Mercklenburg Polk, M.D.
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|Name: William Mercklenburg
Death date: Jun 23, 1918
Place of death: Atlantic City, NJ
Birth date: Aug 15, 1844
Place of birth: Ashwood, TN
Type of practice: Allopath
Practice specialities:OBG Obstetrics/Gynecol
Places and dates of practices:New York, NY, 1869
Hospital affiliations: New York Lying-In Hospital, New York
Infirmary for Women & Children, St. Luke's Hospital, New York, St.
Vincent's Hospital, New York, Trinity Hospital, New York, Sydenham
Hospital, New York
Medical school(s): Columbia University College of Phyisicians and
Surgeons, New York, 1869, (G)
Other education: St. Wilfreds, Marion, AL, St. James Coll.,
Hagerstown, MD, Va, Mil. Inst., 1863, Louisville, 1867
Professorship: Bellevue Hospital Medical College, New York, 1879,
therapeutic, NY-05 New York University Medical College, New York:
Univ. of City of New York Med. Dept., 1898, obstetrics, gynecology,
NY-20 Cornell University Medical College, New York, 1898, gynecolog
Journal of the American Medical Association Citation: 71:138
Mecklenbueg Polk, a Fellow of the American Gynecological Society
since 1881 and one of its ex-presidents, died at Atlantic City, N.
J., on June 23, 1918, aged seventy- four years.
He was born at Ashwood, Maury County, Tennessee, in 1844, the son of
the celebrated "Fighting Bishop" Leonidas Polk, Bishop of Louisiana
and Lieutenant-Qeneral in the Army of the Confederate States, and
Frances Devereux Polk.
To appreciate the life and character of so distinguished a man as
Dr. Polk, it is necessary to study his ancestry in order to
understand from whence sprang the great flow of his strength, his
rugged manhood, his high ideals, his brilliant intellect, his
unimpeachable integrity and his gentle breeding.
His great-grandfather, Thomas Polk, of Scotch-Irish descent, founded
Queen's College at Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1769, and in 1771
wrote the famous Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, declaring
"this country free from the control of Great Britain." For three
years he fought as an officer in the Bevolutionary War for this
cause. William Polk, his grandfather, fought in the Revolution when
eighteen years of age and became a Brigadier-General in the United
States Army. His distinguished father, Leonidas Polk, was a graduate
of West Point; he then studied theology and became an eminent Bishop
of the Protestant Episcopal Church. When the Civil War broke out he
felt it his duty to give the South the benefit of his professional
training as a soldier, and he rose to the rank of
Lieutenant-General. As a corps commander he led his troops in some
of the severest fighting of the war and was killed at the battle of
Eenesaw Mountain, Ga. Dr. Polk as a young officer in his father's
corps was on the field of battle at the time of his death. He thus
had a great heritage, and that he worthily lived up to it is amply
evidenced by his career as a brave soldier, a skilful surgeon, a
distinguished educator and a sincere churchman.
Dr. Polk entered the Virginia Military Institute, then under the
administration of "Stonewall" Jackson, and at the outbreak of the
Civil War, when but seventeen years of age, entered the Confederate
Army and served in the artillery as a lieutenant in Bankhead's
Battery, then as an assistant in Folk's Corps and Stewart's Corps
and finally as captain and adjutant and Inspector-General in the
Department of Tennessee. Thus by the time he had become of age he
had taken part in no less than twenty-two battles, many of them the
bloodiest major engagements of the war. After the war he studied
medicine, first at Tulane and later at the College of Physicians and
Surgeons in New York, where he graduated in 1869.
He served as an
intern in Bellevue Hospital. He taught anatomy and was for four
years professor of clinical medicine and therapeutics at the
Bellevue Medical College. In 1880 he became professor of obstetrics
and gynecology at the New York University, which chair he held until
1898, when he was elected the dean and professor of gynecology of
the newly-organized Medical College of Cornell University, which
positions he filled at the time of his death.
Dr. Polk was connected with Bellevue Hospital on the attending staff
since 1874 and as gynecologist since 1880, at which time this
department was formed. He was consulting surgeon to St. Luke's, St.
Vincent's, New York Lying-in, New York Infirmary for Women and
Children and Bellevue Hospitals.
He was president of the New York Academy of Medicine in 1910-1914;
president of the American Gynecological Society in 1896; president
of the New York Obstetrical Society in 1884, and a member of
numerous scientific societies, among them the Southern Surgical and
Gynecological Association; Societe" Obstetrique et Gynecologie,
Paris; Royal Society of Medicine, England; Societe Beige de
Gynecologie et Obstetrique, Brussels; Congres Periodique Int. de
Obstetrique et de Pediatrie; Founder, Societe Int. de Chirurgie, and
the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In
recognition of his achievements the degree of LL.D. was conferred
upon him by the University of the South, Columbia University and the
University of Georgia.
Dr. Polk was twice married. His first wife was Ida Ashe Lyon,
daughter of the Hon. Francis S. Lyon, a distinguished lawyer of
Alabama, by whom he had two sons: Frank Lyon Polk, who has become
distinguished as our present Under Secretary of State at Washington,
and John Metcalfe Polk, who died shortly after the completion of his
medical course at Cornell. His second wife was Maria H. Dehon, who
Dr. Folk's medical life covered a period of half a century, the
major part of which was devoted to gynecology, upon which specialty
he impressed his mark as one of the giants who helped blaze the
trail in the new field of pelvic surgery which was being rapidly
developed. He was a bold and resourceful operator, but he early
recognized the economic value of the pelvic organs of women and was
among the first to sound a warning note against the prevailing
tendency toward radicalism. His strong advocacy for conservation had
much to do with bringing back the pendulum to the more rational
limits which obtain today. Dr. Polk had a ready and facile pen and
he made numerous and important contributions to the scientific
literature relating to gynecology and to sociological and
educational problems. He was the author of a two-volume biography of
his father entitled Leonidas Polk, Bishop and General, which
exhibits rare literary merit. An orator of marked ability, his
forcible yet gracious manner in public speaking caused him to be
much sought after. For many years he devoted his energies to the
improvement of hospital conditions and the elevation of surgical
standards, and the growth and development of Belle- vue Hospital,
where he mostly labored, was largely the result of his untiring
efforts on its behalf.
His fine presence and delightful charm of manner, his ready sympathy
and courtesy, coupled with his professional skill, insured him a
large private practice among the best families in New York. He was
not only the physician to his patients, he was also their trusted
guide and friend. Fortunate, indeed, were they who had his
friendship. His loyalty to those who had won his trust was
unswerving, and his intense sense of justice and right were
manifested in no uncertain way in the defence of those whom he felt
were the victims of injustice and calumny. He was quick of thought
and action and rarely wrong in his judgment, but if it were shown
that he was in error, he was the first to make the amende honorable
as became the gentleman he was.
As might be expected from his bringing up he was a sincere
churchman, and as a vestryman of Trinity Church, he gave much of his
time and service to the religious activities of the community.
The crowning work of his life was in the organization and
development of the Cornell University Medical College. Hia whole
soul entered into the work of establishing a school of the highest
grade whose product should be characterized by quality rather than
quantity. The steady growth of the College and the attainment of the
ideals for which he strove gave him the satisfaction in his
declining years of seeing the results of his efforts in the firm
establishment of an institution of recognized efficiency for medical
education of the highest order.
The death of Dr. Polk takes from the active list of the Society one
of its most illustrious names and his memory will always be
cherished by the Fellows with pride. He was a wise counselor and a
virile leader, whose strength of character and loyalty made him at
once respected by all and beloved by those who had won his
friendship—a nobleman in the truest sense.
Mecklenburg, 3d Medical Division, 1870, II
At Virginia Military
Institute, 1863; LL. D., University of the South, 1890; M. D.,
Columbia, 1869; Curator, Bellevue
Hospital, 1870; Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy,
Bellevue Hospital Medical
College, 1871; Lecturer on Diseases of the Abdominal Organs,
Columbia, spring course, 1875 ; Professor of Materia Medica,
Therapeutics, and Clinical Medicine,
Bellevue Hospital Medical College, 1876-79; Professor of
Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children, University of the
City of New-York, since 1879; Visiting Physician,
Bellevue Hospital, 1874-82;
since 1882; Visiting Physician, Emergency (Lying-in) Hospital,
since 1880; St. Luke's Hospital, 1878-88;
Consulting Gynaecologist since 1888; Consulting Physician,
Trinity Infirmary, since 1878 ; Northern Dispensary since 1881;
St. Vincent's Hospital since 1890. Author of " Surgical Anatomy
of the Female Pelvic Organs," N. Y. Med. Jour., 1882 ; "
Observations upon the Surgical Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus," N.
Y. Med. Jour., May 3, 1884; " Report of Sixteen Cases of
Salpingitis Showing its Relation to Cellulitis," N. Y. Med.
Rec., Sept. 18, 1886; "Relation of Medicine to the Problem of
Socialism," N. Y. Med. Rec., Dec. 21, 1889; also articles
in Trans. Amer. Gynec. Soc. Obstetrics and Diseases of Women: 7
East 36th street, New-York City.
Tenn., 15 Aug., 1844.—At Virginia Mil. lust., '63. LL. D.,
University of the South, '9o. M. D., Col., '69. Asst.
Dem. Anat., Bell. Hosp. Med. Coll., '71. Lect. Dis. Abdom.
Organs, Col., '75- Prof- Mat. Med., Therap. Clin. Med., Bell.
Hosp. Med. Coll., '76-'79. Prof. Obst., N. Y. U., '79-'9o. Vis.
Phys. Bell. Hosp., '74-'82. Vis. Gyn. since'82. Vis. Phys. Emerg.
Hosp. since'80; St. Luke's Hosp., '78-'88. Cons. Gynec. since
'88; Consult. Phys. to North. Disp. since '81. St. Vincent's
Hosp. since '90. Author of note.
(The personal edited research
notes of Michael Echols, the source of which may or
may not be completely documented)