Reading #1 Introduction to Science

Austin Flint, Jr., M.D.: American Physician-Physiologist

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Austin Flint, Jr., M.D.: American Physician-Physiologist

Austin Flint, Jr., M.D. (1836-1915; Figure 2 right), a pioneer American physician-scientist, contributed significantly to the burgeoning literature in physiology. A respected physician, physiologist, and successful textbook author, he fostered the belief among 19th century American physical education teachers that muscular exercise should be taught from a strong foundation of science and experimentation. Flint, professor of physiology and physiological anatomy in the Bellevue Hospital Medical College of New York, chaired the Department of Physiology and Microbiology from 1861 to 1897. In 1866, he published a series of five classic textbooks, the first entitled The Physiology of Man; Designed to Represent the Existing State of Physiological Science as Applied to the Functions of the Human Body. Vol. 1; Introduction; The Blood; Circulation; Respiration. Eleven years later, Flint published The Principles and Practice of Medicine, a synthesis of his first five textbooks consisting of 987 pages of meticulously organized sections with supporting documentation. Dr. Flint, well trained in the scientific method, received the American Medical Association’s prize for basic research on the heart in 1858. He published his medical school thesis, “The phenomena of capillary circulation,” in an 1878 issue of the American Journal of the Medical Sciences. His 1877 textbook included many exercise-related details about: (1) Influence of posture and exercise on pulse rate; (2) Influence of muscular activity on respiration; and (3) Influence of muscular exercise on nitrogen elimination.

Flint was well aware of scientific experimentation in France and England, and cited the experimental works of leading European physiologists and physicians including the incomparable François Magendie (1783-1855), Claude Bernard (1813-1878), and influential German physiologists Justis von Liebig (1803-1873), Edward Pflüger (1829-1910), and Carl von Voit (1831-1908). He also discussed the important contributions to metabolism of Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1784) and digestive physiology from American physician-physiologist William Beaumont (1785-1853).

Through his textbooks, Austin Flint, Jr. influenced the first medically trained and science-oriented professor of physical education, Edward Hitchcock, Jr., M.D. (see next section). Hitchcock quoted Flint about the muscular system in his syllabus of Health Lectures, which became required reading for all students enrolled at Amherst College between 1861 and 1905.

Amherst College Connection

Two physicians, father and son (Figure 3) pioneered the American sports science movement (Figure 4). Edward Hitchcock, D.D., LL.D. (1793-1864), served as professor of chemistry and natural history at Amherst College and as president of the College from 1845-1854. He convinced the college president in 1861 to allow his son Edward [(1828-1911; Amherst undergraduate (1849); Harvard medical degree (1853)] to assume the duties of his anatomy course. On August 15, 1861 Edward Hitchcock, Jr. became Professor of Hygiene and Physical Education with full academic rank in the Department of Physical Culture at an annual salary of $1,000 - a position he held almost continuously to 1911. Hitchcock’s professorship became the second such appointment in physical education in an American college. The first, to John D. Hooker a year earlier at Amherst College in 1860, was short lived due to Hooker’s poor health. Hooker resigned in 1861 with Hitchcock appointed in his place.

William Augustus Stearns, D.D., the fourth President of Amherst College had proposed the original idea of a Department of Physical Education with a professorship in 1854. Stearns considered physical education instruction essential for the health of students and useful to prepare them physically, spiritually, and intellectually. In 1860, the Barrett Gymnasium at Amherst College, was completed and served as the training facility where all students were required to perform systematic exercises for 30 minutes daily, four days a week A unique feature of the gymnasium included Dr. Hitchcock’s scientific laboratory that included strength and anthropometric equipment, and a spirometer to measure lung function, which he used to measure the vital statistics of all Amherst students. Dr. Hitchcock was first to statistically record basic data on a large group of subjects on a yearly basis. These measurements provided Dr. Hitchcock with solid information for his counseling duties concerning health, hygiene, and exercise training.

In 1860, the Hitchcock’s co-authored an anatomy and physiology textbook geared to college physical education (Hitchcock, E., and Hitchcock, E., Jr.: Elementary Anatomy and Physiology for Colleges, Academies, and Other Schools. New York, Ivison, Phinney & Co., 1860); 29 years earlier, the father had published a science-oriented hygiene textbook. Interestingly, the anatomy and physiology book predated Flint’s similar text by six years, illustrating that an American-trained physician, with strong allegiance to the implementation of health and hygiene in the curriculum, helped set the stage for the study of exercise and training well before the medical establishment focused on this aspect of the discipline. A pedagogical aspect of the Hitchcocks' text included questions at the bottom of each page about topics under consideration. In essence, the textbook also served as a “study guide” or “workbook.”

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