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The Times (London).
2 October 1877


The introductory address was delivered by Dr. John Williams, who said the progress of medical science had during recent years been great and rapid. This was the case in all departments of the healing art. It was seen in the invention of new instruments for scientific and clinical investigation, in the more intimate and accurate knowledge of the natural history of disease, and in the development of hygiene and preventive medicine. At first sight, perhaps, progress seemed to have been greater in the art of surgery than in the sciences into which medicine is usually divided. This, however, was only apparent. The achievements of surgery were more readily recognized than those of physic by reason of the mechanical character of the means employed to bring them about. Medicine had made equal progress with surgery. To appreciate this it was necessary to compare the present with the past. Medicine had now reached its final phase, and had assumed a preventive character. The power of preventing and even stamping out some diseases had been acquired. The acquisition of this power was the result of patient labour extending over a long period. Gynaecology had not, in this respect at least, kept pace with general medicine, and yet it had made great advances. Gynaecology was that branch of science which treated of the changes - healthy and morbid - in the female body. No apology was needed for the choice of this subject for an introductory discourse, inasmuch as it now took rank with medicine and surgery as an object of special study. Its importance in practice was great and on the increase, and its bearing on certain social questions at present agitated was such that it would command in the future greater attention than it had in the past. A sketch was then given of the progress made in this branch of science. The crude notions of the ancients regarding certain processes which go on in the human body were briefly referred to, and the discoveries of Harvey, Santorin, Collins, Le Graaf, and W. Hunter were enumerated. Progress, however, continued to be extremely slow until the present century. The work of Dr. John Power, Parkinje, and Boer gave a new impulse to investigation; and the labours of Corte, Wharton, Jones, Wagner, and others had furnished some of the leading principles of the science. The views taken of the physiology and pathology of the female body were then reviewed, and it was maintained that in the formation of theories of pathology, physiology had been kept too much in the background. Progress in physiology would lead to progress in pathology, and to greater and more intimate knowledge of disease. The advances made in the diagnosis and recognition of disease were but lightly touched upon, but reference was made to the labours of Keith, Wells, Brown, Jervis, and others - labours which had rendered surgical operations successful in cases which 30 years ago proved incurable or fatal. But a wider field than that supplied by surgical skill was open to the student of gynaecology; it was the study of pathology, the tracing back the course of disease to its source, the discovery of its causes. When this had been accomplished, gynaecology would assume a preventive character. Such inquiries, moreover, had a most important bearing upon a social question lately much discussed - the employment of women. Persistent and strenuous efforts had been made to admit women to professions which demanded from their members strength, energy, and a power of continuous and severe effort and application. The importance of this subject could not be over estimated, not to the few women for whose sake such clamour had been made, but to society and to the race. It could not be decided by prejudice - if that were prejudice which has existed for ages - nor yet by the intellectual caprice of a few experimenters in moral and social science. It was a physiological and pathological problem which could be solved on physiological and pathological grounds only. Disease was in great part the penalty of a high civilization. When and how it acted, it was the duty of the physician to discover. To counteract evil influence and ward off the disease was the highest aims of his calling.

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