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Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 83:F221-F223 doi:10.1136/fn.83.3.F221
  • Perinatal lessons from the past

Dr Emmett Holt (1855–1924) and the foundation of North American paediatrics

  1. Peter M Dunn
  1. Department of Child Health, University of Bristol, Southmead Hospital, Southmead, Bristol BS10 5NB, UK
  1. Professor Dunn

    Luther Emmett Holt was born near Rochester, New York on 4 March 1855. Both his father Horace and his mother Sabrah came of New England puritan stock. After education at the Webster Academy and Rochester University, he entered the Medical College of Buffalo University in 1876. Transferring to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York the following year, he graduated in 1880 at the age of 25. Within a year he resolved to devote himself to paediatrics, a specialty that was not then formally recognised. During the next few years he practised both from his own office and also from the North Western Dispensary, the New York Infant Asylum, Mount Vernon, and the New York Nursery and Children's Hospital. In 1889 he was offered the post of physician in charge of the Babies Hospital. Although the hospital was nearly defunct, he accepted the post, obtained financial backing and reorganised it. Over the years that followed, it became the most celebrated children's hospital in the USA.1

    Holt was a small man. His voice was quiet and clear and his movements alert and quick. Always immaculately dressed, he rarely smiled or laughed and appeared to be driven by a stern sense of duty (fig 1). Hard working, efficient, thorough and meticulous in his work, he also possessed sound judgment, intellectual honesty, and a total dedication to the welfare of his patients. Children were treated as individuals. He remarked that “the best way to make friends with a child is not to try”. He was not interested in speculation, nor was he possessed of an imaginative mind. His approach was always intensely practical and concerned with knowledge that might help to solve problems. Besides being a great clinician, he was also a born teacher. His interests extended beyond the illnesses …