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Samuel J. Crowe was born in Virginia, on April 16,1883. He attended Emory College for a year (1901-2) and then transferred to the University of Georgia, from which he received his B.A. degree in 1904. He wished to become an engineer but was prevailed upon by his father to study medicine instead. He entered the Hopkins Medical School in 1904 and obtained his degree in 1908.
Immediately upon graduation, he was appointed assistant in surgery and assigned to work with Harvey Cushing on the pituitary gland in the Hunterian laboratory. At the end of the year, he was appointed assistant resident surgeon and was in charge of the neurosurgical cases under Cushing's supervision, serving in that capacity for a year (1909-1910). He then returned to the Hunterian laboratory to resume work on the pituitary with Cushing, who by this time had accepted a call to go to Harvard as professor of surgery.
Crowe was training for neurosurgery, when in 1912, he as tapped by Halsted to implement the substance of a report concerning the development of the field of otolaryngology. Becoming an otolaryngologist almost overnight, he brought distinction and luster to that field for forty years.
By 1914, laryngology, as it was then designated, was an organized subdivision of surgery, with Crowe on a geographical full-time basis as head. Harry R. Slack was his principal assistant. Crowe published his first paper in this field in 1917 in The Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin; the subject was the relation of tonsillar and nasopharyngeal inflictions to general systemic disorders.
Although he was never a prolific writer, a number of his papers were landmarks in the field. It was not until 1920 that the first assistant resident surgeon for laryngology, John W. Baylor, was appointed, but from then on the yearly rotation list contains many now well-known names in the field. John W. Baylor, Edwin N. Broyles, Leroy M. Polvogt, Floyd N. Adams, Jr., John E. Bordley, and Dudley C. Babb remained in Baltimore, as did J. Julian Chisolm, to become valued members of the part-time staff. Broyles for many years was in charge of the bronchoscopic work at Johns Hopkins. A development of great significance occurred in 1924, when the otological research laboratory was established with financial support from the General Educational Board.
The main purpose of this laboratory was the study of deafness, and Stacy R. Gould, a Ph.D. who had formerly been associate professor of anatomy at the University of Michigan, was brought to Hopkins to direct the laboratory.
In 1927, the General Education Board made a gift of $15,000 annually for five years on condition that a like sum be raised by the University. Generous contributions from the duPont family among others enabled the Medical School to raise this money. The grant was renewed by the Rockefeller interest in 1932 under the same terms. The fundamental studies of the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the organs of hearing attracted wide attention and generated a flow of patients with hearing problems to Hopkins.
In 1931-32, Crowe, with the collaboration of Guild and Walter Hughson, presented his work on deafness in one of the Harvey lecture series. Chesney ventured the opinion in 1942 that Crowe's department was the most productive of its kind in the country. It was built almost entirely upon outside grants — many of which were obtained by gifts from Crowe's private patients — a long line of residents and fellows received basic training in problems of deafness through this laboratory.
By 1940 the staff of the laryngology and otology division had increased to twenty-two, including fellows, but all the senior members were part-time except Crowe and the research staff.
After retiring in 1952, Crowe set about writing a history of the Department of Surgery at the urgent request of Alfred Blalock. The manuscript was completed in early November 1955. Only a few hours after its completion, he suffered a massive coronary occlusion, from which he died two weeks later, on November 13, 1955. Crowe was succeeded as head of otolaryngology by Bordley, a favored pupil of his.