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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Spring 1996, Vol.16, No.2
Postcard From The Past

The Study of Anatomy 1898-1927

Anatomy as a discipline owes much to George Sumner Huntington, who revolutionized the study of anatomy as Columbia's-and the nation's-first full professor of anatomy.

"The College of Physicians and Surgeons was the first medical school to abandon, in 1889, the system universally in vogue at the time of confining didactic instruction in anatomy to lectures of large audiences and to substitute teaching by demonstration of the actual objects to small sections of the class," Dr. Huntington wrote in 1898. Thanks to Dr. Huntington, who was called "the greatest anatomist of modern times" when he died, the skeleton ceased to be the only textbook of anatomy.

Until Huntington revolutionized anatomy education, medical students "learned anatomy by sitting at the feet of lecturers who hurried through their work in order to devote the chief part of their time to surgery," reported the New York Sun in "Scientist's Progress," April 4, 1928. "Dr. Huntington changed all that."

Not only did he introduce the laboratory method of teaching human anatomy, he also applied the morphological method as a means of interpreting the structure of the human body, said Dr. Charles F.W. McClure, also a P&S alumnus, in an address to the American Association of Anatomists following Dr. Huntington's death in 1927.

Dr. Huntington also was instrumental in making anatomy recognized as a science separate from surgery. "Anatomy is not an offshoot of surgery but is a science of itself and should be regarded and taught as such," he said. Dr. McClure said the young Dr. Huntington "would never have given up the far more lucrative profession of surgery if he had not already had a vision of a new science of anatomy in America, if he had not entered on his field filled with a desire and a strong determination to raise the study and the teaching of anatomy to a higher plane."

Dr. Huntington graduated from P&S with the Class of 1884. He should not be confused with George Sumner Huntington, P&S Class of 1871, for whom Huntington's chorea is named.

copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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