This is the first in an occasional series of profiles of past Columbia University Irving Medical Center leaders.
Samuel Waldron Lambert, the 12th head of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons (now the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons), was born in New York City in 1859, one of the eight surviving children of Edward W. Lambert, MD (VP&S 1857) and his wife Martha M. Waldron. Samuel W. Lambert came from a family of numerous Columbia-educated physicians: besides his father these include his brothers Alexander (VP&S 1888) and Adrian (VP&S 1896), his son, Samuel W. Lambert, Jr. (VP&S 1923), and his nephew, the Nobel Laureate Dickinson W. Richards, Jr. (VP&S 1923).
After undergraduate education at Yale (A.B., 1880), Lambert received his medical degree from P&S in 1885. He then did an internship at Bellevue followed by two years of study in Europe. Upon returning to New York he co-founded, in 1890 with Dr. James W. Markoe, the New York Midwifery Dispensary, a clinic designed to provide both low-cost maternity care for poor women and obstetric instruction to medical students. Two years later this was merged into the Society of the New York Lying-In Hospital, which would eventually become the maternity division of the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center (now the Weill Cornell Medical Center of New York-Presbyterian Hospital) when it opened in 1932.
Appointed Professor of Applied Therapeutics at P&S in 1903, Lambert was named Dean the following year. He was convinced that effective medical education required the control of a general hospital where students could learn on the wards. Much of his tenure as Dean was devoted to achieving this goal.
While P&S controlled Sloane Hospital for Women and the Vanderbilt Clinic, neither were large general hospitals. But there was a candidate literally at the College’s doorstep: Roosevelt Hospital, located across the street from P&S, then on West 59th St. As early as 1908, Lambert in Hospitals and Medical Education laid out a detailed plan for an alliance between hospital and school. Twice, in 1908 and 1910, a proposal for an affiliation was brought before the Roosevelt Hospital Board of Managers and twice it was turned down – largely because they opposed the admission of medical students as clinical clerks on the wards.
After the second rejection, Roosevelt board member and Standard Oil heir Edward S. Harkness resigned in protest and joined the Board of Presbyterian Hospital. He then made an offer of $1 million to facilitate an alliance between Presbyterian and the medical school. Presbyterian quickly accepted and in April 1911 an affiliation agreement with Columbia was signed.
Because the hospital and the medical school were not adjacent to one another – Presbyterian was then located at Park Ave. and 70th St. – both parties agreed that a new campus was needed. Difficulties in raising the money needed to build such a complex – not to mention the interruptions of World War I – meant that construction wouldn’t start until 1925, long after Lambert had left the deanship. But in the meantime, he continued to discuss what a medical center would require both programmatically and physically in such essays as Memorandum on the Ideal Development of Hospital and Medical School (1912) and Report of the Committee on the Organization of the New Presbyterian Hospital on University Lines (1912).
The other great landmark of Lambert’s tenure was the admission of women as medical students in 1917. If Lambert was an enthusiastic promoter of co-education in medical education, there’s no trace of it in his voluminous writings. Nor is there much discussion of it in the faculty minutes of 1916-17. It was Gulli Lindh (VP&S 1921), a Swedish immigrant and Barnard College graduate, who seems to have pressured Lambert to admit women to the medical school. He agreed on the condition that she raise the $50,000 – slightly over a $1 million in today’s money – needed to install restrooms and lockers for women in the College building. She, along with several other female students and Barnard College Dean Virginia Gildersleeve, managed to raise the sum in time for 11 female students to begin their medical education at P&S in the Fall of 1917. Six of them would graduate in 1921.
Lastly, Lambert led P&S through the challenges of World War I. During the war all college and professional students were enrolled in the Students’ Army Training Corps, a US Army program combining military training and professional education. Lambert believed this created “an impossible situation” in a medical school setting – the competing demands of medical education and military training meant that students learned little of either. Only the end of the war, he believed, prevented more damage to American medical education from being done.
Lambert resigned as Dean at the end of the 1918/19 academic year. He embarked on a busy retirement: indulging in his hobbies of book collecting and fishing; serving as President of the New York Academy of Medicine; and vigorously opposing Prohibition. He was responsible for discovering the surviving woodcut blocks for the illustrations of Andreas Vesalius’s landmark De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543) and having them reprinted in 1934 as Andreae Vesalii Bruxellensis Icones Anatomicae.
Though his successor as Dean, William Darrach, would lead the medical school through the planning and construction of what would be called the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Lambert never lost interest in the alliance he was responsible for creating. He was the main speaker at the Medical Center’s dedication on October 12, 1928.
Lambert died in New York City on February 9, 1942 at age 82.
Photo: Samuel W. Lambert by Doris Ulmann Jaeger in “The Faculty of the College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University in the City of New York: Twenty-four Portraits” (New York: Paul B. Hoeber, 1919) [Image P-000535]