James Platt White
James Platt White, one of the founding faculty of the University, served as the Medical School's first professor of Obstetrics. He was instrumental in founding some of Buffalo's earliest hospitals as well as the Young Men's Association, the Academy of Fine Arts, and the Buffalo Historical Society.
White was known as a direct and progressive instructor. On January 18, 1850 he became the first medical educator in the United States to use a live birth in the classroom, delivering a baby to a young Irish woman for his fourth year medical students.
"After her labor began, the 22 members of the class assembled in an adjoining room and one by one, under the supervision of Dr. White, they were admitted to the confinement room and were permitted to make vaginal examinations during the progress of labor. On the termination of the second stage all were assembled in the lying-in room and permitted to witness the passage of the head over the perineum and the method employed to support the latter. This was all: there was no undue exposure of the woman and she made rapid convalescence, yet seldom has an event occurred that so completely shook the foundations of society in any city such as did this." -- from "A Historical Reminiscence" Buffalo Medical Journal, 1895
As rumors of what exactly went on during that class thundered throughout Buffalo, more than one member of the community publicly voiced their opinion. Eventually Dr. Horatio N. Loomis was indicted for criminal libel for his alleged comments against Dr. White. The Reverend John E. Robie, editor of The Christian Advocate was also indicated in the case. What follows are excerpts from editorials and letters published in local Buffalo newspapers in response to this "controversy raging over demonstrative midwifery."
The excerpts below were taken from transcriptions by Robert Brown, former Dean of the Medical School. See the history vertical file on the Medical School for the full transcriptions and notes by Dr. Brown.
For more details on this case, see "Our First Professor of Obstetrics, James Platt White (1811-1881)" by Oliver P. Jones, Ph.D., M.D. in The Buffalo Physician, Spring 1974
The Daily Courier
February 28, 1850
If I again intrude on upon your notice, it is for the purpose of placing before the public facts in a case upon which they have the unquestionable right to reflect and decide...
The faculty of the Medical Department of the University of Buffalo has signified their approval of the course recently taken by one of their members in holding a clinical demonstration of obstetrical practice at the University...
A parturient female willing from circumstances into which it is not our province to inquire to forget the natural delicacy of her sex and to submit to an ordeal which no refinement of punishment could ever suggest is placed upon a couch to await the throes of what shall terminate the patient probation she has undergone and give the world another living atom. To witness this consummation of her anxious cares, a class of young men, more than twenty in number, are invited. The night wears on in pace, the spectators of the show not caring to remain constantly by it, are congregated in the amphitheater of the college where the tedious hours of suspense are relieved by the artifices of cards, beer and cigars. Occasionally two or three at a time are called from their diversions to "acquire useful knowledge" and "advance the interests of medical science and humanity" by examinations not with the eyes alone under the direction of the professor...
...It remains to be seen whether the actors in the affair seeing their wrong will, as becomes a manly spirit, admit their error or will attempt to sustain it by claiming for their deeds benefits that cannot accrue and assuming in their justification precedence which do not exist.
-- signed L
The Buffalo Christian Advocate
a weekly family and religious newspaper.
March 14, 1850
Most of our readers are probably aware that some three of four weeks since the professor of Obstetrics at the Buffalo Medical College, for purposes better known to himself than by those who know him less and under the delusive title of demonstrative midwifery, held an exhibition before his class of a character more befitting a lupanarem where decency never enters the college for instruction.
The Buffalo Medical College we are certain will ever bear the insignia of being the first, probably it is the only medical institution that will ever disgrace an honorable profession by elevating to a professor-ship a man so lost to all sense of decent respect as heartlessly to expose to the libidinous gaze of a multitude a poor female under circumstances repugnant to every feeling of delicacy and which also compels the lower orders of animal creation to seek seclusion.
The Buffalo Christian Advocate
a weekly family and religious newspaper.
April 11, 1850
The editor of this paper has been indicted for a libel, a high misdemeanor against the good people of the State of New York by the grand jury lately in session in this city. We suppose that this is the instigation of Professor White of the Buffalo Medical College, a gentleman of commanding influence in this city and supposed to be of high intellectual and professional attainment.
It was said of the exposure a few weeks since in this paper of a singular instance of demonstrative midwifery which the professor managed, it is said, most adroitly and very much to his own satisfaction before and in the presence of a large class of graduating students in the Buffalo Medical College.
The affair, we are informed, will come off in May and as the bale profit,... we are at large as usual. We can assure the professor, however, that we shall insist on having the full detail of the facts as he gave them to us from his own lips before several prominent and credible witnesses...
The process of procuring an indictment against us by those interested as [convenient] ruse to avoid all pecuniary liabilities resulting from the issue of the case. With these facts before us, the gentlemen of the prosecution may rest fully assured that we have no apologies to make or publish to ease off an affair that we apine must now, some way or other, come fully before the public and let him who is guilty bear the responsibility!
The Commercial Advertiser
June 22, 1850
The trial of the cause which has excited considerable interest in this city will [appear] before the supreme court on Monday. It is that of Doctor H. N. Loomis and John E. Robie, Editor of the Christian Advocate indicted for liable. The general subject matter of this indictment is well known [as being] connected with a case of demonstrative midwifery which took place at the medical college last winter.
The defendants in expressing their opposition to this kind of practice took occasion to refer to some of the professors of the institution in a manner which induced them to go before the grand jury for the purpose of getting the facts officially before the public as ...there has been much representation and misconception in the community.