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William George MacCallum

Born 1874
Died 1944

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Canadian pathologist, born April 18, 1874, Dunnville, Ontario; died February 3, 1944.

Biography of William George MacCallum

William George MacCallum was the second of four children born to George A. MacCallum, a physician and surgeon for the village of Dunnville and the surrounding country; and his wife Florence. He had an elder and a younger sister, and a younger brother, John Bruce MacCallum, whose brilliant career in medical research was cut short by his death from tuberculosis at the age of thirty.

William first attended public school and then the High School at Dunnville, being ready for college at the early age of fifteen. During his young years he spent a great deal of time with his father when he visited patients. On one occasion he even lent a hand at an operation when help was needed.

William entered the University of Toronto at 15 years of age. Among his courses were Greek, zoology, chemistry, physics and geology. When he graduated from Toronto in 1894 he had acquired a collection of insects and plants. MacCallum’s great interests in life were natural history and zoology. In this he was greatly influenced by professor Robert Ramsay Wright (1852-1933), the biologist at Toronto who was particularly interested in comparative anatomy.

Under some pressure from his father, he decided to study medicine and applied for admission at the Johns Hopkins Medical School where the first students had entered in 1893. Because he had already completed the equivalent of the first year’s work in medicine, he was granted permission to enter the second year and thus became a member of the first class of the Johns Hopkins Medical School. He graduated with the degree of M.D. in 1897.

After graduation he spent one year as an intern at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and then became assistant resident in pathology under William Henry Welch (1850-1934).

In 1900 MacCallum went to Germany and worked in the laboratory of professor Felix Jacob Marchand (1846-1928) in Leipzig. Shortly after his return to Baltimore in 1901 he was made resident pathologist, then associate professor of pathology and finally was promoted in 1908 to the position of pathological physiology, a chair created especially for him. In 1909 he accepted a call to Columbia University and from 1909 to 1917 he was professor of pathology at Columbia University and pathologist to the Presbyterian Hospital in New York.

The first fifteen years MacCallum spent in Baltimore furnished him an opportunity to pursue his work under the most favourable circumstances, working with several of the great names of his days. The move to New York in 1909, however, brought many new responsibilities with it. His work there was influenced by efforts in the development of medical education, as well as the plans for a closer affiliation of the College of Physicians and the Presbyterian Hospital.

There were other problems of a somewhat different nature that demanded his attention. Among these was an effort to abolish the coroner system which was then in vogue in New York City. He regarded this system as highly inefficient and undesirable, and proposed to substitute it for a better arrangement. It was largely through his influence and against considerable opposition, that the coroners were replaced by medical examiners who were required to be doctors of medicine, as well as skilled pathologists, and who were selected from the civil service list by competitive examination. The reform was important and was adopted by other cities.

In 1917 William Henry Welch (1850-1934) relinquished the chair of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University to assume directorship of the newly established School of Hygiene and Public Health. MacCallum was chosen his successor and returned to Baltimore in the capacity of Baxler Professor of Pathology in the Johns Hopkins University and pathologist to the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In 1917 and 1918 he had the opportunity to study the pathology of epidemic pneumonia which was sweeping through the army camps in this country and causing great numbers of deaths.

Teaching was one of MacCallum’s major interests and a profession in which he excelled. His methods of approach to the study of pathology were so broad and so varied that they attracted many advanced students to apply for work in his laboratories.

Neither MacCallum’s interest in teaching nor his investigations in science appeared to satisfy his restless mind completely, which seemed almost impatient in its requirements for knowledge, nor did they fulfil altogether his emotional needs which sought continuously for new experiences. Greek never lost its fascination for him, though curiously enough he never appears to have made a journey to Greece. He was an omnivorous reader and, since he was perfectly familiar with both French and German, his knowledge of literature was very extensive. He was fond of music and enjoyed especially hearing both German and French Opera.

Another interest was medical history, but his greatest interest was travelling. He visited most countries on the globe and was thoroughly familiar with Europe.

MacCallum never married.

In the winter of 1943 he suffered an illness which forced him to go to Florida for a rest. Shortly after his arrival he was stricken with a hemiplegia which steadily progressed until he was completely incapacitated. His death occurred on February 3, 1944.

This is the most important of several sources used for this article:

  • Warfield Theobald Longcope (1877-1953):
    Biographical Memoir of William George MacCallum.
    Presented to the Academy at the Autumn Meeting, 1944. National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Biographical memoirs, Volume 23 – Thirteenth Memoir.

We thank André Trombeta for information submitted.

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