This is the first in a series, The Mount Sinai Doctor, that are adapted from the thorough biographical entries located in our Archives catalog, information gathered from This House of Noble Deeds: The Mount Sinai Hospital, 1852-2002, and the unpublished unique material stewarded in our Archives.
Isidor Clinton Rubin was one of the exemplars of what it means to be a Mount Sinai doctor. His unceasing efforts to improve patient care and outcomes through research, innovation, and clinical application changed our understanding of infertility in women. Many couples who were struggling to conceive children sought out Dr. Rubin for his expertise.
He is best known for inventing what is called the Rubin Test, which determines the patency (degree of openness) of the fallopian tubes. The test consists of insufflating a gaseous medium (originally oxygen, later changed to carbon dioxide) into the uterine cavity. If the tubes are blocked, sterility results. Rubin performed the first test on November 3, 1919 at The Mount Sinai Hospital.
Prior to the development of the Rubin Test, doctors could only test patency with any certainty by performing a surgical procedure called a laparotomy. In other cases, where the tubal factor had not been explored, other operative procedures were used to relieve sterility when, in fact, the problem was due to closed fallopian tubes. In sum, the Rubin Test reduced the number of surgical procedures needed to diagnose and treat sterility in women. It also had therapeutic value in that it relieved some cases of dysmenorrhea (severe pain associated with menstruation) and sometimes facilitated conception. He was also among the first to apply x-rays in the practice of gynecology, and undertook work on carcinoma of the cervix, uterine Endoscopy, and ectopic pregnancy.1
Born in 1883, he attended the College of the City of New York and graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in 1905. For the next three years, he served as an intern and then a resident at the Mount Sinai Hospital.
In 1909, Rubin, along with Dr. Abraham Hyman, went to Europe for additional post-graduate training, like so many others of his time.
He traveled in Austria and Germany and studied with Professor Julius Schottlander, Pathologist of the II Universität Frauenklinik in Vienna. Upon his return to the United States, Dr. Rubin set up a private practice and took appointments on the Gynecology staffs at Mount Sinai, Montefiore, and Beth Israel. He also worked at the Harlem Hospital for some years.
Another quality so common to the great Mount Sinai doctors is a dedication to advancing medical education; he held a clinical faculty appointment on the Gynecology staff of the College of Physicians and Surgeons from 1937-1947 and taught at the New York Medical College and New York University medical school.
However, it was truly to Mount Sinai Hospital which he devoted “his schedule and energy rising through the ranks to become Attending Gynecologist and, eventually, Chief of Service from 1937 to 1945.”2 The Mount Sinai Hospital’s Gynecological Department was established 145 years ago in 1877 by Dr. Emil Noeggerath. While today Mount Sinai has the Raquel and Jaime Gilinski Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, Rubin’s tenure in the “Gynaecological Department” was before the addition of an Obstetrics services. Spanning the first half of the 20th century, he worked during the period when doctors were advocating to add Obstetrics to the Hospital’s services (see Giving Birth to an Obstetrical Service for more information). When Dr. Rubin retired from active service in 1945, he continued his affiliation by remaining on the Medical Board and transition to being a Consulting Gynecologist.
A consummate hallmark of a Mount Sinai doctor, he was very involved in outside professional activities throughout his career. In 1928 he served as President of the New York Obstetrical Society. He was a founding member of the American College of Surgeons and the American Board of Obstetrics. In 1955-56, he was the President of the American Gynecological Society. He also helped edit the International Journal of Fertility, Fertility and Sterility, Gynécologie Pratique, and the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The advances made by his work were lauded the world over, and he received many awards over his life. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Gynecological Society and the New York Obstetrical Society. In 1947, he won the ORTHO Award, and received the rank of Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor. In 1954, he became Officier of this group. He was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Athens in 1952 and the Sorbonne in 1955. In 1957, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists awarded him an Honorary Fellowship. His alma mater, the College of the City of New York, chose him for their Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Dr. Isidor Rubin married Sylvia Unterberg in 1914. He died while at a conference in London on July 10, 1958, and was survived by three children, Dr. Harvey N. Rubin, Carol R. Meyer, and Edith R. Fishel.
The two collections in the Aufses Archives that document his work provide an insight into a physician constantly seeking the answers to the unknown in order to understand and treat gynecological ailments. There are also materials related to Dr. Rubin in other collections.
The Isidor Clinton Rubin, MD case history files and manuscripts contain the patient files created by I. C. Rubin in his private medical practice. They relate to his work in infertility and other gynecological areas. Access is restricted to the case records due to the presence of HIPAA-protected Personal Health Information. Open to research, the Isidor Clinton Rubin, MD papers contain an array of materials, letters, notebooks (such as the two pages from one entitled Cases, Experiments, Questions depicted below), ephemera, awards, and photographs documenting the life’s work of one of the quintessential Mount Sinai doctors.
In years past, as the weather warmed up, the staff and alumni looked forward to renewing old acquaintances and socializing with colleagues from across the hospital’s departments. This blog post will highlight the three main traditions of spring, mention their roots and how they evolved.
The first event was the annual alumni dinner, which gathered all the graduates of the Resident training program together to enjoy a good meal, good conversation, and informative lectures. The Society of the Alumni of St. Luke’s Hospital of New York City was established in 1891 and was formed with the intent to “foster collegiality and scientific discourse and to honor accomplished colleagues at an annual dinner.”
The image above, taken from the News of St. Luke’s newsletter, depicts the dinner held on April 30, 1965, at the New York Hilton Hotel.
This photo memorializes the St. Luke’s 1973 alumni dinner at the 7th Regiment Armory.
In 1896, Roosevelt Hospital ‘ex-interns’ met at the hospital to plan the twenty-fifth anniversary of its opening and organize The Roosevelt Hospital Alumni Association. Its stated purpose was “…maintaining loyalty to the institution and promoting its broader usefulness.” Unfortunately, the Archives does not have any photos documenting their celebrations over the years.
Every June during the 1960s, St. Luke’s Attendings invited the Residents to join them for a “Field Day.” Held at New Jersey’s Englewood Country Club, the usual barriers of position, age, and authority were ignored during an afternoon of hotly contested athletic events (softball, golf, and tennis, swimming, etc.), followed by a casual dinner and evening entertainment.
Evening offerings were often films created by actor/director wannabes, Drs. Harry Roselle and Theodore Robbins and the various colleagues they could round up to help. One year’s offering was a Dr- Kildare-meets-Dracula-at-St.-Luke’s horror flick titled, “Anemia of Uncertain Origin.” Another was a spy thriller á la a 1960s TV comedy favorite titled ‘Get Smart,’ called “Aardvark,” in which Secret Agent 95.6, battled Aardvark, a Fu Manchu-type enemy who developed an infamous blood sludging device.
Each year’s outing was documented with a panoramic photograph of attendees. These photos, usually between four and six feet long and about ten inches high, have proven to be a challenge to store in the Archives. About ten of them arrived, each individually tightly rolled. They required re-humidifying in a makeshift humidification tank in order to relax the paper enough to allow them to be flattened for storage. They are available for viewing for those who wish to walk down memory lane.
In case you, dear reader, are curious, the Field Day photo was cut in two in order to be printed in the former newsletter, The News of St. Luke’s. The images used here were scanned from the newsletter because the originals are too large to fit on current in-house scanners. It may also be of interest to note that the dinner photographs, whose originals are two to three feet long and eight to ten inches high, were taken with a fish-eye camera, which has curved lenses to allow the whole room to fit into one image. The author is not sure what equipment was used to capture the huge Field Day images.
Unfortunately, one year in the early 1970s the event was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, and it was not picked up again in the following years.
The final big spring event for many years was the St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing graduation ceremonies held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, just south of the Hospital. Nursing students would line up at the Hospital and proceed down Amsterdam Avenue, marching up the front steps to enter the Cathedral and take seats at the front while their families observed the ceremonies from behind them. At the end of the ceremonies the graduating class would pose for a group photo on the Cathedral steps.
The above images, taken from the News of St. Luke’s newsletter, are of the graduating class of 1955; the image below shows the graduating class of 1974, the year the St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing program closed its doors and merged with the Columbia University School of Nursing Bachelor of Science program.
Roosevelt Hospital also had a School of Nursing, founded in 1896. At first, students were accepted on a rolling admission any time, and as students successfully completed the required coursework, diplomas, graduate caps and pins were awarded with little fanfare in the Administration Building. By the 1920s a formal cycle of classes developed, and graduation was set at a fixed time of year. At first, ceremonies were held in the Syms Operating Room, and later, as the number of students grew, the ceremony was moved to a hotel ballroom. Unfortunately, the Archives does not have images from the Roosevelt Hospital School of Nursing graduations, and like St. Luke’s, the hospital-based school also closed its doors in 1974, but the Alumni Association is still fairly active and enthusiastic about staying connected.
Woman’s Hospital (1855-1952) is a unique institution in the history of American medicine, in several ways. It has claimed to be the first hospital in the world devoted exclusively to “the problems of medicine peculiar to women.” Founded by a group of well-to-do women in NYC, in conjunction with Dr. J. Marion Sims, this group formed the Women’s Hospital Association, and ran the Hospital themselves for the first several years. It was re-organized and re-chartered as the Woman’s Hospital in the State of New York in 1857, making the drastic change of introducing an all-male Board of Governors, who ran the top-level business of the organization. Considering the limits of female power in 1857 and connections in business and finance needed at that time in order to run a growing medical facility, it makes some sense. (1)
Women did, however, continue to run the majority of the daily business of the Hospital. In the 1880s several of the ‘Lady Managers’ were invited to join the Board of Governors by necessity, to fill several slots that had gone unfilled for a prolonged time. It was a successful experiment and made permanent after about a year, re-creating the Board almost equally by gender. What is a bit odd, considering the strong presence of women in the leadership, is that it took until 1918 for a woman to break into the medical end of the work. However, the woman who did it was as unique and unusual as the Hospital for which she worked.
Lillian Keturah Pond Farrar was born in Newton Center, Massachusetts in December 1871 to Jefferson Clinton Farrar Jr., and Sarah D. Pond. (2) She earned her BA at Boston University, and completed her medical education at the Cornell University Medical College. Records there indicate that prior to enrolling she took medical classes at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children between 1896 and 1899. She graduated from Cornell in 1900 at age 29, and returned to the New York Infirmary to take her internship. (3) After that, she spent several years (1901-1904) training in Paris and in Vienna, visiting medical clinics in Paris, Berlin, London, Stockholm, and Rome as well, much like any male physician of that time might do. (4)
After her European training was completed, our information about Dr. Farrar jumps to 1918. That year Lilian K.P. Farrar, MD, age 47, became a Junior Attending Surgeon, the first woman physician appointed at Woman’s Hospital. She became an Attending Surgeon in 1927 and Consulting Surgeon in 1935 at age 64. (5)
Relatively unknown today, Dr. Farrar was active in the broader medical community during her working life. She was a woman of firsts: the first woman to serve as an Assistant Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Cornell University Medical College from 1918 until 1953 (ages 47- 82) and the first woman physician appointed Chief of Clinics (gynecology) there as well. She was the first woman elected as a Fellow of the American Gynecological Society in 1921, and the only woman in the Society for fifty years, as another woman wasn’t welcomed in until 1971 (6). She was the first woman to serve as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons, serving multiple terms between 1925 and 1937. Additionally, she was the first – and only – woman to be a ‘founding Diplomate’ of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (1930). Her body of articles, published between 1917 and 1937, indicate that she was an accomplished gynecological surgeon, even collaborating with a colleague on perfecting irradiation techniques for treating gynecological cancers. (7)
Outside of professional accomplishments, Farrar, who remained single throughout her life, numbered among the social elite of her time. She is listed in both the New York Social Blue Book for 1930 (8), and the Register of the National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York 1893-1926. (9) The Society requires members be direct descendants of someone, or in her case, ten of them, who “lived in the American colony and rendered it service before July 5, 1776.” (10) Farrar supported the Woman’s Suffrage movement and fostered the acceptance of women as interns at Bellevue Hospital, New York, in 1914 and at Woman’s Hospital in 1920. (11)
Another gap in our information about Dr. Farrar exists between 1953 and her death in the Lake Placid Memorial Hospital on June 22, 1962, attributed to arteriosclerotic heart disease (12), at the age of 90. (13) She is buried in Newton Center, Massachusetts.
Sources: 1. Annual Reports of Woman’s Hospital, 1855; 1857; 1918; 1920 2. Family Search website listing: https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/MQQX-JLV/lillian-keturah-pond-farrar-1871-1962 3. Cornell University Medical College Students Register 1898-1907. NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine Medical Center Archives. 4. Dr. Lillian K.P. Farrar. Medical Woman’s Journal (vol. XLIII, page 190, July 1936). 5. Obituary. The Times Newsletter of Woman’s Hospital, Dec 1962, Vol 14, #2 p.11 6. “Gender Ideology in the Rise of Obstetrics.” Naoko ONO. The Japanese Journal of American Studies, No. 17 (2006) 7. Women in Medicine website: http://obgynhistory.net/miscwomandocs.html 8. NY Social Blue Book: http://bklyn-genealogy-info.stevemorse.org/Directory/Blue/1930.BlueF.html 9. Register of the National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York, 1893-1926 https://www.google.com/books/edition/Register_of_the_National_Society_of_Colo/TdBKAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=the+Register+of+the+National+Society+of+Colonial+Dames+in+the+State+of+New+York.+1893-1926&pg=PA3&printsec=frontcover 10. The National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York website membership inquiries page: https://www.nscdny.org/membership-inquires 11. Dr. Lillian K.P. Farrar. Medical Woman’s Journal (vol. XLIII, page 190, July 1936). 12. Unidentified clipping, from the Elizabeth Bass Collection on Women in Medicine, Rudolph Matas Medical Library, Tulane University Medical Center, LA. https://library.tulane.edu/sites/default/files/media-files/matas/matas_collections_bassindex2014_01.pdf 13. Obituary. The Times Newsletter of Woman’s Hospital, Dec 1962, Vol 14, #2 p.11
Since the 2013 merger of the Continuum Health Partners into the Mount Sinai Health System, medical students working in the System’s hospitals have earned their MDs from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Newer staff and students may be unaware that prior to 2013, the Continuum Health Partners, made up of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, Beth Israel Medical Center and the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, now all a part of Mount Sinai’s System, played host to medical students attached to a different medical school. In fact, from very early days, Roosevelt Hospital and her sister institution, St. Luke’s Hospital, were associated with Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S), though Roosevelt’s ties are closer. How did this come to be exactly?
In 1885, P&S was located on East 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue, now known as Park Avenue South. William H. Vanderbilt, an American businessman and philanthropist, died in December of that year. He left a legacy of $300K and a plot of land on West 59th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues to P&S for the express purpose of building a new medical school, the largest donation to a medical school up to that time.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons on West 59th Street across from Roosevelt Hospital. You can see the Hospital’s Administrative Building port-cohere front column to the left in the image. (Photo source: Archives & Special Collections, Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
It just so happened that the Roosevelt Hospital, which had opened its doors several years earlier, was across the street from the new building. Of the twelve physicians chosen to be the first clinical staff of the Hospital, almost all of them were P&S alumni and held teaching positions there. It probably was no surprise to the staff to see medical students from P&S coming over to observe their professors’ clinics and surgeries.
By 1914, P&S students received bedside teaching on patient wards; by 1936, fourth-year students were allowed into the operating rooms. In 1928, the College of Physicians and Surgeons moved to the newly constructed medical center campus at 168 Street in Washington Heights, but their students continued to travel to clinical training at Roosevelt, and a number of other hospitals in the area.
Surprisingly, in over sixty years of P&S student training at Roosevelt Hospital, there was only a ‘handshake’ agreement between the medical school and the Hospital. However, by the late 1940s, there was discussion on the subject, and on October 24, 1951, the Board of Trustees put into place a formal affiliation with Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, allowing the students of the medical school to work at the hospital as part of their formal training. The agreement was signed by all parties on May 12, 1952. In 1971 it was renewed and expanded.
Medical studies aren’t the only tie between Columbia and Roosevelt Hospital, however. In 1964, an affiliation agreement between Columbia University’s School of Dental and Oral Surgery and Roosevelt Hospital was signed allowing dental students in to the surgery. That same year a two-year program in anesthesiology for the registered nurses was established at Roosevelt to help end the shortage of practitioners in this area. This program moved to Columbia University’s School of Nursing after the Roosevelt Hospital’s School of Nursing closed, and the loose ends of Roosevelt’s program merged with Columbia’s. The CRNA program – Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists – continues there to this day.
With the 2013 merger of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center into the Mount Sinai Health System, ties to Columbia University’s programs may have come undone, but the history and influence of each institution upon the other remains, in the drive to produce outstanding medical professionals.