An Historical Perspective
Eben Alexander, Jr. and Russel H. Patterson, Jr.
This volume is being published to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the founding of the Society of Neurological Surgeons in Boston in 1920. The beginnings go back at least to 1919 when Dr. Harvey Cushing delivered an address to the American College of Surgeons in New York on his personal results with brain tumors (never published, unfortunately). Following the talk, Dr. William J. Mayo, who had chaired that meeting, rose and solemnly announced, "Gentlemen, we have this day witnessed the birth of a new specialty, Neurological Surgery." In response, Dr. Cushing said to some of his colleagues, including Dr. Ernest Sachs, "Wouldn't it be a good idea to get the fellows interested in this work together? Why not form a society and hold regular meetings in which we can discuss our problems and compare our results; that way I'm sure we can make much more rapid progress."
Dr. Cushing, who was then 50, Dr. Charles Frazier (Philadelphia), who was almost 50, and Dr. Sachs (St. Louis), who was 40, together looked over the field of physicians who might be interested in such a society. The field included general surgeons who were doing some neurosurgery, professors of surgery who were favorable to the idea of neurosurgery, and a few individuals who were courageous enough to devote most of their time to neurosurgery.
Some speculation on the matter of founding members is illustrated in a letter to Dr. Sachs from Dr. Cushing written in December, 1919.
In a subsequent letter, Dr. Cushing wrote:
"I have read your letter of the 13th. I agree with you in what you say, but would go a step further and only take a very few men for the first meeting. Elsberg, Frazier, Bagley, Dandy, Dean Lewis, and Adson with ourselves as a starter. That will make a sufficient number of pioneer members, and we can add the others more safely later on. I can invite Mixter and Horrax to help out in the meeting here though not as members. If this meets with your approval and you can suggest a suitable date about Easter: that is, about the 1st of April, when you can conveniently come on here, we will try and make a go of it."
The end result of the planning was the holding of the first meeting of the Society at The Brigham Hospital in March, 1920. The meeting consisted of visits to the operating theatre and the presentation of cases, as illustrated in the rather telegraphic minutes of Dr. Sachs.
The history of the Society of Neurological Surgeons is, of course, founded on the personalities of the people who joined the Society in the early years, and those were: