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.

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

1936-1967 The Young Turks Era

In the early 1930’s, the membership had decreased and some of us were concerned about the condition of the Chapter. The Department of Bacteriology in the School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania was reorganized in 1931 with Dr. Stuart Mudd appointed as acting chairman. Dr. William Kreidler, a member of Dr. Bergey’s department, was a part-time member of the reorganized department to help in the transition from the old to the new department. He joined the Department of Bacteriology at Jefferson Medical College in 1932 where Dr. Randle Rosenberger was chairman. I was invited to Jefferson when they had a guest speaker or an especially interesting seminar. In that way I became acquainted with Dr. Rosenberger at the Medical College and with Dr. Carl J. Bucher at the Clinical Laboratories of Jefferson Hospital.

Dr. Bucher and I became good friends. He was interested in what and how the medical students at his alma mater, the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania, were being taught in the new Department of Bacteriology and I was interested in learning about clinical bacteriology because there was no liaison between our department in the Medical School and the clinical bacteriology laboratory in our University Hospital. Both of us were former mid-westerners transplanted to Philadelphia, were much interested in medical bacteriology and had a fondness for Scotch whiskey and soda. Frequently after meetings of the Chapter, Dr. Bucher and I and one or two others gathered to discuss the status of the Chapter and what should be done to improve it.

It was decided finally that if a local bacteriological society here in Philadelphia were going to improve and amount to very much, new life had to be pumped into it. Dr. Bucher had some ideas on how to bring about improvements and was willing to serve as President if I would help him in the capacity of Secretary of the Chapter. We decided to ease out of the old guard slowly by electing Dr. Bucher as President in 1936, re-electing Dr. Brown as Secretary-Treasurer for one more year and then electing me Secretary-Treasurer the following year. However, during the first year of Dr. Bucher’s presidency, I worked behind the scenes getting new members and generating more interest in the Chapter.

In 1936, Dr. Bucher was able to get the auditorium of the Philadelphia County Medical Society Building at the southeast corner of 21st and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia, for a permanent meeting place. This arrangement greatly helped the attendance and brought in many new members who took an active interest in the Society. The membership increased from 31 to 67, an increase of 116%. This was such an increase in membership that the annual dues were reduced from $1.50 to $1.00. This was also the year when local branches began electing Councilors to the parent society.

In 1937, Dr. Bucher was re-elected President and I was elected Secretary-Treasurer and together we got things moving. Since Dr. Brown was referred to as the sparkplug during the previous era that kept the local society going during the early years of existence, I think Dr. Bucher should be referred to as the person who turned on the ignition and made the organization start to function smoothly and with ever increasing speed. During this year, the paid-up membership reached 123 which was an increase of 297% over the two year period. During the following year, the membership reached 166 for an increase of 435% in this three year period. An increase of this magnitude over a three year period has never been equaled nor is it likely to be equaled again since the Branch has become so large. The latest figures so far for 1987 show that there are over 800 members.

In 1937, the names and addresses of all individuals on the mailing list were put on address-o-graph plates for more efficient mailing. The programs were printed on U.S. penny post cards and then run through the address-o-graph. We began publishing an annual newsletter which had eight annual issues through 1946. An issue appeared in 1948 and then not again until 1965. The Newsletter for November, 1984 was Volume 25 and had a circulation of 1125.

A Constitution and By-Laws were prepared and accepted. Section 6 of ARTICLE IV (Membership) stated “Members of the Chapter who are not members of The Society of American Bacteriologists are not entitled to vote or to hold office as councilor to the Society of American Bacteriologists, as provided by Article IV, section 3 and Article VIII, Section 6 of revised constitution of The Society of American Bacteriologists, 1935.” I observed that this point was still being discussed at the meeting of the Executive Committee in November, 1984.

Not all the expansion in activities of the local society was met with unanimous approval by members of the so-called Old Guard. Dr. Brown was not favorably impressed by the sudden increase in the membership. He told me the Chapter was deteriorating; even technicians were being admitted. Membership became open to anyone who was interested in bacteriology, immunology or the allied sciences. The situation changed from technicians not being welcomed, to where they could not afford professionally not to be members of a society that was active in their field of work.

In 1938 we began publishing, in the Journal of Bacteriology abstracts of papers presented at the monthly meetings of the Chapter. These were bound as Annual Sessions of the Chapters and distributed to the members, as many members were not members of the National Society and would not be receiving the Journal of Bacteriology. The National Society began publishing a Newsletter in 1935 and they reported many of the activities of our Branch. In 1947 they reported:

“The Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter is one of the most careful in regard to the collection and publication of abstracts in the Journal of Bacteriology and periodically reprints of these abstracts are collected and bound. The latest, for the season of 1945-46 has just appeared and is a most attractive little reprint. A membership list as of January, 1947 has just been prepared and lists 279 members. Ninety of these names are starred to indicate that they are members of the Society.”

In 1942 many of our members, like other bacteriologists, served in the armed forces of World War II. Many were in positions where they had to train personnel in microbiology and they had nothing much with which to work. They urged us to make some teaching aids available to them. I urged Dr. Selman A. Waksman, then President of the Society of American Bacteriologists, to appoint a committee to fulfill that need. He appointed the Committee on Materials for Visual Instruction in Microbiology and I was appointed Chairman. In that capacity I served for at least 25 years. We collected materials for lantern slides and photographic prints and motion picture films. These were made available by rental or purchase. Bacteriologists in many medical schools, universities, colleges and teachers of biology in high schools used the various visual aids. It became such a voluminous business that finally the National Society placed the production and distribution of the visual aids in the hands of a commercial producer and distributor of visual aids. The committee was disbanded, activities in the field expanded under what is now known as the Board of Education and Training. The name was proposed by Dr. Earle H. Spaulding. The Committee on Continuing Education of the B.E.T. sponsored 19 workshops in conjunction with the 1984 Annual Meeting of the ASM which illustrates the activities of one division of B.E.T.

In 1947, the local Branch was host to the National Society for its Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. We had a very energetic membership and put on a very good annual meeting with many new innovations. For one thing, we started the custom of having a public lecture and a mixer on the evening preceding the beginning of the annual meeting. This allowed the attendees to get settled in their rooms, meet their friends and get their visiting taken care of so the meetings could get started in full force early the next morning and make possible three full days of meetings. These two functions have now become known as the Opening Session and Annual Reception and are part of the official program of the Annual Meetings of the American Society for Microbiology.

Another new innovation was the establishment of a daily newsletter or bulletin issued during the Annual Meeting. This was an idea proposed by Dr. Grant O. Favorite during a meeting at the Union League. In searching for an appropriate name, Joseph Smolens suggested THE INCUBATOR. That seemed like a logical name as nearly every morning bacteriologists say “Let’s see what’s in the incubator!”.

The comments about the 47th General Meeting of the Society of American Bacteriologists as appeared in the July 1947 issue of the S.A.B. Newsletter described THE INCUBATOR and the meeting very well:

“Several new annual meeting features were introduced in Philadelphia. The local committee not only provided television for the entertainment of the members who wished to mix in a little baseball with their Round Tables, but it mimeographed the list of members in attendance so efficiently that members who desired had a complete list of all those present to take home with them. Particularly significant was the daily appearance of the “Incubator” which was available each of the five mornings neatly mimeographed on gray, deep pink, light pink, blue and yellow paper containing announcements for the day, news from the day before and a generous sprinkling of humorous and personal notes. The registration and information service was good, entertainment features were well-planned and administered, and hotel accommodations and service satisfactory. The vote of appreciation from the Society to the Local Committee Chairman Morton and his colleagues was as sincere and well deserved as any ever registered.”

The publication of THE INCUBATOR continued for many years until the Annual Meetings became so large that other methods of communication became more convenient, such as the daily computer printout of registrants by name, hotel and home address. As was customary at each Annual Meeting of the SAB, there was a session on the history of American Bacteriologists, there was a session on the history of bacteriology in the region where the annual meeting was held. Naturally at the 1947 meeting there was a session on the History of Bacteriology in the Philadelphia area. Because of Dr. Bucher’s interest in history and in bacteriology, he volunteered to be chairman of the session and organized a program. Drs. Bucher, Stubbs and Seibert handed in prepared manuscripts and a public stenographer prepared transcripts of the talks by the other four speakers on the program. Copies of the proceedings of the session are available from the archives of the Branch.

The April 1939 meeting was listed a symposium on “Lymphogranuloma venereum, the 6th venereal disease.” The symposium in February 1941 on “Technics for the cultivation of anaerobic microorganisms” was the first real symposium at which a stenographer recorded in shorthand and prepared a transcription of everything that was said during the presentations and discussions. This was published in Volume IV of our Newsletter.

We had guest speakers from outside of the Philadelphia area who spoke on timely topics.

We had joint meetings with other societies. One was with the New York City and New Jersey branches at Princeton, NJ. A cold buffet supper with beer on draft was served for $1 per person. Another joint meeting was with the Physiological Society of Philadelphia and the Pathological Society of Philadelphia.

Occasionally we had a meeting in which we looked back into history. As the March 28, 1939 meeting, Dr. Hitchens talked about the introduction of agar into bacteriology, Dr. McFarland reported on “Hunting tubercule bacilli 50 years ago”, and Dr. Schramm presented a history of pure culture studies.

In 1940 the Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania invited the Chapter to exhibit some important bacteriological procedures at its meeting in the Bellevue Stratford Hotel.

In 1961 the Society of American Bacteriologists changed its name to the American Society for Microbiology. The name of our local society had always been the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Society of American Bacteriologists. This was the only local branch which called itself a chapter and this was looked upon with disfavor by the National Society. At the meeting on October 24, 1961, the name of our branch was officially changed to the Eastern Pennsylvania Branch of the American Society for Microbiology.

The Chapter was host to the Society of American Bacteriologists for its 60th Annual Meeting in May, 1960. At that meeting we invited teachers and students from the biology departments of high schools in Philadelphia. This took place on the last day of the exhibits. Talks by representatives of various fields of bacteriology were presented in the morning and, following a complimentary lunch, the students and teachers were allowed to visit the exhibits. This was so enthusiastically received by everybody, including the exhibitors, that it has become part of every Annual Meeting of the National Society.

The session on History of Bacteriology in the Philadelphia area covered the period of 1947 to 1960. A copy of that history report is available from the Archives of the Branch.

History of the Eastern PA Branch-ASM:

1912-1920 Bug Club Era
1920-1936 The Old Guard Era