A Diligent Effort
Ezekiel Cushing also wrote effusively about his Dartmouth teacher. After leaving Hanover to continue his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Ezekiel compared Nathan Smith's pedagogical skills to those he found in Philadelphia, noting that "Dr. Smith gives infinitely better lectures on surgery than Dr. [Philip Syng] Physick and certainly more useful ones on the theory and practice of physic than Dr. [Benjamin] Rush." That's high praise indeed, for Rush, notable as a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a prominent professor of medical theory and clinical practice, while Physick is considered the "father of American surgery."
The ties between the families didn't stop there. David Cushing's son Erastus earned his M.D. in 1824 from the Berkshire Medical Institute, whose president at the time was one Dr. Josiah Goodhue. It was Goodhue—thanks to a chance 1784 encounter with Nathan Smith, then 22 years old—who had fostered Smith's interest in medicine.
Erastus Cushing and his family moved in 1835 to Cleveland, Ohio. And there, on April 8, 1869, Harvey Williams Cushing was born to Erastus's son, Henry Kirke Cushing, and his wife, Betsey—the last of their 10 children.
Harvey Cushing's remarkable life was detailed by medical historian Michael Bliss in a superb 2005 biography titled Harvey Cushing, A Life in Surgery. Cushing entered Yale in 1887 and took the required courses in rhetoric, classics, and mathematics, as well as a few electives—including a course in physiological psychology that introduced him to the mysteries of the mammalian brain. But he concentrated on more than just his studies during college. Bliss notes that "when Harvey later reminisced about not having worked hard at Yale, it was because he chiefly remembered his extracurricular activities." He was a member of the Yale baseball team, and among his teammates was Amos Alonzo Stagg, later a famous football coach and one of the few individuals elected to the College Football Hall of Fame as both a
Ezekiel Cushing wrote effusively about his Dartmouth teacher. After leaving Hanover, he compared Nathan Smith's pedagogical skills to those he found in Philadelphia, noting that "Dr. Smith gives infinitely better lectures on surgery" and "more useful ones on the theory and practice of physic."
player and a coach. Cushing, too, was an excellent athlete; one newspaper headline read "Cushing's Great Sprinting for a Long Fly Starts 10,000 Persons Cheering."
In fact, it was baseball—a Yale-Dartmouth game—that likely brought Cushing to Hanover, N.H., for the first time. However, as Cushing recounted that visit in a 1928 letter to the 11th President of Dartmouth College, Ernest Martin Hopkins, he confessed to having "very hazy recollections of Hanover and its buildings, for it is many years since I have had the pleasure of being there—not so pleasant either, for if I recall the event correctly, the baseball team of which I
was an inconspicuous member got sadly walloped by the sons of Dartmouth. But that was long ago, when I had less reason for an interest in Nathan Smith."
But the story is getting ahead of itself. After graduating from Yale in 1891, Cushing earned his M.D. at Harvard in 1895. He spent a year as a surgical intern at Massachusetts General Hospital and in 1896 was named a resident under Dr. William Halsted, the chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins, and was subsequently put in charge of the surgical wards there. Cushing's time at Hopkins led to close relationships with both Halsted and Dr. William Osler—two of the most famous physicians of the time. (In 1922-23, Cushing wrote the definitive biography of Osler, The Life of Sir William Osler, which won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1926.)
At Hopkins, Cushing "opened the book of surgery in a new place," according to Osler. That new place was the brain. Cushing's interest in brain surgery stemmed from a procedure he developed