A Diligent Effort
at Commencement that June. Cushing received the letter on his 60th birthday, April 8, and—in the only handwritten letter to Hopkins in all his correspondence for 1928-29—thanks him for the birthday present. "I amtold that 60 has its felicities," Cushing wrote to Hopkins. "To be taken into the fellowship of Dartmouth, now that Anno Domini has to this extent overtakenme, I regard as an evidence of the truth of this saying."
On Monday, June 17—the day before Commencement—students, faculty, and Medical School alumni gathered in the lecture hall of the 1811 DMS building to dedicate a tablet honoring Smith. Both the timing and the location were fitting, for 1929 marked the 100th anniversary of Smith's death, and Smith had delivered the very first lecture ever given in the building, probably in that very room. The bronze tablet, featuring a bas-relief portrait of Smith, had been designed by Dr. Colin Campbell Stewart, a professor of physiology at DMS who was legendary among students for his artistic skill at the blackboard.
Cushing gave the main address at the dedication. Though neither of his suggestions—as to wording or location—had been followed, and it is unclear whether his 1928 honorarium went toward the tablet's cost, Cushing's comments about Smith were gracious and reverent: "For a school, for a nation indeed, for a state, for a church, to have some individual that they can in a way use before the world as a symbol of what they would like to have other people think them to be is the greatest good fortune. . . . And so I think, when a school like your own has some person who has been a
Cushing wanted the plaque "to come under the eye of the undergraduate student [rather] than merely under the eye of those going into medicine, for after all [Nathan Smith] is one of your great figures and should be made much of."
person of outstanding distinction—tomake use of that person for similar purposes as a means of tying together the sympathies and the interests historically and otherwise of a group of people, which graduates represent, is something that always should be sought for. And here we have the gift of this extraordinary man, who stands out as among the greatest of the doctors who have taught and practiced and worked in our country."
Cushing continued in his remarks to lobby forcefully for the revitalization of the Medical School. "Were Nathan Smith to come to earth today; could he be reincarnated here and stand at his own desk strongly, as I stand here feebly and haltingly addressing you, what would he say to us? . . . 'What is the number of your graduates today and where do they go?' And you would say, 'We have no graduates.' And I think Nathan Smith would be very much hurt and surprised, and I think he would go where I am sure he would find very receptive ears; he would go to the president of the College and say, 'Mr. Hopkins, can't you inmymemory, or can't you for the worthwhiledness of the act, revivify your medical school and have a full four years' course in your school, if for no other purpose than to do what President Wheelock agreed ought to be done—to supply New Hampshire with its doctors?'"
After Cushing's address, Mildred Crosby, granddaughter of Dr. Dixi Crosby (a member of the DMS faculty from 1838 to 1870 and the founder of Hanover's first hospital), unveiled the tablet.
The following day, Cushing was presented with his honorary Doctor of Letters at the 159th Dartmouth Commencement. He was lauded by Hopkins as a "great physician and expert technician, keen in diagnosis of human ills and of proved wisdom in friendly counsel for those seeking physical or social health; richly endowed with the God-given attributes of a sympathetic heart and an understanding mind." Among the other honorary-degree recipients that year were Harry Bates Thayer, an 1879 graduate of Dartmouth College and the retired president of AT&T, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then the governor of New York State.
When the 1811 Medical School building was razed in 1963, due to structural unsoundness, the tablet was moved to a hallway on the third floor of DMS's then brand-new Remsen Building. Ironically, had it been installed in the location suggested by Cushing, it might have been destroyed in a 1935 fire that demolished the "new" Dartmouth Hall.
Harvey Cushing's final brush with Nathan Smith's legacy came upon his move to Yale in 1933, just after he attended the presidential inauguration of his newfound friend, Franklin Roosevelt. But who knows—the web of connections between the descendants of Henry Smith and Matthew Cushing may yet play out in still another chapter.
Witters is the Eugene W. Leonard 1921 Professor of Medicine and of Biochemistry at Dartmouth Medical School, as well as a professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth College. For more about his academic interests, see the Summer 2006 "Faculty Focus". Witters is indebted to Barbara Krieger of the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth for assistance with historical research for this article and to Constance Putnam and Drs. David Roberts and Robert Nye for helpful discussions. Some spelling and punctuation in the quotations here have been modernized and corrected for ease of comprehension.
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