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American Medical Biographies/Withington, Charles Francis

Withington, Charles Francis (1852–1917)

Charles Francis Withington, Boston physician, died in Boston, January 7, 1917. He was born in Brookline, August 21, 1852, the son of Otis and Lucy Jenckes Withington.

His ancestry was identified with the development of New England life, being to a considerable extent of the Puritan strain, with several marriages into the Pilgrim stock. At least four came on the Mayflower on her first voyage, one of whom, John Howland, is spoken of as the "lusty young man" who was rescued from drowning by his agility in grasping a rope when he fell overboard.

John, a son of Richard, commander of a company in Sir William Phipps' Expedition against Quebec in 1690, was the grandfather of Samuel, a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War. Enos, the son of Samuel, built a house in Brookline, where Otis and his son, Dr. Charles F. Withington, were born.

After a boyhood spent in Brookline, Dr. Withington entered Harvard College in 1870, graduating four years later with the degree A. B. cum laude, ranking fourth in his class. His work secured a detur and second year honors in the classics, and he read a commencement part on graduating. While in college he was a member of the Pi Eta and Phi Beta Kappa societies. Whenever it was possible, the joint festivities of the societies and the commencement exercises always drew him to Cambridge.

After leaving college he taught for one year in the Brookline High School, and the two succeeding years in the Roxbury Latin School, becoming a trustee of the latter a few years later, and serving as secretary of this board for twenty-five years.

In 1877 he entered the Harvard Medical School and became a member of the Boylston Medical Society, acting as its secretary. He read a prize essay before this Society, under the title of "The Pupil as a Therapeutic Guide." He received the degree of M. D. in 1891, having served as medical interne in the Boston City Hospital, and the following year was assistant to the superintendent. He began independent practice in Roxbury immediately after leaving the hospital, continuing there until 1902, when he moved to 35 Bay State Road, where he worked until incapacitated.

Although deeply interested in, and loyal to his patients, Dr. Withington enjoyed the study of the deeper problems of his profession, and took keen interest in the critical review of medical literature.

Immediately after entering upon practice, he joined the editorial staff of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. His reviews, editorials and other contributions were not only logical and scientific, but permeated with an individuality which lent an added charm. His more notable contributions were entitled: "Consanguineous Marriages" (Transactions Massachusetts Medical Society, 1885), "The Relations of Hospitals to Medical Education" (Boylston Prize Essay), "An Inquiry into the Transmission of Contagious Diseases through the Medium of Rags" (Report Massachusetts Board of Health, 1887) and several articles in Wood's Handbook of the Medical Sciences (1886–8).

In 1891, desiring to study bacteriology, he went abroad, and later being joined by his family, the winter of 1892–3 was spent largely in Berlin, where he matriculated in the University. The following year he was made instructor in clinical medicine at the Harvard Medical School, retaining this office until he resigned in 1905. In 1912 he was appointed lecturer in the Graduate School of Medicine.

Early in his practice, he served as physician to the Out-Patient Department at the City Hospital, securing the appointment on the visiting staff in 1892, which he held until 1915, when he was appointed consulting physician.

An interesting fact may be noted in calling attention to the first use of diphtheria antitoxin in the Boston City Hospital, which was in his service, on December 12, 1894. (See Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, cxxxii, No. 11, pp. 249–260.)

In 1898 he was elected a member of the Association of American Physicians. Several of his contributions appear in the transactions of this society.

These honors and activities, as here outlined, would seem to have made up a life of unusual usefulness, but through all these years there was continuous devotion to an organization in which Dr. Withington found opportunity for service, which led eventually to his being elected president of the Massachusetts Medical Society (1914–15 and 1915– 16). Beginning as a censor of the Norfolk District Society in 1892 he, together with his associates, formulated a plan for the uniform examination of candidates for fellowship, becoming supervisor under this scheme, which was adopted in 1894. Later, he was chosen councillor from the Norfolk District in 1896– 97–98, and vice-president of this district in 1900–01. He was elected president of this same district in 1902. This honor he could not accept because it came just as he was about to remove his home to Boston.

From 1908 to 1914, Dr. Withington served the State Society as member of the Committee on State and National Legislation, being the secretary and executive officer for several years. His associates will always remember the valuable services rendered the society and the state, for he carefully and diligently studied all matters of a medical and public health nature. He was quick to detect merit or error in bills presented, and sacrificed valuable time in attending hearings and disseminating information. Although frequently obliged to antagonize the efforts of those opposed to public health and medical interests, he had the rare ability of presenting facts in a logical manner, free from personal bias. He always secured a respectful hearing. He represented the state society in the National Legislative Council of the American Medical Association in Chicago in 1912–13–14, where he reported the conditions in Massachusetts.

On September 20, 1893, he married Georgianna Bowen. Of this union there were born four sons and a daughter. One son died in infancy. It is interesting to note that the father's life inspired one son, Paul Richmond, with the desire to practise medicine.

Boston Med. & Surg. Jour., 1917, vol. clxxvi, p. 793–795. Port.