When the College was relocated in 1756, among the advantages of the move from Newark cited by the trustees was their belief that ``the little village of Princeton was not inferior in the salubrity of the air to any village on the continent.''
Notwithstanding the benign atmosphere, the health records of the first five presidents were grievously poor; none of them reached the ripe age attained by most of their successors. Students, on the other hand, in spite of the poor fare in the refectory, the dampness and chill of some of Nassau Hall's chambers, and the backwardness of medical practice, managed to keep well. An epidemic of dysentery swept through the college in 1813, but there were no fatalities and President Green informed the trustees that a ``chemical fumigation,'' prepared by Professor Elijah Slack from a formula in a foreign scientific magazine, had had ``a most wonderful, speedy, and happy effect in purifying the atmosphere.''
For the better part of the nineteenth century, health care was in the hands of two well-known Samaritans. John Maclean, Jr., whose father and both grandfathers were physicians, ministered to ill students during the forty years that he served as vice-president or president. Isabella McCosh, daughter of an eminent Scottish physician, nursed many students to health while her husband was president. Effective as they were, their individual ministrations did not obviate the growing need for a more substantial health service.
A search for better health facilities was intensified after the tragic typhoid epidemic of 1880, which resulted in ten deaths in a student body of 473. The epidemic brought about a thorough overhaul of the College's drainage system and the subsequent appointment of a standing faculty sanitary committee whose efforts led eventually to the construction in 1892 of the Isabella McCosh Infirmary.
The next major developments in health service at Princeton came in 1910 and 1911 with the beginning of a mental health program and the founding of the Department of Health and Physical Education.
Princeton was the first American collge or university to provide mental health care for its students -- a distinction it owed to a graduate of the Class of 1886, Stewart Paton (M.D. Columbia). A man of independent means who had pioneered in the teaching of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, Paton settled in Princeton in 1910, and for sixteen years gave the University his services as lecturer on neurobiology and as consultant on mental health for students. His counsel and treatment provided relief for disturbed and sometimes seriously maladjusted students who came to him for help, a service Princeton has carried on with continued effectiveness ever since. Later he assisted Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, and other universities in setting up similar programs intended to give students some idea, as he put it, ``of what Nature -- and not the Faculty -- intended them to do emotionally and mentally.''
In 1911, Joseph E. Raycroft (M.D. Rush Medical College), who had been medical director at the University of Chicago for twelve years, was called to Princeton as founding chairman of the Department of Health and Physical Education. He held this position for twenty-five years, gaining wide recognition for the development of a comprehensive student health program and for broadening the base of athletics through intramural competition to include some ninety percent of the un~~~dergraduate body. His is remembererd by the Raycroft~ Library in Dillon Gymnasium, which contains some 1,500 volumes on medicine and sport, brought together when he was eighty with the help of colleagues, alumni, and other friends, to replace his earlier collection, which had been lost when the old gymnasium was destroyed by fire in 1944.
The Raycroft administration saw the beginning in 1928 of a strong program in athletic medicine, ably directed for thirty-six years by Harry R. McPhee (M.D. Western Reserve University), a pioneer in the treatment and prevention of athletic injuries who also served as Head Team Physician for American athletes at four Olympic and two Pan-American Games.
Under the second chairman, Wilbur H. York (M.D. Johns Hopkins), who came from Cornell in 1936, the department's development was facilitated by the transfer of responsibility for physical education and intramural sport to the Department of Athletics in 1946. Under York's leadership the department utilized the many advances that were taking place in medical practice, instituting such measures as a tuberculosis case-finding program and an allergy clinic, and continuing to emphasize the use of preventive measures and the development of constructive health habits. At Cornell, Dr. York's close association with students and their problems had led to his founding of one of the early programs in mental health, and at Princeton he gave strong backing to the field pioneered by Dr. Paton and carried on by a full-time psychiatrist. As the trustees committee on health and athletics noted in 1962 at the time of his retirement, in the twenty-sixth year of his service, Dr. York is remembered by students and faculty for the kindliness and skill with which he~~~ treated ``their varied discomforts of body and mind.''
Under Willard Dalrymple (M.D. Harvard), who served as director for fifteen years from 1962 to 1977, the department's name was changed to University Health Services to emphasize the wider role it was called on to play. New responsibilities included an occupational health and safety unit, a program in sexual education, and a University Counseling Center, which brought together a number of previously scattered counseling activities. The staff of McCosh Infirmary had grown to include five full-time physicians, a physician's associate, and eleven nurses.
Louis A. Pyle, Jr. (M.D. Columbia), took office as the University's fourth medical director on July 1, 1977. A Princeton graduate of the Class of 1941, he had been a University physician since 1971, and associate director of the Health Services since 1972.
The University has been affected by three outbreaks of contagious diseases in this century: the 1916 infantile paralysis epidemic which led the University to postpone its opening for two weeks; the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic which taxed McCosh Infirmary to the limit just as the University was opening for the new year; and the 1957 Asian influenza epidemic which overwhelmed the campus, requiring the conversion of the Student Center into an influenza ward with 100 beds. No student lives were lost in any of these outbreaks.
Go to Search A Princeton Companion