American Medical Biographies/Bliss, Arthur Ames

Bliss, Arthur Ames (1859–1913)

Arthur Ames Bliss, son of Theodore Bliss, publisher and bookseller of Philadelphia, and Mary Wright, was born in Northhampton, Mass., July 13, 1859. He received his early education at a private school in Philadelphia and entered Princeton University where he graduated A. B. in 1880 and later took his A. M. He graduated in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1883 and served for one year as interne at the Philadelphia (Blockley) Hospital. A year abroad was spent in special studies in diseases of the ear, nose and throat in the clinics of Vienna, Berlin, Heidelberg and London. On returning to Philadelphia in 1885 he began a general practice and in a few months became an assistant to J. Solis Cohen at the Philadelphia Polyclinic. Bliss organized and established the ear, nose and throat clinic of the German Hospital in Philadelphia where he was the laryngologist and otologist. This position he held for about ten years and then relinquished it, retaining the children's department and the position of consulting laryngologist and otologist and his work at the Mary J. Drexel Home.

Bliss also held the positions of consulting laryngologist and otologist to the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb; laryngologist to the Chestnut Hill Hospital; consulting laryngologist to the Epileptic Hospital. For several years, and until the death of the late Harrison Allen, Bliss was his assistant in all of his nasal surgical work.

He was elected fellow of the American Laryngological Association in 1883, and was a vice-president in 1900, and he was chairman of the section of otology and laryngology in the Philadelphia College of Physicians.

In 1893 he married Laura Neuhaus of Vienna, Austria, who survived him.

His claim upon posterity is vested in two little books. In one of them, "Theodore Bliss, Publisher and Bookseller" (1911), he has left us a memento of his father's life, for the most part autobiographical, but put down and edited by the son, a valuable picture, full of local color, of our eastern state American home-life over two generations ago, the antithesis of life today. Here we find old Northhampton with its canal stretching down to New Haven on which Bliss made the trip in seven days. Here, too, is a pen sketch of old Philadelphia, the bookseller's trade, the clergy, the volunteer fire companies, the women, often doing all their own house-work, and the day's work stretching from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. This little volume is a fitting pendant to Bliss's "Blockley Days; Memories and Impressions of a Resident Physician 1883–1884" (1916). We have here the old Blockley Almshouse filled to repletion with its dregs of humanity, and scandalously managed by "the Board of Buzzards," within the memory of many of us yet living, run by a thieving superintendent who filled houses from roof to cellar with food and goods stolen from the poor, the natural outcome of Philadelphia's evil political system, which still rules the city.

Here we find intimate details of the lives of the pauper patients, the nurses promoted from the ranks of patients, nurse Owens, the one-legged sailor, like Leidy's Nash, also one-legged, and a sailor picked up in the Pennsylvania Hospital, a great anatomist and a drunkard, and nurse H. who Bliss says "ought to have been in command of a crew of pirates." Antisepsis lay in the womb of the future and the newfangled Listerism was laughed at. It was here, I think, a little later that the artistic "Kelly the bum" tatooed some sixteen men and infected as many with syphilis. Here too stands Dr. P. in the amphitheatre (undoubtedly "Bill Pancoast") "knife in hand lecturing to the students in his rather stagey manner." Here is Edmond the jail bird, "a strange combination of meanness, wickedness, low cunning and moral cussedness," who is autopsied in the celebrated "green room," and Daniel, a boy from the mines with a big sarcoma on his neck "a combination of gentleness, patience and sweet reasonableness." But this is not the place for many such details, suffice it to say that two such books are rare and valuable records of bygone days. Blockley, we are thankful to say, has been a vastly better place for many years now.

Bliss died from acute nephritis at his home in Philadelphia May 1, 1913.