EASTERN PENNSYLVANIA BRANCH-ASM Est. 1920

A HISTORY OF THE EASTERN PENNSYLVANIA BRANCH OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR MICROBIOLOGY

A Personal Review by Harry E. Morton, Sc.D.

(Harry E. Morton, Sc.D., was Chief of Clinical Microbiology in the William Pepper Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania from 1967 – 1975.  A man of diverse interests,  Morton pioneered electron micrographic studies on diptheria,  published a large volume of literature on mycoplasmas and invented the stainless steel test tube caps (Morton enclosures) still in use today.  In the Cold War environment,  he and Paul F. Smith, MD, PhD, undertook government-sponsored classified research into biological toxins. Their work on brucella,  labeled “Project Arabian Camel” explored the infectivity of the organism in man and animals.  Under the rubric of the University’s Institute for Cooperative Research,  Morton also pursued research for the federal government on botulism.   Source:  ASM Archives and History of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania)

(This account is based on a talk presented by the late Dr. Morton at the December, 1984 Branch Meeting)

1912-1920 Bug Club Era

The idea of organizing a group of individuals in the Philadelphia area, who were interested in the relatively new science of bacteriology, was conceived by Dr. A. Parker Hitchens during, or as the result of, a visit with his friend Dr. Benjamin White in Boston in 1911 or 1912. Following this visit, Dr. Hitchens brought together a group of 12 to 15 individuals interested in bacteriology and pathology. This group formed an organization most likely in 1912. Dr. C.P. Brown, one of the members of this group, stated it was organized about 1912. He also stated that C.Y. White served as secretary for about 11 years. Since there is firm evidence that Dr. White served as secretary until 1923, it makes the beginning of his 11 years in the office of secretary as the year 1912. This was the beginning of what was to become known as the “Philadelphia Bug Club”.

The first meeting and some of the subsequent meetings were held at Palumbo’s Restaurant, 8th and Catherine Streets, Philadelphia. It was a dinner meeting and started of course with antipasto and chianti, then spaghetti, followed by a meat and vegetable course and ended with Lacryma Christi.

Those present at the first official organization meeting were:

  • Alexander C. Abbott, M.D.
  • David H. Bergey, M.D.
  • Claude P. Brown, M.D.
  • Herbert Fox, M.D.
  • A. Parker Hitchens, M.D. (President)
  • John Reichel, V.M.D.
  • Randle C. Rosenberger, M.D.
  • George Robinson, M.D.
  • Domaso deRivas, M.D.
  • Otto Schoble, M.D.
  • George H. Smith, Ph.D.
  • C.Y. White, M.D. (Secretary)

Frequently, at those early meetings, discussions took place as to whether the young organization should be known as a “Microbiological Club” or a “Bug Club”. The popular product from the metabolism of Saccharomyces species produced a state of conviviality and often stimulated the discussions, especially the discussions between Dr. A.C. Abbott and Dr. Damaso deRivas. The forces proposing the name Microbiological Club and led by Dr. Abbott appear to have won, at least on paper, but the proponents for the name Bug Club led by Dr. deRivas had a popular following for a long time. Dr. Abbott thought the name Bug Club was rather undignified. Other cities, such as Boston, had a Bug Club, so a similar name for the new Philadelphia club was not without precedent.

(Alexander C. Abbott, MD. In 1892, the year in which Abbott joined John S. Billings, MD, at Penn’s Laboratory of Hygiene, he authored Principles of Bacteriology, the first textbook on bacteriology in the United States. As director of the Laboratory (School) of Hygiene from 1896 to 1928, he was instrumental in developing a graduate program conferring the degree of doctor of public hygiene, the nation’s first such degree program. For many years Abbott also served as chief of the Philadelphia Bureau of Health. He contributed to the medical literature on a variety of topics, including disinfection, diphtheria, tuberculosis, cholera, immunity, sewer air and ventilation. (University of Pennsylvania Archives, History of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania)

The programs were arranged by directors of hospital laboratories, The City of Philadelphia Public Health Laboratory and the Mulford Laboratories in Glenolden, where the meetings were held. This plan was continued for some time but it was finally decided that a more or less regular central meeting place was desirable since not everybody had an automobile. Most of the meetings were held at the University of Pennsylvania, Jefferson Medical College, The Henry Phipps Institute at 7th & Lombard Streets and the Mulford Laboratories in Glenolden.

Usually there were three scientific papers followed by a not altogether coherent discussion. Dr. Carl J. Bucher claimed that he had it from Muse Clio that the essays were erudite, eloquent, not always scientifically sound, but usually witty. There was a spirit of camaraderie in those early days, possibly because of the Club being comparatively small, that would not be possible in later years with so many diversified interests being represented.

(Herbert Fox, MD (M 1901), director of the William Pepper Laboratory 1911-1942. While heading the Pepper Lab for 31 years, Fox pursued general work in tuberculosis and other bacterial diseases, publishing a variety of papers and authoring several editions of Elementary Bacteriology and Protozoology. In the 1940s his report on blood cultures detailed the state of technology at the time and reviewed many issues still of concern in the present day clinical microbiology laboratory. (University of Pennsylvania Archives, History of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania)

Claude P. Brown stated that the Bug Club grew like topsy. There is no record that it had a constitution or by-laws: there are no records of minutes, dues or officers other than the record of A. Parker Hitchens as the President during the first year of the organization, and of CRY. White as secretary throughout the existence of the Club.

Dr. A. Parker Hitchens was the stimulating influence in organizing the Club and according to Dr. Brown he was the spark-plug. It will be well for us to have a look at some of the activities of this individual.

In 1937 Dr. Joseph McFarland published an account of the beginnings of bacteriology in Philadelphia. He covered the period of 1880 to 1890 to the very early 1930’s. In his article Dr. McFarland mentioned that Edward Orem Shakespeare was the first bacteriologist in Philadelphia and was appointed bacteriologist to Blockley Hospital in 1889. There is no evidence that Dr. McFarland was ever a member of the Bug Club or of our Local Branch. He gave us the most valuable history of the beginning of bacteriology in Philadelphia and several copies of his article are in the archives of our Local Branch. Dr. McFarlane organized and directed a Laboratory of Biology for the H.K. Mulford Co. in 1894. The laboratory started in a large stable at 39th and Cambridge Streets in West Philadelphia. The laboratories moved to a new location at the Glenolden Station on the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Branch of the Philadelphia Railroad about 1900 and Dr. McFarlane resigned. Dr. Arthur Parker Hitchens joined the Mulford Biological Laboratories in 1900 and served as Director of the Laboratories from 1905 to 1918. In Dr. McFarland’s article is a picture of Dr. Hitchens wearing a bow tie and looking through a microscope. A man who wears a bow tie can’t be all bad.

I had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Hitchens personally. He was a kind, considerate and learned gentleman with a good sense of humor. If you told him a story, he laughed and appeared to enjoy it. He usually followed with a story from his own repertoire. If you related a humorous incident to him he usually could recall an equally amusing incident. For all his greatness he did not take himself too seriously. There was no doubt about his being an organizer and a sparkplug. He was managing editor of the Journal of Bacteriology when it began publication in 1916 during or. Bergey’s term as President of the Society of American Bacteriologists. He was a member of the Board of Editors – Trustees of Bergey’s Manual of Determinative Bacteriology and at one time was a member of the Board of Trustees of biological Abstracts. During that time he persuaded me to become Editor in Biological Abstracts of the Section on Visual Aids for Microbiology. He entered the Army of the United States in 1918, served during World War I was commissioned as Major in the Medical Corps in 1920, promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1927 and retired from the army on September 30, 1941. He served as secretary, vice-president and subsequently as President of the society of American Bacteriologists in 1924.

His return to Philadelphia occurred in 1938 as his last assignment in the UPS. Army which was as Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the University of Pennsylvania until his retirement from the service in 1941. His activities during this second period in his life in Philadelphia gives one some idea of his capabilities and energies.

In May of 1939, the year of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the University of Pennsylvanian the establishment of a Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine was announced. Dr. Hitchens was made Chairman of the Department and the George S. Pepper Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. Dr. Hitchens served the University of Pennsylvania for seven and one-half years to 1946.

During 1940 to 1943, Dr. Hitchens was a member of the City Board of Health of Philadelphia. In 1940 and 1941 he served as Councilor for the Eastern Pennsylvania Branch to the Society for American Bacteriologists. During 1945 to 1948, Dr. Hitchens served as Commissioner of Health, Wilmington, Delaware.

In 1948, Dr. Hitchens succeeded Dr. Claude P. Brown as Director of the Bureau of Laboratories of the Pennsylvania Department of Health but resigned after one year. He died on December 10, 1949 at his home, 906 South 48th Street in west Philadelphia, at the age of 72.

During World War I, the Club almost became extinct due to members joining the Armed Forces or taking positions elsewhere. Drs. Abbott, Bergey, Hitchens, Brown and Aronson joined the army and Hitchens made it his career.

Around 1956, an Arthur Parker Hitchens Lecture was created, co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Public Health Association, Region I, and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and is held annually at the College of Physicians.

History of the Eastern PA Branch-ASM:

1920-1936 The Old Guard Era
1936-1967 The Young Turks Era