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History of Medicine |

Henry Harrower and the Turbulent Beginnings of Endocrinology

Theodore B. Schwartz, MD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

From Rush Medical College, Chicago, Illinois.

Acknowledgments: The author thanks Michael W. Schwartz and David N. Schwartz for advice and critical review of the manuscript and Genevieve Schwartz for unstinting editorial assistance.

Requests for Reprints: Theodore B. Schwartz, MD, 200 Lee Street, Evanston, IL 60202. For reprint orders in quantities exceeding 100, please contact the Reprints Coordinator; phone, 215-351-2657; e-mail, reprints@mail.acponline.org.

Ann Intern Med. 1999;131(9):702-706. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-131-9-199911020-00012
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The emergence of new medical science in the mid-19th century was usually greeted with derision by “practical men” who saw their academic colleagues as elitist intellectuals whose work bore little or no relation to the rough-and-tumble aspects of patient care. This schism, which was nowhere greater than in the field of endocrinology, widened in 1891 when a myxedematous patient was dramatically restored to health after the administration of a thyroid extract. On the one hand, academicians—who saw this result as a triumphal example of the transference of laboratory studies to the bedside—were encouraged to pursue further studies in endocrine pathophysiology and pharmacology. On the other hand, medical practitioners began to believe that crude extracts from glands or other organs, when prescribed as orally administered mixtures, were effective for the treatment of most human ailments.

The organotherapeutic forces were ably championed by Henry R. Harrower, MD, a manufacturer as well as a dispenser of organotherapeutic products. For some years, the claims of the organotherapists remained unchallenged. Finally, in 1921, Harvey Cushing, pioneer neurosurgeon and endocrinologist, launched a crushing assault on the purveyors of pluriglandular therapy. These attacks continued over ensuing years, and organotherapy fell into disrepute. Nevertheless, the assertions of “practical men” have not subsided; rather, we are now confronted by insistent claims for a bewildering array of herbal remedies, over-the-counter hormonal products, and alternative therapies.


Grahic Jump Location
Dose table of extracts.

The dose is given in grains. The second column shows the weight ratio of whole organ to extract, and the third column shows relative cost (1 = least expensive).

Grahic Jump Location




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