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Seat of Authority


Victor McKusick, who opened the Osler Textbook Room four years ago, tries out its latest addition: Osler’s own chair.

In 1905, amid a round of parties and testimonial dinners, William Osler prepared to leave Johns Hopkins to become Regius Professor at Oxford University. Before departing, he gave away some of his possessions to the “latch-keyers,” young doctor friends who held the keys to his Franklin Street home, where they came to study. One, Henry Thomas, Hopkins’ first neurologist, received Osler’s library chair.

“The chair was greatly valued in the family,” recalls Thomas’ grandson, Henry Thomas III, SOM ’61, now a retired pulmonologist living in Hastings, N.Y. The chair passed to his father and then his mother, Caroline Bedell Thomas, a cardiologist/epidemiologist who in 1946 launched the prospective study of health outcomes of 1,000 medical students that continues to this day as the Precursors Study.

“My mother felt that she and the Precursors Study were quintessentially Hopkins, in the tradition of Osler, and proudly kept the Osler chair in the study offices. In 1984, at age 79, she willed the chair to the Medical Archives, to be displayed in the Precursors Study library, and her will took effect at her death in 1997.”

Most recently, the Precursor’s Study has been directed by Michael Klag, a professor of medicine who now is preparing to become dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Much as Osler did when he left the Hospital and School of Medicine, Klag gave the chair away—to the Osler Textbook Room, the small museum in Billings where Hopkins’ first physician in chief wrote The Principles and Practice of Medicine.

Concerned that the memory of Osler is fading, Thomas believes this now is the chair’s rightful place. “The Osler chair can help to solidify the memory of a remarkable person who so much embodied the hospital and the medical school.”

And so, the chair was carried from the 2024 Building across Monument Street and down to its new home. It was June 1, almost 100 years to the day that Osler left Baltimore for Oxford.

—Anne Bennett Swingle

 

 

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