History of the Department of Pathology

The First Years, 1867-1917

  • The Department of Pathology at Yale was established in 1867, as the Department of Pathology and Microscopy. Yale School of Medicine was founded in 1810.
  • Moses C. White was the first Chair of Pathology, serving from 1867-1900. He taught microscopy, histology, and pathology, served as Medical Examiner for New Haven from 1883-1900, and wrote on the subjects of blood stains and microphotography.
  • Charles J. Bartlett (Pathology and Bacteriology) served as Chair from 1900-1917, and also succeeded White as Medical Examiner.
  • In 1914, funds for the Brady Memorial Building were given by the Brady family and the Brady building became the home of the Pathology Department.
  • In 1916, Yale Medical School admitted its first women students. In 1921, Helen May Scoville, a graduate of this first class, became Instructor in Pathology and Bacteriology.

The Growth of a “Modern” Department, 1917-1950

In 1917, Milton C. Winternitz became the first Brady Professor of Pathology and Chair of the Department and served until 1950. It was his work that established the “modern” Department of Pathology. The then dean of Yale School of Medicine, George Blumer, invited Winternitz to come to Yale. Winternitz was trained by William H. Welch at Johns Hopkins. Winternitz also later became Dean of Yale Medical School, from 1920-1935.

Winternitz was renowned for his research and discoveries relating to the flu virus. In 1918-1919, New Haven Hospital was flooded with patients from the great flu pandemic. Winternitz published his pathology findings in 1921. (Later, World War II would give him the opportunity to study mechanisms of and therapies for shock.)

Winternitz proceeded to build up the department, ushering in a new era. He laid the groundwork for the Yale System of medical education. He overhauled the curriculum and raised the bar for student applicants and obtained more funding and more laboratories. In a major revision of required coursework, Winternitz eliminated a great number of didactic lectures in favor of electives. This move was the beginning of what was then called the Yale Plan, in which experience in investigative research and a thesis based on original research were now required. In 1932, Winternitz again upped the standards at Yale, requiring a successful National Board exam of candidates for the third year. The Yale System has been supported and enhanced by the faculty to this day.

Yale Pathology circa 1926

Yale Pathology circa 1926

As Dean, Winternitz organized the medical departments as University departments. This allowed the medical school and graduate school students to participate in each other’s classes and required that the academic standards of the University were met by medical faulty. Winternitz accomplished many more fundamental changes to the School, at the same time building up a first-rate faculty that put Yale among the top medical institutions in the U.S. and stabilizing the School financially.

Winternitz believed that medicine was not simply a technical field, but a social science in which the physician should concern himself not only with the human body but with the patient’s entire social and economic welfare. This shift in focus led to medical school departments at Yale being embedded in the graduate school. Consistent with his belief, Winternitz strongly supported the Institute of Human Relations at Yale. The Institute of Human Relations, conceived in 1929, brought together psychiatrists, psychologists, physiologists, sociologists, lawyers, physicians, and others to carry out interdisciplinary research in the social sciences.

In 1930, the first Neuropathology section in the U.S. was founded here at Yale by Harry Zimmerman, a resident in 1927-1929. He had been sent by Winternitz to Munich, Germany, to study under Walter Spielmeyer (1879-1935), known for his research in neurohistology and histopathology of the nervous system. In 1933, the Brain Tumor Registry was founded by Harvey Cushing, who had came to Yale as Sterling Professor of Neurology and brought with him a collection of 2,000 brain tumors.The Brain Tumor Registry was first housed in Brady, and has since been moved to Harkness Dormitory basement.

Averill Liebow, considered one of the founding fathers of modern pulmonary pathology, was a Yale Medical School graduate (1935) who returned to Yale after active duty in WWII to be first an assistant professor of pathology and then John Slade Ely Professor of Pathology (1951). Right after the war in 1945, Liebow served on the Joint Commission for the Investigation of the Effects of the Atomic Bomb in Japan, and spent four months in Hiroshima, documenting his observations.

Liebow ran the teaching programs at Yale, directed autopsies, and consulted to the pathology department at the VA Hospital in Newington. At the request of Winternitz, Liebow had studied lung tumors, and his publications on the topic began his career in lung disease. He proceeded to become the top pulmonary pathologist in the country, known for newly identifying distinct strains of pneumonia. Liebow’s published research included color illustrations by medical artist Armin Hemberger, a collection of whose work now can be seen in the digital collections of the Yale Medical Library (Pathology Teaching Collection).

Yale Pathology circa 1998

Yale Pathology circa 1998

1950 to the Present

In 1950, Greene succeeded Winternitz as chair, serving until 1969. During World War II, Winternitz had brought Harry S. N. Greene to Yale. Greene was a colorful character who, despite his work in tissue transplantation and malignant tissues, did not think highly of most pathologists. Among his controversial positions were that since carcinomas did not survive transplantation, they were not neoplastic diseases, and that since tobacco residue from his pipe implanted in a rabbit did not develop into cancer, tobacco was not carcinogenic.

The WWII years saw increased coordination between medical schools and Veterans Administration hospitals. The VA Hospital in Newington was built in 1925, and the VA Hospital in West Haven was completed in 1953. Pathologists from Yale were involved in the work at both facilities. West Haven VA Hospital had its own pathology training program, a four-year combined program of anatomic and clinical pathology. Residents at Yale benefitted from completing two years of anatomic pathology at Yale and then transferring to the VA Hospital in West Haven for another two years of training, in clinical pathology.

Yale School of Medicine and the VA Hospital soon integrated in many ways, but not in pathology. As Chair, Greene denied Yale residents any rotation through the VA Hospital. It was only after much protest and a subsequent meeting of the Dean’s Committee that Pathology’s integration was accomplished. Greene also thought little of surgical pathology, and thus Yale’s service was also thought poorly of. Biopsies were sent to the VA instead.

Greene passed away in 1969, leaving in medias res the negotiations concerning a position of professor of anatomic pathology offered to Robert Hutter, from Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital. Hutter came to Yale, however, and having nothing in writing, was opposed in his hope of directing the autopsy and cytopathology services Instead, he was permitted only the surgical pathology service—and proceeded to transform it into a first-rate service.

In 1969, Lewis Thomas, from New York University, was recruited to replace Greene, and served until 1973. He had been both chair of internal medicine and dean of the New York Univerity School of Medicine, and saw the value of and supported medical research.

In 1972, Thomas was asked by Yale President Kingman Brewster to become the new dean of Yale School of Medicine. Thomas agreed on condition that he could keep his position of Chair of Pathology and continue his research. Notably, Thomas was able to recruit George Palade from Rockefeller University. Palade, now a legend in electron microscopy, received the Nobel Prize during his time at Yale for his pioneering work in the field. His wife, Marilyn Farquhar, an esteemed cell biologist, also joined the pathology department. In 1973, Thomas left Yale to become President of Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute in New York.

In 1973, Vincent Marchesi became Brady Professor of Pathology and Chair, replacing Thomas, serving until 1990. Robert Berliner was appointed dean of Yale School of Medicine (1973-1984). Thomas had recruited Marchesi for his work on red cell membranes. Previously at NIH, Marchesi had discovered spectrin and genetic mutations accounting for some diseases, and had been awarded a Parke-Davis award for his research.

Under Thomas and Marchesi, pathology research in immunology flourished, and yet neuropathology was subsumed by neurosurgery and much of dermatopathology by dermatology. To strengthen and lead anatomic pathology forward, however, in 1985 Juan Rosai was recruited as director. He came from Minnesota, where he had held the same position, and remained at Yale until 1991.

Succeeding Vincent Marchesi as chair in 1990 is our current Chair, Jon S. Morrow, Raymond Yesner Professor of Pathology, and Chief of Pathology, Yale-New Haven Hospital. As with his mentor Marchesi, Morrow’s research interests center on spectrin and the membrane cytoskeleton. As Chair, he is a strong advocate of the early translation of basic science advances to clinical medicine, established the Critical Technologies Program, and supported the integration of modern molecular diagnostic techniques and technologies into the pathology of today.