Friday, October 12, 2018

In Celebration of the Old School

We have recently held a mini-reunion of alumni of School #49, the old school where MedChi is now located. We acquired the building in the 1970's, but waited a few years before we renovated it in the mid 1980's. Once we did, we had a reunion of the School #49 alumni. A small booklet of remembrances was published, which included a wonderful article by R.P. Harriss, the Critic-at-Large for the old News American paper. His wife was on the faculty at the school, which opened in 1909 and closed in 1960. 

In Celebration of the Old School
By R.P. Harriss


Among Baltimoreans, who by almost any measurement, would be rated successful, a remarkable number are known as "Forty-Niners." They take this designation pridefully, from the fact that they went to School 49.

They're so prominent, so self-assured and generally, so prosperous, that in planning their coming reunion, they have engaged Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, because their dinky little old school house, which still stands at 1206 Cathedral Street, would be too small and cluttered for the high-class hoopla they're planning.

Why the big reunion excitement? Because the graduates remember School 49, no longer existent, as the place that gave them a good start in life.

School 49, otherwise known as the Robert E. Lee Accelerate Junior High School, was unique in Baltimore's public school system. Its students came there strictly by invitation from all parts of the city. Admission requirements were a high IQ, and an excellent achievement record. 

It was a no-frills school. No sports, no swimming pool, no proper gym, even. The building itself had been condemned. It's so-called cafeteria was an area in the basement with asbestos-covered steam pipes above the tables. When fire drills were held, classes exited the building by circuitous routes via classrooms and fire-escapes.

There was no automatic bell system. After fire drills, classes were summoned back by an all-clear buzzer on the vice principal's desk - or by a large dinner bell that she vigorously swung by hand when the buzzer didn't work.

There were no lockers, students and teachers kept their coats, galoshes and other essentials in a cloakroom. Yet there were no thefts, no truancy, no drugs, no handguns. What School 49 did have was spirit. Motivation. The kids were there to learn, the teachers there to teach. And they all just loved it.

Between 1909 and the late 1950's, more than 21,000 young people took the accelerated program at School 49. Forty-niners have been outstanding in law, medicine and the creative and performing arts. Among those of an earlier generation were Chief Judge Emory H. Niles, of the Supreme Bench; Dr. J. Whitridge Williams; Gary Morfit, who became fondly known to millions as the radio and television celebrity, Garry Moore. 

Among today's notables who went to School 49, are Maryland's Attorney General, Stephen H. Sachs, candidate for governor; David Harfeld, now a federal judge in Washington, DC; many prominent doctors both male and female, including the nationally known Dr. Helen Harrison, and the controversial author, Dr. Edgar Berman. 

In the liberal arts, School 49 alumni include Dr. George Fuld, MIT mathematician; and Dr. Eric Goldman, Princeton historian. In the performing arts, let's cite the noted Broadway actress, Mildred Dunnock and Larry Adler, the world-famous concert-stage harmonica performer, and in the graphic arts, Bennard Perlman, artist and art historian.

That's just a random sampling. A comprehensive list would include an admiral, and even (astounding!) one big-league baseball figure. In the just plain money-making category, Forty-niners are there in goodly numbers, most notably, the late philanthropist Joseph Meyerhoff, for whom the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's hall is named.

School 49's story is worth telling, and its alumni and teachers are in the process of putting together a book of reminiscences. My wife, Margery Harriss, who as a young woman, taught English there during and after WWII, is among those involved in compiling this book, so I've taken some notes from her.

"Besides being in a dilapidated, actually condemned building," she says, "School 49 had very limited supplies. Textbooks were 20 years old and falling apart. Sometimes, a book would be so tattered, the student using would have to carry it to and from school in a brown paper bag."

Yet, students and teachers made do, sometimes grumbling but usually cheerful. 

She recalls the children of the cultured but destitute WWII refugees from Europe as having been the most strongly motivated - here was this wonderful school with the high European standards, and it was free!
Now let's think back. School 49 was always an anomaly, an advanced idea in a contradictory setting. Even its naming (although General Lee had, after the Confederacy's defeat, became an educator) reflected a socio-historical echo, not compatible with modern democracy. This location was in a once-fashionable neighborhood. (Actually, School 49's building, though woefully inadequate, was not bad looking outside, with its Romanesque faรงade of red brick and white terracotta trim, and its present owner, the prestigious Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, is nicely restoring it.)

The building was that of the old Marston Private prep school for boys, and directly across the street had been the Bryn Mawr private prep school for girls. In effect, School 49 was the public prep school for boys and girls - Spartan as to physical plant and equipment, but uncompromisingly aristocratic as to academic standards. 

In today's open society, such a public school would not be tolerated; it was elitist and that's an angry put-down word now. By the late 1950's, School 49 had ceased to be an accelerate junior high school, eventually becoming a school for pregnant teen-agers, sometimes coarsely referred to as "the watermelon farm."

An attempt to recreate School 49 would be inadvisable, and probably impossible. But School 49 worked. No students left there without knowing how to read and write acceptable and to cope with ordinary arithmetic. Most went on to high school, college and a notably worthwhile life.

January 19, 1986

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

110 Years Ago, This Month

One hundred and ten years ago, we were just a hole in the ground waiting to be filled. 

You can see the School #49 building, which we now own, just to the south (right). And there's a residence, just to the north (left). 
Two month's later, significant progress had been made, and by May of 1909, the building had been completed. 


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Ellicott & Emmart, Architects

There is an image of the 1909 MedChi building that is a watercolor rendering of the building, which looks to have been painted around the time of its construction. 
The building was designed by the firm of Ellicott & Emmart, comprised of William M. Ellicott, Jr. and William Wirt Emmart. They designed some other buildings in Baltimore, both together as a firm, as well as on their own. 

Among the more notable were St. David's Church in Roland Park, 

some of the buildings at Charlestown Retirement Home in Catonsville, 

 the Thomas Building in downtown Baltimore,
and the Georgian Revival Patrick Henry School #37 in East Baltimore. 

Of these buildings, I think that School #37 has the most similarities to the Faculty Building. 

Ellicott and Emmart also designed houses in Roland Park and Guilford, including this beautiful one on Bishop's Road. It was owned for years by Milton Eisenhower, the brother of President Dwight Eisenhower.

William Wirt Emmart (1869–1949) came by architecture naturally: his grandfather was an architect. Emmart attended Baltimore City College, and then the Maryland Institute College of Art for architecture. He is described in a family history as being "devoted to the improvement and ornamentation of Baltimore."

In the early part of the 1900's, Baltimore City's public schools embarked on a program to build a number of new schools, specifically using local architects. Ellicott and Emmart were among those on the list and Emmart was in a perfect position to improve Baltimore. 

Interestingly, early in his career, Emmart worked with Joseph Sperry who designed MedChi's "new" building, the former School #49.

William B. Ellicott was born in 1853 in Philadelphia, and was educated at the Penn Charter School and Haverford College. After a course of architectural study at the University of Pennsylvania, he continued his training in Paris at the Atlier Pascal.

Mr. Ellicott began professional practice in Portland, Oregon, in 1889, and for five years maintained an office under the firm name of Ellicott & Lazarus. Moving to Baltimore soon after the turn of the century he joined William W. Emmart (d. 1949) in partnership and continued that association until his retirement.


In his work in Baltimore, Ellicott established a reputation as a designer of fine suburban homes, also was the architect of a number of public and business structures, among which were St. David's Protestant Episcopal Church and the Colonial Trust Company Building.

Subsequent to his retirement to private life at the age of sixty-four he devoted much of his time to civic and public activities. An exponent of the so-called "Maryland State Plan" Mr. Ellicott worked actively for its establishment for a number of years, and is credited as being largely responsible for the creation by the U. S. Congress in 1926 of the National Park Capitol and Planning Commission. He also organized the first Art Exhibition in Baltimore, and aided in establishing a Museum of Art in the city, of which he afterwards served as Trustee for several years.

We are so proud of our beautiful building which will celebrate 110 years, next May.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Early Medicine in Maryland, by Thomas S. Cullen, MD

I had borrowed the monograph, "Early Medicine in Maryland," by Thomas S. Cullen, M.D. from one of our members a while ago, and before I returned it, I decided to scan it to share with you, dear reader. 

I've written about Dr. Cullen before, and you might want to click and read a bit about him. He was quite a prolific writer (and reader) and the small history of early medicine here in Maryland was one of the booklets he published. 
Here is his book, in its entirety. 















Thursday, July 12, 2018

Happy Birthday, Sir William!

July 12, 2018 marks the 169th birthday of Sir William Osler, MD. He was born in rural Bond Head, Ontario, Canada where his father was a minister with a small parish. 

From the time he was a child, Osler was always noted as having eyes like "little-burnt-holes-in-a-blanket" and in almost every single image of him, you find that this is true. Osler's dark eyes, along with his walrus mustache, were emblematic of his look, from his college portraits until the day he died. 

Osler went from school in Weston just outside of Toronto, to Montreal, to Philadelphia, on to Baltimore and finally to Oxford, England. 

In Baltimore, he lived at No. 1 West Franklin Street,
and eventually bought the adjacent house so that his students and others would have a place to gather. He called the residents of that house, "Latch-Keyers" and it was a point of pride to have a key to the house. 

At the greatly advanced age of 40, Osler married for the first time. His wife moved to Baltimore from Philadelphia where she was the widow of a prominent physician, and friend of Osler's. 

Throughout his life, he accumulated friends and in England, he welcomed many of them to his house in Oxford which was nicknamed "Open Arms." 

Please join us in sending birthday wishes to MedChi friend and patron, Sir William Osler. We salute you!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018