews of the history of American physiology in the nineteenth century see: Edward C. Atwater, “`Squeezing Mother Nature’: Experimental Physiology in the United States Before 1870,” Bull. Hist. Med. 52 (1978): 313–335; Karl E. Rothschuh, History of Physiology,trans. and ed. Guenter B. Risse (Huntington, NY: Krieger, 1973), pp. 187–190; C. I. Reed, “The Maturation of Physiology in America After 1830,” Physiologist 5 (1962): 35–41; Walter J. Meek, “The Beginnings of American Physiology,” Ann. Med. Hist. 10 (1928): 111–125; Henry Sewall, “The Beginnings of Physiological Research in America,” Science 58 (1923): 187–195.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
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  6. 6.
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    Burr, Weir Mitchell, pp. 68–121; Mitchell’s disappointments are well detailed and analyzed in W. Bruce Fye, “S. Weir Mitchell, Philadelphia’s `Lost’ Physiologist,” Bull. Hist. Med. 57 (1983): 188–202.Google Scholar
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    Most of Bowditch’s notebooks and correspondence pertaining to his European study are in the Harvard Medical Archives, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School (hereafter, CL-HMS), Boston, MA. Notebooks are in CL-HMS, GA 9; the relatively few letters to Bowditch are in CL-HMS C 5.2, while in CL-HMS C 5.1 are to be found the multitudinous letters he wrote home to his mother, Lucy Orne [Nichols] Bowditch, his father, Jonathan Ingersoll Bowditch, and his uncle, Henry Ingersoll Bowditch (hereafter, Bowditch Papers). Typed extracts and/or summaries of many of the letters were made in the early twentieth century by Bowditch’s son, Harold Bowditch, presumably with an eye toward writing a biography of his father; no such work was ever published. The correspondence was used, although often without specific citation, by Walter B. Cannon, “Henry Pickering Bowditch,” Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. 17 (1922): 183–196. See also Frederick W. Ellis, “Henry Pickering Bowditch and the Development of the Harvard Laboratory of Physiology,” New Eng. J. Med. 219 (1938): 819–828; Everett Mendelsohn, “Bowditch, Henry Pickering,” in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York: Scribner’s, 1973), pp. 365–368. Bowditch’s early training and call to Harvard are well treated in Fye, “Why a Physiologist?-The Case of Henry P. Bowditch,” Bull. Hist. Med. 56 (1982): 19–29.Google Scholar
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  22. 22.
    H. P. Bowditch to J. I. Bowditch, 6 December 1868, Bowditch Papers.Google Scholar
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    Cf. his long summaries of Bernard’s ideas, H. P. Bowditch to H. I. Bowditch, 26 January and 21 March 1869, Bowditch Papers.Google Scholar
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    For an overview of the place of scientific research in French institutions in the first half of the nineteenth century, see Joseph Ben-David, The Scientist’s Role in Society: A Comparative Study ( Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971 ), pp. 88–107.Google Scholar
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    H. P. Bowditch to J. I. Bowditch, 12 February 1869, Bowditch Papers.Google Scholar
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    Ibid.; the book is Paul Joseph Lorain, De la Réforme des Études Médicales par les Laboratoires (Paris: 1868).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    H. P. Bowditch to H. I. Bowditch, 21 March 1869, Bowditch Papers.Google Scholar
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    This sample of physiological scientists is drawn from a larger prosopographic project now in progress. Because the focus of the project is medicine and the medical sciences, the larger population includes (1) all scientists with an M.D., regardless of field and (2) all Ph.D.s and equivalents in medical science subjects, as long as they were either trained or functioned within a medical environment. This would exclude, for example, dairy or soil bacteriologists, agricultural biochemists, and “physiologists” who were purely biological both in training and in employment. The grouping defined as physiological scientists includes the subject categories of: physiology; other physiological areas such as applied physiology; physiological chemistry; biochemistry or biological chemistry; other biochemical fields such as nutrition; pharmacology; and toxicology. The word “individual” is used here to mean a person with a given subject identifier. Because a minority of persons would give two or (rarely) three subjects, such a person might be counted twice in subject-related cross tabulations. Abel, for example, listed his subjects as “Pharmacology, Physiological Chemistry”; Chittenden listed his as “Physiological Chemistry, Physiology.”Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Average age, 25.7 years; N,29 (excludes Martin and Meltzer); SD 3 years.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    First phase (1860–1884), 25.3 years; N,19. Second phase (1885–1899), 25.8 years; N,35. Third phase (1900–1914), 28.3 years; N,32.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    William James to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 17 September 1867, The Letters of William James, ed. Henry James (Boston, MA: Atlantic Monthly, 1920 ), p. 101.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
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    Thomas Neville Bonner, American Doctors and German Universities: A Chapter in International Intellectual Relations, 1870–1914 (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1963); on the attractiveness of the clinical centers of Vienna and Berlin, esp. pp. 69–106.Google Scholar
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    Florence Rena Sabin, Franklin Paine Mall: The Story of a Mind ( Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1934 ), pp. 30–64.Google Scholar
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    Horace W. Davenport, “Physiology, 1850–1923: The View From Michigan,” Physiologist 25 suppl. 1 (1982): 50; for the best treatment of Lombard’s life and work, see 50–76.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    On the attention paid to the University of Strassburg, see J. E. Craig, “A Mission for German Learning: The University of Strassburg and Alsatian Society, 1870–1918” ( Ph.D. diss., Stanford Univ., 1973 ).Google Scholar
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    Simon Flexner and James Thomas Flexner, William Henry Welch and the Heroic Age of American Medicine (New York: Viking, 1941), pp. 78–90, 140–145; the transition is also discussed in Owsei Temkin, “The European Background of the Young Dr. Welch,” Bull. Hist. Med. 24 (1950): 308–318, esp. 308–312.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Hubert B. Vickery, “Russell Henry Chittenden, 1856–1943,” Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. 24 (1947): 59–104, esp. 65–66. Vickery, who was Chittenden’s pupil and friend, cites the story of the brief and unhappy sojourn in Strassburg from Chittenden’s The Development of Physiological Chemistry in the United States (New York: Chemical Catalogue, 1930), p. 30, although it is not to be found in Chittenden’s manuscript autobiography, “Sixty Years of Service in Science: An Autobiography” (1936) in the Chittenden Papers, Yale University, Sterling Library, Department of Manuscripts and Archives, manuscript group 611, box 2, folder 35.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Gerald Webb and Desmond Powell, Henry Sewall, Physiologist and Physician ( Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1946 ), pp. 45–50.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Average, 2.69 destinations per person; N,29.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Average, 2.82 years abroad; N,29.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Average, 1.54 years elapsed since doctoral degree; N,22. N is smaller because some travelers, for example James, Hall, Warren, and Minot, went abroad before their doctorates, and were excluded to avoid having them be tallied as a negative elapsed time.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Frederic Schiller Lee, “Über die elektrischen Erscheinungen, welche die Muskelzuckung begleiten,” Arch. Physiol. (1887): 204–223; cf. his reflections on his teacher in Lee, “Carl Ludwig,” Science n.s., 1 (1895): 630–632.Google Scholar
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    Henry Herbert Donaldson, “Memories for My Boys” (1931), MS autobiography in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA, pp. 78–87; the standard published biography is Edwin G. Conklin, “Henry Herbert Donaldson, 1857–1938,” Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. 20 (1938–1939): 229–243.Google Scholar
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    Dorothy Ross, G. Stanley Hall: The Psychologist as Prophet ( Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1972 ), pp. 80–89.Google Scholar
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    William D. MacNider, “John Jacob Abel, 1857–1938,” Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. 24 (1947): 231–257. Abel’s notebooks from his studies in Germany are in the Abel Papers, Johns Hopkins Medical Archives, Baltimore, MD, boxes 66–69 (hereafter, Abel Papers).Google Scholar
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    For brief overviews of the economic transformation of Germany see, for example, Theodore S. Hamerow, Restoration, Revolution, Reaction: Economics and Politics in Germany, 1815–1871 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1958), esp. pp. 3–20, 199–255; or Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 1840–1945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969), pp. 322, 122–129, and 367–390.Google Scholar
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    See Charles E. McClelland, State, Society and University in Germany, 1700–1914 ( Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980 ).Google Scholar
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    On the “enrollment explosion” in nineteenth-century German universities, see Konrad H. Jarausch, Students, Society, and Politics in Imperial Germany: The Rise of Academic Illiberalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1982), pp. 23–77.Google Scholar
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    On the origins of a research tradition in German universities see R. Steven Turner, “The Growth of Professorial Research in Prussia, 1818 to 1848—Causes and Context,” Hist. Stud. Phys. Sci. 3 (1971): 137–182.Google Scholar
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    On the growth of medical disciplines in nineteenth-century Germany see: Hans-Heinz Eulner, Die Entwicklung der medizinischen Spezialfächer an den Universitäten des Deutschen Sprachgebietes (Stuttgart, FRG: Ferdinand Enke, 1970 ); Ben-David, Scientist’s Role in Society, pp. 108–138; and A. Zloczower, Career Opportunities and the Growth of Scientific Discovery in 19th Century Germany, With Special Reference to Physiology (Jerusalem, Israel: Hebrew Univ., ca. 1960 ).Google Scholar
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    Information derived from Eulner, Entwicklung der medizinischen Spezialfächer,pp. 52, 54, 58, and 61.Google Scholar
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    William Henry Welch to Emma Welch Walcott (sister), 18 November 1876, Welch Papers, Johns Hopkins Medical Archives, Baltimore, MD (hereafter, Welch Papers).Google Scholar
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    On the development of facilities for physiology in Germany, see Eulner, Entwicklung der medizinischen Spezialfächer,pp. 46–65; also Rothschuh, History of Physiology,pp. 152–153.Google Scholar
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    W. James to Thomas W. Ward, ca. November 1867, Letters, p. 118; Ibid., W. James to H. P. Bowditch, 12 December 1867, p. 121.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., W. James to Henry James (father), 5 September 1867, p. 98; ibid., W. James to O. W. Holmes, Jr., 17 September 1867, p. 100.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Ibid., W. James to H. P. Bowditch, 12 December 1867, p. 121.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Ibid., W. James to Ward, ca. November 1867, p. 118.Google Scholar
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    H. P. Bowditch to L. O. Bowditch, 23 May 1869, Bowditch Papers.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., H. P. Bowditch to J. I. Bowditch, 19 July 1869.Google Scholar
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    H. P. Bowditch [letter from Leipzig, 8 March 1870 ], Boston Med. Stag. J. 82 (21 April 1870): 305–307.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 306.Google Scholar
  72. 72.
  73. 73.
    John Jacob Abel to Frances Hinman, 25 October 1884, Abel Papers, box 62.Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    Chittenden, “Sixty Years,” pp. 22–23.Google Scholar
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    Warren P. Lombard, “The Life and Work of Carl Ludwig,” Science 44 (1916): 363–375, quote on 369.Google Scholar
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    Bowditch, [letter from Leipzig], 307.Google Scholar
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    W. James to H. P. Bowditch, 12 December 1867, Letters,p. 121.Google Scholar
  78. 78.
    W. H. Welch to William Wickham Welch (father), 25 February 1877, Welch Papers.Google Scholar
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    On Ludwig see Heinz Schröer, Carl Ludwig: Begründer der messenden Experimentalphysiologie, 1816–1895 (Stuttgart, FRG: Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1967); on the invention and development of the kymograph, esp. pp. 104–114.Google Scholar
  80. 80.
    Biographical information on Marey is neither plentiful nor certain. The trip to Germany before 1860, and Marey’s acquaintance with Ludwig, are mentioned in the obituary in Br. Med. J. i (28 May 1904): 1289–1290. The anonymous writer mistakenly places Ludwig in Leipzig, although he did not move there from Vienna until 1865. Marey’s major statement on the graphic method was La Méthode Graphique dans les Sciences Expérimentales et Principalement en Physiologie et en Médicine (Paris: Masson, 1878), although he had been developing many of the same ideas for almost two decades before 1878.Google Scholar
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    Ross, Hall, G. Stanley Hall to W. James, ca. December 1878, pp. 81–82.Google Scholar
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    H. P. Bowditch to L. O. Bowditch, 7 November 1869, Bowditch Papers.Google Scholar
  83. 83.
    Lombard, “Ludwig,” 366.Google Scholar
  84. 84.
    Philip Bard to E. M. K. Geiling, 28 December 1961, Abel Papers, box 124.Google Scholar
  85. 85.
    Lombard, “Ludwig,” 367.Google Scholar
  86. 86.
    W. H. Welch to W. W. Welch, 18 October 1876; W. H. Welch to E. W. Walcott, 18 November 1876, Welch Papers.Google Scholar
  87. 87.
    Sabin, Mall,pp. 56–59.Google Scholar
  88. 88.
    Hall, Life and Confessions of a Psychologist ( New York: Appleton, 1923 ), p. 205.Google Scholar
  89. 89.
    Lombard, “Ludwig,” 369; Davenport, “View from Michigan,” pp. 52–54.Google Scholar
  90. 90.
    Mary Hinman Abel to Frances Hinman, 31 October 1884, Abel Papers.Google Scholar
  91. 91.
    Sabin, Mall,pp. 60–61.Google Scholar
  92. 92.
    Ibid., pp. 60–64.Google Scholar
  93. 93.
    Cited from quotation of letter from Ludwig to Bleile, n.d., in Anton W. Oelgoetz, -Those Were Thrilling Days,”‘ Ohio State Med. J. 36 (1940): 873–877, citation on 873.Google Scholar
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    Lombard, “Ludwig,” 369.Google Scholar
  95. 95.
    H. P. Bowditch to L. O. Bowditch, 26 September 1869, Bowditch Papers.Google Scholar
  96. 96.
    Lombard, “Ludwig,” 368.Google Scholar
  97. 97.
    M. H. Abel to Katharine Daniels, 22 October 1884, Abel Papers, box 62.Google Scholar
  98. 98.
    H. P. Bowditch to L. O. Bowditch, 24 and 31 October 1869, Bowditch Papers.Google Scholar
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    H. P. Bowditch to L. O. Bowditch, 28 November 1869, Bowditch Papers.Google Scholar
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    W. H. Welch to E. W. Walcott, 18 November 1876, Welch Papers.Google Scholar
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    H. P. Bowditch to L. O. Bowditch, 13 March 1870, Bowditch Papers.Google Scholar
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    W. H. Welch to E. W. Walcott, 12 March 1877, Welch Papers.Google Scholar
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    Robert E. Kohler, From Medical Chemistry to Biochemistry: The Making of a Biomedical Discipline (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982), esp. pp. 93–120.Google Scholar
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    W. H. Welch to Emily S. Welch (mother), 20 July 1877, Welch Papers.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Welch’s remark that, because an American “is something of a rarity in Breslau,” he was receiving much more attention from Julius Cohnheim than might otherwise be the case, W. H. Welch to E. S. Welch, 15 May 1877, Welch Papers.Google Scholar
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    Cf. the testimonial from Ludwig for Bleile in Oelgoetz, “Thrilling Days,” 875.Google Scholar
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    See Eulner, Entwicklung der medizinischen Spezialfächer, pp. 46–138.Google Scholar
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    A good introduction to the issues involved in American higher education in this period may be found in the essays in Alexandra Oleson and John Voss, eds., The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America, 1860–1920 ( Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1979 ).Google Scholar
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    On Bowditch’s negotiations, see Fye, “Why a Physiologist?” pp. 26–29.Google Scholar
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    For a participant’s description of that laboratory, see Ellis, “Henry Pickering Bowditch.”Google Scholar
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    For the development of laboratories at Harvard and Columbia, see chapter III by Alejandra C. Laszlo in this book.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Bowditch’s notebook kept in the summer of 1879 (CL-HMS GA 9), and the letters, numbering almost fifty, that he wrote back home to his wife in the summer of 1880 from Paris, Heidelberg, Würzburg, Leipzig, Berlin, Dresden, London, and Cambridge (CL-HMS C 5. 1 ).Google Scholar
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    See K. J. Franklin, “A Short History of the International Congresses of Physiologists,” Ann. Sci. 3 (1938): 241–335.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 258–261; “The Triennial International Congress of Physiologists: Fourth Meeting,” Nature Lond. 58 (15 September 1898): 481–486.Google Scholar
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    H. P. Bowditch to Selma Knauth Bowditch, 1 August 1880, Bowditch Papers.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Minot’s reports on German biology as a way of stimulating emulation on the part of Americans: “The Study of Zoology in Germany. I. The Laboratories. II. The Methods Used in Histology and Embryology,” Am. Nat. 11 (1877): 330–336, 392–406; On Bowditch, see Cannon, “Bowditch,” 192–193; On Lee see chapter III by Laszlo in this book.Google Scholar
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    On Welch as a fund-raiser, see Flexner and Flexner, Welch, pp. 234–296; also Donald Fleming, William H. Welch and the Rise of Modern Medicine (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1954 ), pp. 131–202.Google Scholar
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    Dr. Long’s phrase occurred in discussion at the conference at which these papers were read, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD, January 1986.Google Scholar
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    H. P. Bowditch, “Über die Eigenthümlichkeiten der Reizbarkeit welch die Muskelfasern des Herzens zeigen,” Arbeiten aus der physiologischen Anstalt zu Leipzig 6 (1871): 652–689; H. P. Bowditch, “Ueber den Nachweis der Unermüdlichkeit der Säugethiernerven,” Arch. Physiol. (1890): 505–508.Google Scholar
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    Cannon, “Bowditch,” 188–194. The range of Bowditch’s activities may be seen very clearly in a reprint that gathers together all of his publications. I. Bernard Cohen, ed., The Life and Writings of Henry Pickering Bowditch: An Original Anthology, 2 vols. (New York: Arno, 1980 ).Google Scholar

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© American Physiological Society 1987

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  • Robert G. FrankJr.

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