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The American Medical Association 1847-1947

By Morris Fishbein, M.D.
W.B.Saundeers Co., Philadelphia, 1947

Biography of Victor C. Vaughan
Sixty-sixth President of the A.M.A.
Written by Walter L. Bierring, M.D.

The life story of Dr. Victor C. Vaughan as physician, administrator, teacher, scientist, epidemiologist and patriot, impressed his personality into so many fields of medicine and thus made him a unique figure in American science and medicine.

No brief chronicle as this can therefore adequately evaluate the effects of his accomplishments on human society.

We learn much of his early life and environment from his delightful autobiography, "A Doctor's Memories," published a few years before his death. His birthplace was Mount Ayr, Randolph County, Missouri, and the date October 27, 1851. He first emerged from the obscurity of youth and adolescence at the age of nineteen as professor of Latin at Mount Pleasant College, Huntsville, Missouri. By accident he acquired a complete outfit for a chemical laboratory, and soon became fascinated with the work so that within a short time he taught chemistry along with his Latin. In 1871 he entered the University of Michigan to pursue his chemical studies, and a year later added the degree of M.S. to that of B.S. obtained in Missouri. In 1876 he received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and two years later that of Doctor of Medicine.

As early as 1875 Doctor Vaughan became associated with the medical school of the University of Michigan as instructor in medical chemistry. In 1878 he published a textbook on physiological chemistry which passed through three editions. In 1880 he was made assistant professor, and in 1883 he was promoted to a full professorship with the title of Professor of Physiological and Pathological Chemistry, and Associate Professor of Therapeutics and Materia Medica. He was the first to hold a chair of physiological chemistry in a medical school in this country, and to give chemical instruction from this point of view.

During the first twenty years after graduation, Doctor Vaughan engaged in the active practice of medicine, but his interests were always centered about the laboratory. While evidently a successful practitioner of medicine, and although interested in the individual patient, his part was in the problems which affected the mass of people.

His first contribution from the chemical laboratory in 1875 was on the separation of arsenic from other metals. Throughout the succeeding years the study of organic and inorganic poisons held great interest for him. This led to further interest in sanitary measures, the pollution of wells and poisoning from cheese and other milk products. His contributions to these subjects became authoritative, and he was recognized as one of the leading toxicologists in the country, so that his services were in constant demand in cases of medico-legal disputes.

Doctor Vaughan was a pioneer in public health in Michigan, and for thirty years was a member of the Michigan State Board of Health. In 1888 he studied in Koch's laboratory in Berlin, visited the laboratories of Pettenkoffer in Munich, and Pasteur and Roux in Paris, who were creating the new science of bacteriology.

In 1889 the new hygienic laboratory was opened at the University of Michigan, and Doctor Vaughan served as director for twenty years. At this time his title was changed to Professor of Hygiene and Physiological Chemistry. As a result of investigation in this laboratory and experience in the field, in 1891 appeared to work with F.G. Novy on ptomaines, leucomaines, and bacterial proteins: in 1902 cellular poisons: in 1913 protein split products in relation to immunity and disease: in 1913 infection and immunity, and in 1922 a three volume work on Epidemiology and Public Health Henry F. Vaughan and George T. Palmer as co-authors.

In 1915 he became the first editor of the Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine. He frequently expressed the view that no physician should practice medicine without laboratory aid, and he lived to see well-equipped laboratories as part of every correctly managed hospital.

His service with the University of Michigan Medical School covered a period of forty-five years as teacher and administrator. From 1891 to 1921, for thirty years, he served as dean of the medical faculty. His ability to gather about him outstanding leaders in the different fields of medicine made his Alma Mater one of the best-known medical schools in America.

During the Spanish-American War he became a victim of yellow fever at Siboney, Cuba, but upon his recovery he was assigned to duty with a Board of Medical Officers consisting of Majors Reed Vaughan and Shakespeare to investigate the prevalence of thyroid fever in the various military camps. The final report, in two large volumes, was mainly prepared by Major Vaughan, and was a masterpiece of painstaking analysis, as well as an important contribution to knowledge regarding the spread of typhoid fever by flies and direct contact, as well as for typhoid prevention. Later in 1908 he became a member of a board to study anti-thyroid inoculation, which led to compulsory thyroid inoculation in the Army and Navy. This was considered an important factor in the low incidence of the disease during World War l.

During the first World War, Doctor Vaughan was assigned to duty as head of the communicable disease section in the Surgeon General's office. One of the most important services rendered by Colonel Vaughan had to do with numerous sanitary inspections of cantonments and military hospitals. His wide experience and the prestige of his name were of valuable assistance to General Gorgas in the control of the widespread appearance of measles, pneumonia, meningitis and influenza, which prevailed during those troublesome times. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, "for his meritorious and conspicuous service."

In the Journal of the Association, April 24, 1920, he published an article "Typhoid Fever in American Expeditionary Forces" being a clinical study of 373 cases, including 270 cases in which patients had received triple typhoid vaccine. The incidence was less than 1.1 per cent as compared with 20 per cent in the Spanish-American War.

All of Dr. Vaughan's five sons were in military service in the first World War. One of the tragedies of war that came to him was the loss of his namesake, Lt. Col. Victor C. Vaughan, Jr., M.C. in France.

His service with the American Medical Association covered a period of a quarter of a century in many capacities. He was a member of the House of Delegates from 1902 to 1906; in 1904 he was chairman of the Reference Committee on Medical Education, which recommended the formation of the Council on Medical Education, and of which he was a member from 1904 to 1913. After serving as president of the Association, he became chairman of the Council on Health and Public Instruction from 1919 to 1923. During the last year of this period he was in the Association office assisting in the establishing of the new journal Hygiene. He served as chairman of the Division of Medical Sciences of the National Research Council during two years, 1922 and 1925.

Many further honors came to him: in 1897 the University of Western Pennsylvania conferred upon him the degree Doctor of Science and he received the degree Doctor of Laws from the following institutions: University of Michigan, 1900: Central College, Missouri, in 1910: Jefferson Medical College in 1915: and from the University of Missouri in 1923. In 1894 the University of Illinois had conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Medicine.

He served as president of the American Association of Physicians in 1908 and received the Kober medal in 1928.

His health began to fail in 1927 compelling his withdrawal from all activities, and he died at the home of his son, Dr. Warren T. Vaughan, in Richmond, Virginia, November 21, 1929. In the words of William J. Mayo, a former pupil of Dr. Vaughan: "He not only helped the members of the medical profession to a keener sense of their professional responsibilities, to the individual patient and to sick human beings collectively, but he induced them to live up to a standard of ethics which he himself followed all his life."