American Medical Biographies/Harris, Robert Patterson

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Harris, Robert Patterson (1822–1899).

Robert Patterson was born in Chester Valley, Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1822, the son of Dr. Robert William Harris, who married the daughter of Robert Patterson, provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and had six children whom he trained wisely but very strictly, especially with regard to Sunday observance. I have not been able to discover to which school Robert the younger went as a boy. He received his A. B. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1841, and A. M. and M. D. in 1844, and then for a year worked at the Demilt Dispensary in New York. Then followed some clinical study in Paris and a final settling down to work with his father in Philadelphia, where he practised for over thirty-five years. Surgery possessed the strongest possible attraction for him and he followed its development along gynecological lines with extreme interest. He was, besides, perhaps the most prominent medical statistician this country has ever seen. He presented the College of Physicians with an autograph manuscript of all the Cesarean sections in the United States up to date and this study brought to his notice cases in which lacerations of the abdomen and of the uterus by the horns of cattle had resulted in the delivery of a living child. He published a paper in the American Journal of Obstetrics (1887), entitled "Laceration of the Abdomen and Uterus in Pregnant Women," which gave nine cases of cow-horn delivery with five living children, and in 1892 another "Abdominal and Uterine Tolerance in Pregnant Women," giving eleven more cases— "a better showing for the cow horn than the knife," as he remarked.

Another valuable statistical object was collecting the fate of all the viable extrauterine children. A statistical paper on "Ectopic Gestation" involved him in an imbroglio with Lawson Tait who called him "a library surgeon." This paper was translated into German by A. Eidman of Frankfürt-on-Main and appeared in the Monatschrift für Geburtshülfe und Gynäkologie for August, 1897. Many of the editorials in the Medical News (Philadelphia) were from his pen. He took up Loretta's operation for divulsion of the pylorus. He edited "Playfair's Midwifery" in this country for Lea Brothers. The last article he wrote, "Congenital Absence of the Penis with the Urethra making its Exit into or below the Rectum," appeared in the Philadelphia Medical Journal for January, 1893.

In February of 1899 he had a second stroke of paralysis following one in 1895, and he died after a few days' illness in his seventy-seventh year. His income was always rather slender and he never married or kept a house but boarded out.

Besides his private value as a firm friend and Christian he is entitled to great respect and admiration as a man who investigated knowledge accumulated in the past and placed all that was valuable in it at the service of others.

Amer. Gyn. and Obstet. Jour., New York, 1899, vol. xv, C. P. Noble.
Brit. Med. Jour. London, 1899, vol. ii.
Jour. Amer. Med. Assoc., Chicago, 1899, vol. xxxii.