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The Neurologists, circa 1890
There were no medical specialties in the early days during the development of medicine in the United States. Physicians engaged in the practice of all aspects of medicine. Some however, focused on areas of personal interest and gained reputations as "specialist". The inevitable course for many was to gain expertise by exploring their intellectual curiosity through observation and experimentation and sharing this with others interested in their field of endeavor. Such was the development of neurology in the United States.
It is said that its beginnings evolved at the time of the Civil War (1861-1865) and was impetus of two men, Silas Weir Mitchell (1829-1914) and William Alexander Hammond (1828-1900). These two men are known today as the fathers of American Neurology. Mitchell graduated from the Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia in 1850 at age of 21. He traveled to Europe and studied under the tutelage of Pierre Robin and Claude Bernard. Upon returning to Philadelphia, he practiced medicine with his father and devoted part of each day to research. He developed a relationship with William A. Hammond as a collaborator through some of his investigations. Hammond studied medicine at New York University and graduated in 1848. During the Civil War he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an assistant surgeon. President Lincoln appointed him Surgeon General of the Army in 1862 at the age of 34. Both Mitchell and Hammond practiced psychiatry and neurology, however, each considered himself a neurologist. They individually published works on injuries and diseases of the nervous system that became building blocks for the specialty of neurology.
Another practitioner, Charles Edouard Brown-Sequard (1816-1894), made many outstanding contributions to the understanding of the functions of the nervous system. Born on the island of Mauritius, and trained in medicine in Paris, he spent much of his time traveling between France, England and the United States. In 1864, he was appointed professor of physiology and pathology of the nervous system at Harvard Medical School.
The founding of the American Neurological Association took place in the lecture room of the Y.M.C.A. in New York City on June 2, 1875. S. Weir Mitchell was elected president but was absent from the meeting and vice-president, J.S. Jewell of Chicago was moved into presidency. It was not until 1910 that Mitchell served as president. Dr. Sarah J. McNutt of New York was the first woman to be elected to the American Neurological Association in 1887.