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The Founding Physicians

April 2023
1min read

The article on the founding of the Johns Hopkins medical complex that ran in our February, 1976, issue generated some interesting mail. Dr. Ronald Rosenthal of Nashville, Tennessee, writes:

“On page 30 you have a reproduction of the famous portrait by John Singer Sargent of the four founding physicians of this great institution. Unfortunately, you have Dr. Halsted and Dr. Osier reversed; in the portrait Dr. Halsted is standing directly to the left of Dr. Welch, and Dr. Osier is sitting directly to the right of Dr. Kelly. You are calling Osier Halsted, and Halsted Osier. Friends of mine at Johns Hopkins say that during the painting of the portrait Mr. Sargent became so incensed at Dr. Halsted over one thing or another that when it came time to paint Halsted’s picture, he used inferior pigments so that Halsted’s face would fade more rapidly than the others. I have no idea whether this story is true or not; certainly in the portrait Halsted is in somewhat of a shadow as compared to the other three.”

Dr. Stephen Lehrer of New York City called our attention to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association which indicates that the unfortunate Dr. Halsted was not cured of his narcotic addiction before he came to Baltimore. In the late 1890’s Dr. Osier wrote a private biographical sketch of his colleague. In it he said:

“When we recommended [Halsted] as full surgeon to the Hospital in 1890,1 believed, and Welch did too, that he was no longer addicted to morphia. He had worked so well and so energetically that it did not seem possible that he could take the drug and do so much.

“About six months after the full position had been given, I saw him in a severe chill, and this was the first intimation I had that he was still taking morphia. Subsequently I had many talks about it and gained his full confidence. He had never been able to reduce the amount to less than three grains daily; on this he could do his work comfortably and maintain his excellent physical vigor (for he was a very muscular fellow). I do not think that anyone suspected him, not even Welch.”

But Osler appended a footnote to this many years later that suggests that Halsted did finally triumph over his addiction:

“Subsequently, 10 Jan. 1898, he got the amount down to 1 ½ grains, and of late years (1912) has possibly got on without it. ”

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