The Harry Barnes Medical Society was formed around 1989 by a group of African American otolaryngologists of the National Medical Association in honor of DR. WILLIAM HARRY BARNES of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the thirty-seventh president of the National Medical Association in 1936. Dr. Barnes was the first African American to be certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties in 1927 becoming a diplomate of the American Board of Otolaryngology. Dr. Barnes announced in 1922 that he would limit his practice to the ear, nose, and throat, where he was an innovator and a pioneer in the field.
Today, we continue to honor the many accomplishments of Dr. Barnes as generations of providers underrepresented in medicine strive to reach and surpass his influence in the field of Otolaryngology.
The Harry Barnes Medical Society provides pathways that help develop diversity in otolaryngology. Our goal is to provide future-oriented opportunities for Blacks, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and other historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in the growing field of Otolaryngology Head and neck Surgery.
About William Harry Barnes, 1887-1945
DR. WILLIAM HARRY BARNES of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, thirty-seventh president of the National Medical Association in 1936, whose portrait on the cover of this issue of the Journal was drawn by our staff artist, Mrs. Naida Willette Page, was the first Negro to be certified by an American specialty board when in 1927 he became a diplomate of the American Board of Otolaryngology. His short life of fifty-eight years was crowded with pioneering efforts and a major achievement.
Though a prolonged illness prematurely terminated his brilliant career, his medical light still shines through two of his five sons who became physicians.
Dr. Barnes was born April 4, 1887, in Philadelphia and died there January 15, 1945, having spent his entire life in the City of Brotherly Love. As a child, Dr. Barnes knew the material good things of life only from a distance. His parents depended on menial employment to support themselves and their three children, (two girls and Dr. Barnes). Their house was on Lombard Street, then and now, an area of the extremely poor.
As the Kingdom of Heaven lies within, so sprang Dr. Barnes’ ambition to aspire to medicine. Like one of those gems “of purest ray serene, The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear,” this poor boy’s luster shone where none could see it. His friends derided his fantastic goal, unheard of in his neighborhood. Even his parents belittled the idea that he could become a doctor and implored him to stop dreaming and get his mind on useful employment within his reach. Harry Barnes’ indomitable spirit was matched, however, by physical energy of equal proportions. While in high school he walked ten miles every day because the luxury of riding on the trolley car was beyond his means. The distance was four miles from home to school, then three miles more to work and three miles from work back home. During the school term, he was a messenger and porter in jewelers’ establishments and the summer worked in hotels. The glimpses he had of the business and professional men who were the customers of the jewelry stores where he worked fired him with the determination to raise himself out of the poverty into which he had been born.
In 1908 he graduated from the Central High School of Philadelphia with the degree of Bachelor of Arts.
This institution gave this degree at that time. Dr. Barnes’ reasoned that he might spend the summer after graduation from high school more profitably in a study for the scholarship examination at the University of Pennsylvania than in working in a hotel. He was confident that he could win a scholarship and spent the entire summer in extensive preparation for it. The discouragement and gloomy predictions of friends and associates did not deter him. He took the competitive examination and was awarded a four-year scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1908, becoming the first Negro to win this scholarship. In 1912 he received the M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and took his internship in the Douglass and Mercy Hospitals of Philadelphia the following year, 1912-13. He then entered upon the practice of medicine in Philadelphia. Throughout his medical career, the same traits were manifested which had characterized his boyhood. Nothing was impossible. Hard work and study were the only requisites for success. He never took on anything without complete confidence of success.
Any thought of the possibility of failure was far from his admission. He used to say, “failure is from within.”
His first appointment was as an assistant otolaryngologist at Douglass Hospital in 1913. In 1918 he served as an acting assistant surgeon in the U. S. Public Health Service. As has been noted from the nature of his initial appointment, his interest was always in the field of otolaryngology. Fortified by seven years of clinical experience in active practice, in 1921 he took the postgraduate course in ear, nose, and throat and special courses in the operative surgery of those regions at the University of Pennsylvania. During the same year, he was appointed chief otolaryngologist at Douglass Hospital and clinical assistant otolaryngologist at the hospital of Jefferson Medical School, Philadelphia. Although specialization had been gaining ground in American medicine for some years, the first specialty board was not organized until 1916, in ophthalmology and otolaryngology. Negro physicians, however, considered specialization impossible for them and many openly claimed that any so foolish as to attempt it would starve. Accordingly, when Dr. Barnes announced in 1922 that henceforth he would limit his practice to the ear, nose, and throat, he was pioneering again where none thought he could be successful. Noteworthy comment on this move appears in a letter written by Dr. Nathan F. Mossell, which was published in the Philadelphia Tribune in January 1923, as follows: Dr. W. Harry Barnes, 1315 N. 15th Street, has within the past ten days mailed an announcement to his patients and his friends in the medical profession, that he has given up his general practice to devote himself entirely to his specialty, the Surgical and Medical Diseases of the Ear, Nose, and Throat. I have not consulted the doctor, nor does he know that I have in mind the making of these congratulatory remarks. No one, therefore, can charge him with being unethical in bringing himself before the public through the medium of the public press. I simply feel that the doctor is entirely worthy of every encouragement and support not only from his brother physicians but from the public generally.
Dr. Barnes has conducted ear, nose, and throat clinics at the Douglass Hospital for more than seventy years, during this time he has done thousands of surgical operations with marked skill and perfection of surgical technique followed by the best possible results.
The doctor continues his work for charity. I quote from his recent announcement the following: ‘Hospital Clinic Hours for Charity Cases’: Douglass Hospital, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Fridays, 1 to 2 p.m. Jefferson Hospital, Tuesday, and Fridays, 11 to 12 a.m.
In 1924 Dr. Barnes was appointed consultant otolaryngologist at Mercy Hospital. He desired further postgraduate training but found it unobtainable in the United States so that he betook himself to France and spent the greater part of 1924 in advanced study at the University of Paris and the University of Bordeaux. In addition, he took personal courses under Drs. Sebileau and Baldenbeck of Paris and Dr. Moure of Bordeaux. After returning to the United States, he took another personal course under Dr. Unger of New York in 1926. The wizardry of Dr. Chevalier Jackson with the bronchoscope has focused the eyes of the world on Philadelphia in respect to this instrument so that it was natural that Dr. Barnes would seek to study under Dr. Jackson and as natural that he would serve as a mentor for a physician who had overcome so many obstacles and gone to such lengths to secure adequate postgraduate training in the field of his choice. Pioneering again, he became the first Negro to master the technique of bronchoscopy.
Early in the thirties Dr. Barnes organized and headed a department of bronchoscopy at Mercy Hospital. In 1931 he was appointed lecturer and consultant in bronchoscopy at Howard University Medical School where he served by commuting for many years. He gave personal courses in ear, nose, and throat, and bronchoscopy to several younger otolaryngologists and coached and encouraged them toward certification by the same board through which he had pioneered.
Dr. Barnes was greatly devoted to the National Medical Association. He attended the annual conventions regularly and at practically every meeting unless he was occupied with executive duties of the Association, he presented papers, gave demonstrations, or operated.
At the thirty-seventh annual convention of the NMA at Atlanta, Georgia, in 1931, he performed seventeen tonsillectomies in three hours. He was famed for his bloodless operative technique.
Dr. Barnes was a founder and executive secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Negro Specialists in Medicine. He served for three years as president of the Philadelphia Academy of Medicine and Allied Sciences. He was a member of the American Laryngological Association, the Philadelphia County Medical Society, the Pennsylvania State Medical Society, and the American Medical Association. He was also a member of the Committee on the Conservation of Hearing. His professional reputation brought forth invitations to appear before many medical organizations, including the Philadelphia Laryngological Society, the Medico-Chirurgical Society of the District of Columbia, the Manhattan Central Medical Society, the John A. Andrew Clinical Society, and many others in addition to those with which he was actively affiliated.
At the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1926, he conducted demonstrations at an Anatomical, Pathological and Surgical Exhibit on the Ear, Nose, and Throat.
Dr. Barnes was a progressive innovator. He invented a device called the hypophyscope, for visualizing the pituitary through the sphenoid sinus using a trans-septal approach.
He devised a medical record system for including a patient’s complete medical and financial data on one three-by-five-inch card. He designed cards for general practice and the ear, nose, and throat specialty.
The ENT cards included drawings of the nares, pharynx, larynx, and eardrum on which pathological changes could be sketched. He also developed a modification of the Myles lingual tonsillectomy and he made a lingual tonsillectomy modeled after the LaForce adenectomy. Inoperative technique he described a special method for opening peritonsillar abscesses and he de-See A. P. SMITH, The Society for the Promotion of Negro Specialists in Medicine, J.N.M.A., v. 46, pp. 260-263, July 1954. vised and incision for myringotomy using a curved incision for the radial fibers and the radial incision for the circular fibers.
Dr. Barnes addressed many lay audiences, gave radio broadcasts, and wrote articles for the weekly press. One of the latter was a description of the women of the Ubangi from Africa, whose lips had been stretched to as much as six inches in diameter by the insertion of wooden disks. For this article, he collaborated with Lawrence D. Christmas, D.D.S., who examined with him these women who were appearing with the Barnum and Bailey-Ringling Brothers Circus.
Dr. Barnes’s busy life did not permit him much leisure. He never drank, but rarely smoked and denied himself the ordinary luxuries and pleasures of urban life. His work, civic activities, and family gave him a well-rounded day. An early riser, his staff, and nurses at the hospitals were always annoyed by his seven A.M. operation for which he would start to scrub at six-fifty. A devotee of punctuality, he would always appear at the time expected. When the chairman of a meeting he would start at the appointed hour no matter how sparse the audience.
Deeply religious, Dr. Barnes was a regular attendant at the Zoar Methodist Church, of which he was president of the Board of Trustees for over fifteen years. He founded the Zoar Community Building and Loan Association in March 1924 and served as its president from that date until he died in 1945. This association weathered the great depression and thrived today with assets of over $267,000. Dr. Barnes organized a well-baby clinic and established and taught first aid classes in Zoar Church and at several other churches. In the 1930’s he began to teach a class of young men in Sunday school. When the first members of this class entered the military service during World War II, Dr. Barnes made a pact with these boys. They agreed to pause for a few moments of prayer every day, wherever they might be so that they could all be joined through this spiritual medium through oceans and continents might separate them.
In politics, Dr. Barnes ran as an Independent Republican candidate for the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1932 and served as chairman of the Eastern Pennsylvania Division for Negro voters in the unsuccessful campaign of Mayor F. Davis Wilson in 1938. In 1937 Dr. Barnes was appointed as one of the original members of the Philadelphia Housing Authority and reappointed for a five-year term by Mayor S. Davis Wilson in 1938. He served as assistant secretary-treasurer of the Authority until his death. He gained the respect and admiration of the members of the Authority and its staff as well as civic leaders and the public for his honest and considered opinions and his dedication to the task of providing good housing for the people of Philadelphia and the Negro population. He fought to ensure a just proportion of housing for Negroes and at the same time insisted on the integration of Negroes and whites in the projects. He was instrumental in getting employment for many deserving Negroes during his terms on the Authority. At his funeral, the President of the Housing Authority appeared personally to give a glowing tribute to their respected member.
Dr. Barnes was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Sigma Pi Phi, the NAACP, the Elks, the Masons, and the Odd Fellows. On September 21, 1912, he married Miss Mattie E. Thomas. Their five sons in order are: W. Harry Barnes, Jr., a mortician in Philadelphia; Lloyd T. Barnes, M.D., an internist in New York; Ralph W. Barnes, an industrial designer in Philadelphia; Leroy T. Barnes, M.D., a radiologist in Lyons, N. J.; and Carl L. Barnes, now in the U. S. Army.
In 1938 he began to suffer from hypertension and had a subarachnoid hemorrhage from which he recovered, but his activities were thereafter curtailed. In 1943 he sustained a spinal injury with paraplegia. After several months he was able to conduct some activities from a wheelchair. In mid-1944 complications began to weaken him, and he was confined to Mercy Hospital where he finally died of broncho-pneumonia on January 15, 1945.
W. MONTAGUE COBB, M.D. N.B.-The Editor is Pleased gratefully to acknowledge the cooperation of Dr. Lloyd T. Barnes in furnishing most of the data used in this sketch.
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