Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chester Irving Fisher

Years Served: 1873 to 1875
Chester Irving Fisher was born in Canton, Massachusetts on April 25, 1847. He was the third child of Cyrus Fisher and Caroline Guild. His father was an inventor and builder living in Canton for over 40 years. He became a student at the State Normal school in Bridgewater in 1865; taught school for two years; afterward studied medicine and graduated M.D. from Harvard College June, 1870. He was appointed the tenth port physician of Boston holding that office from February 1873 until September 15,1875 when he resigned to get married and go into private practice.

Like virtually all Port Physicians before him, Fisher realized that married life would be incompatible with the demands of inspecting vessels, contacting a wide range of contagious diseases and living a world away from civilization. Few women dreamed of living in Boston harbor and even fewer had a desire to do so on an island that housed immigrants with the most contagious diseases known throughout the world.

He was twenty eight when he married Clara F. Leonard on September 28, 1875 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts less than two week after resigning his position as Port Physician. His experience as Port Physician certainly increased his range of medical skills and experience and probably facilitated his later success as a physician working in public practice.

In June l883, during the investigation of the State almshouse at Tewksbury, he was asked to take charge of that institution and manage it on a hospital basis. He accepted the call and entered upon the duties August 1st, as superintendent and resident physician, and held that position until 1891. His work as port physician and resident physician at the almshouse prepared him to become one of the leading hospital administrators in New York City which eventually enabled him to influence national hospital design concepts.

The Presbyterian Hospital in New York City appointed him its superintendent in October 1891 and he remained there until retiring on July 1, 1914. Under his administration the hospital was expanded to 315 beds from 100, after a fire that partly destroyed it. Some of New York City’s most famous personalities including Cornelius Vanderbilt, John S. Kennedy and R.W. De Forest were among some of the hospital visitors.

The Presbyterian was one of the few hospitals in New York City under medical superintendence. For whatever unaccountable reason individuals without medical training managed most City hospitals. This arrangement was also true at the Presbyterian Hospital prior to Fisher’s appointment. His selection as Superintendent represented a shift to professonal management of American hospitals. He was also a strong advocate for modernized hospital facilities that took into consideration the special isolation requirements for communicable diseases. While he was a leader in developing hospital controls of nosocomial infections he held some unorthodox views of public health prioroties. For example, he ranked coffee and tea poisoning alongside typhoid, smallpox, malaria and venereal disease as important public health issues of the day.

Fisher was 67 years old when he resigned as superintendent of the Presbyterian Hospital, New York. After nearly a quarter of a century's service as the head of that institution he spent his last years with family and in service to his community. (A Suggestion; As to Heresies in the Practice of Religion. By C. Irving Fisher; Outlook, Apr. 25, 1923.) He died eleven years later at age 78 with services at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.

He was a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and an active member of the Congregationalist Church. He had two children: Irving Leonard, born in Brookline on Oct. 9, 1876 and Louise Marion, born in Holbrook on Oct. 10, 1878.

Hughes, Thomas P., D.D, LL.D, The Conduct of a Hospital, The Independent, Feb. 24, 1898
Marshall, Edward, Most of New York's Illness Is Preventable, New York Times, Mar. 23, 1913.
Western Medical Review, Nebraska Medical Association, Vol. 19, No. 9, 1914, p. 473.
New York Times, April 27, 1924.
Ocean Travelers, New York Times, Feb. 7, 1907

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