Historic, but not famous

Samuel Latham Mitchill, doctor, naturalist, politician

Samuel Latham Mitchill (1764 – 1831) was a physician, naturalist, and politician. He attended medical school at the University of Edinburgh. He returned to the United States after medical school and completed law school. As a lawyer he oversaw the purchase of lands in western New York from the Iroquois Indians in 1788. He taught chemistry, botany, and natural history at Columbia College from 1792 until 1801 and was a founding editor of The Medical Repository, the first medical journal in the United States.

Besides teaching, practicing medicine and research, he also became involved in politics. He served in the New York Assembly, the US House of Representatives, and became a Senator. He supported the Erie Canal project with DeWitt Clinton. He promoted theories of sanitation as well. Though an egotistical man, he was generally admired for his “encyclopedic breadth of understanding than for much originality of thought.”

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Historic, but not famous

Dr. Henry Shively, TB doctor

Dr.Henry Shively was a doctor for Tuberculosis patients at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. He realized that it was helpful for a person with TB to get fresh air and live someplace sanitary, so the Shively Sanitary Tenements were conceived. The complex was designed by architect Henry Atterbury Smith and completed in 1912. Much of it was paid for by Mrs. William Vanderbilt.

Around the turn of the century, activists were increasingly concerned about the squalid living conditions of New York City’s poor. They believed the lack of sanitation was contributing to both the physical and moral decay of the city and its citizens. While some housing regulations were passed to improve standards of lighting, ventilation, and safety, the Shively Sanitary Tenements emphasized health and sanitation to an unprecedented degree.

The Shively ideas helped many a TB patient and quite a few poor families. The building is now luxury condos.

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Historic, but not famous

Dr. Alexander Skene, inventor of surgical instruments

Alexander Johnston Chalmers Skene (1837 – 1900) was a British gynecologist from Scotland who described what became known as Skene’s glands. He came to North America at the age of 19 to study. He began his studies in Toronto, continued in Michigan and and finally at the Long Island College Hospital (now the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center) in Brooklyn. He graduated in 1863 and began a career in the Army.

After the army he entered private practice in Brooklyn and became a Professor of Disease of Women at Long Island College Hospital. He was professor of gynecology at the Medical School of New York in 1884, and was president of the American Gynecological Society. Skene wrote over 100 medical articles and several textbooks. He contributed many surgical instruments and improved on surgical techniques. He performed the first successful operation of gastro-elytrotomy that is recorded, and also that of craniotomy, using Sims’s speculum.

Though he worked with Marion Sims, who it has been found performed gynecologic exams and surgeries on African-American women without anesthesia, Skene did not appear to be part of these experiments. A statue of him is located near Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

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Historic, but not famous

Janos Marton, Director of The Living Museum

Janos Marton was born in Hungary in 1949 and grew up a legacy of the Holocaust. His father, a dissident economist, was taken off to prison for six years on the day his son was born. In the 1960s the Martons received political asylum in Austria and moved to Vienna, where J

anos attended high school and studied psychology. He began working with other doctors that used art work to communicate with mental patients while at the Landers Clinic near Vienna.

In 1976, Dr. Marton received a Ph.D. in psychology and in 1980, a M.A. in fine arts at Columbia University. He then went to work as a psychologist at Creedmoor, one of the largest state psychiatric institutions in Queens, New York. In 1983, Creedmoor housed about 1,350 patients and Dr. Marton invited Bolek Greczynski, a Polish artist known for his work in political art and experimental theater, to join the hospital staff. Together, the two guided the transformation of an abandoned building on the campus. Marton and Greczynski had the ability to see through the grime and faded interior of the deserted building and, with time, created the Living Museum.

The Living Museum is devoted to displaying art created by the patients of the hospital. Mr. Greczynski became the museum’s first director. Dr. Marton took over the post in 1995. Today, around one hundred artists work at the museum regularly. About fifteen percent have been artists all their lives.  The doors of the Living Museum are open to all patients who are residents of Queens, N.Y. and supported by the state system. Some come daily, some once a week. Most are outpatients; fifteen to twenty percent are inpatients. All are under psychiatric guidance and on medication.

 

The Living Museum is open for visits by appointment Monday through Thursday. Hours for the tours are 10am to noon and 2pm to 4:30 and can be arranged by calling 718-264-3490.

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