American Medical Biographies/Hun, Thomas

Hun, Thomas (1808–1896).

Thomas Hun was born in Albany, New York, on September 14, 1808, the only son of Abraham and Maria Gansevoort, his father being a direct descendant of Harmen Thomas Hun who came from Holland to Albany, then known as Beverwyck, early in the seventeenth century. His ancestry was Dutch, on both his father's and mother's side, running back in the history of Albany for two hundred years. The family has been traced to Thomas Hun, the first known ancestor, who is believed to have resided at Amersfoort in Holland.

Dr. Hun's education began in the Albany Academy, and he entered the junior class of Union College and graduated with honor in 1826. He began his medical studies with Dr. Platt Williams, and in 1827 entered the University of Pennsylvania and received his degree of medicine in 1830. On the outbreak of cholera early in the summer of 1832, the first appearance of this disease in Albany, a cholera hospital was organized and Dr. Hun served as one of the attending physicians. He continued in this position until the disappearance of the cholera and the closing of the hospital in the autumn of that year. From 1833 to 1839 he studied medicine in Europe, and remained during that time almost exclusively in Paris. When the Albany Medical College was organized in 1839 he delivered the opening address for the first course of lectures and was made professor of the institutes of medicine, a chair which he held until 1858. On the occasion of a reorganization of the faculty in 1876, Dr. Hun was unanimously chosen dean, but he declined taking with it any duties of professorship. The office of dean was then largely honorary, and he retained it until his death in 1896. He was very active in founding and organizing the Albany Hospital, which was incorporated in 1848, and he was appointed one of the board of consulting physicians; subsequently he held the same position on the medical staff of St. Peter's Hospital and of the Child's Hospital. In 1862 he became president of the Medical Society of the State of New York and delivered an inaugural address of great originality and boldness in its opposition to many traditional ideas. He anticipated in this address the now usually accepted belief in the curative power of nature, and he argued against the fallacy of the cure of disease by either medicine or the physician. In 1861, Dr. S. O. Vander Poel (q. v.), surgeon-general of the State of New York, acting upon the authority of the commander-in-chief, appointed Drs. Alden March (q. v.), Mason F. Cogswell (q. v.) and Hun, Thomas a commission to examine candidates for surgeon and assistant surgeon of volunteer regiments. In 1863 Dr. Hun and Dr. Cogswell inspected for the Christian Commission the military hospitals of the west and southwest.

Dr. Hun always maintained an active interest in the Albany Academy, a famous school for boys, which he attended as a boy, and of which he was a trustee from 1852 to 1896, being president of the board during the last ten years of this service.

In 1841 Dr. Hun married Lydia L. Reynolds, who died in 1876. Of this union there were four sons, two of whom were physicians. Dr. Edward R. Hun (q. v.), who died prematurely in his thirty-ninth year, made some epochal contributions to neurological medicine. His life is appropriately included in this work. Dr. Henry Hun, the surviving physician, earned title to fame by the scientific character of his professional work, and practised in Albany.

In 1872 a newspaper reporter in New York City feigned insanity for the purpose of exploiting alleged abuses in the management of the Bloomingdale Asylum. Great publicity was given to this feat, and Governor Hoffman appointed Francis C. Barlow, attorney general of the state, Dr. Martin B. Anderson, president of the University of Rochester, and Dr. Thomas Hun a commission to investigate charges against lunatic asylums. The report of this commission was submitted to the legislature, and it was recommended that some system of independent supervision and inspection for all institutions of the kind be adopted. This resulted in the first comprehensive insanity law in the State of New York, that of 1874, which has been the foundation of all subsequent legislation on the subject. The report was a temperate and conservative document, and showed high appreciation of the responsibilty assumed by the commission.

The medical papers of Dr. Hun were characterized by deep thought and cultured literary style. It was said of him that "a rare power of abstract thought and philosophical study, especially in the line of metaphysical and ethical investigation, always had much attraction for him." Among his contributions to medical literature were the following: "Medical Systems, Medical Science and Empiricism," An Introductory Lecture before the Albany Medical College, October 3, 1846; "Is Insanity a Disease of the Mind or of the Body?" A Review of two papers by Dr. John P. Gray and De H. B. Wilbur respectively. American Journal of Insanity, July, 1872. Dr. Hun also presented a memorial sketch of the life of Dr. Platt Williams, which was published in the Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of New York for 1873.

Although Dr. Hun retired from active practice many years before his death, he remained a prominent and dominating factor in the medical life of Albany as a teacher and consultant and broad minded, cultured man. It was the custon to submit many questions of policy of the hospitals and colleges for his opinion, and often for his determining judgment. Rarely has a higher compliment been given to a private citizen than the official recognition of Dr. Hun's character contained in the message from Governor Hoffman to the legislature in 1872, expressing disapproval of an act for the regulation of medical practice of the state: "I have submitted this bill to my much respected and esteemed friend, Dr. Thomas Hun of Albany, in whose judgment as a man as well as a physician, I have great confidence and have asked his views with reference to it. They generally accord so completely with my own and are so tersely expressed that I file them with the bill as my reason for not giving it my approval."

Genealogical Notes of New York and New England Families, compiled by S. V. Talcott, 1883.
Documents of the Senate of the State of New York, Ninety-sixth Session, 1873.
Biog. Sketch by Orlando Meads in the Public Serv. of the State of New York, pub. by James R. Osgood & Co., Boston, 1882, and edited by Paul A. Chadbourne and Walter Burritt Moore.
Landmarks of Albany County, edited by Amasa J. Parker, 1897.