Written by the late James M. Ingram, MD
Founded in 1911, the American Gynecological Club is the oldest organization of its kind in America. Its inception occurred among a small group of obstetricians and gynecologists around a luncheon table in Atlantic City in May of that year, at the suggestion of Dr. Howard C. Taylor of New York. The first meeting of the club was held on May 11, 1911, when Dr. Taylor was elected chairman and the name of the club was chosen. Howard C. Taylor was an exemplary founding president, as he was one of the giants of his day. He served as clinical professor of gynecology at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and as director of Roosevelt Hospital’s Gynecological Service. At one time, his patients included the wives of three former Presidents of the United States. His equally distinguished son, Howard C. Taylor, Jr., followed his footsteps years later as chairman at Columbia and as president of the American Gynecological Club.
The original purposes of the AGC have remained unchanged. These include the general advancement of obstetrics and gynecology; the opportunity of observing the educational, clinical, and experimental work of its members in various institutions; and the stimulation among its members of informal discussion and free exchange of ideas, rather than presentation of written communications.
In spite of its self-limited size of 40 active members, the AGC has traditionally counted among its membership a significant portion of the academic and clinical leadership in American obstetrics and gynecology. Strong bonds of friendship have grown among its members and their hosts, as the club has visited the medical centers of the United States, Europe, and other countries. Meetings are now held annually, although in early years they were held more often. The carefully preserved history of the club records the daily medical and social aspects of each meeting, including some interesting details of the pleasures of long transatlantic voyages in the early days.
By curious coincidence, an almost identical organization, The Gynaecological Visiting Society of Great Britain (GVS), was founded in England on April 24, 1911, one month before the first meeting of the AGC. A small group of academic gynecologists was brought together for dinner in Liverpool by Professor William Blair-Bell, the foremost investigative obstetrician-gynecologist of his day in Great Britain. His life and many accomplishments are captured in the fascinating biography of William Blair-Bell, published by the Royal College in 1986, and written by Sir John Peel, who is a member of both the GVS and an honorary member of the AGC.
The GVS became a small, select, close-knit group which met twice a year, with Blair Bell as Convener for many years. With mutual interests and a common language, it was inevitable that the two societies be drawn together, despite the long interruption and hardships ofWorld War 1.
In 1926, the AGC and the Gynaecological Visiting Society met together for the first time in Liverpool. A close friendship developed between the two societies, which led them to declare themselves sister societies on each side of the Atlantic. Since 1926, the two groups have met together in alternate countries at four- to five-year intervals. At a joint meeting in Liverpool in 1971, the GVS graciously presented the President’s Medallion to the AGC. This handsome gold medallion was designed by the noted Cyril J. Shiner, deputy head of the Birmingham School of Jewelry and Silversmithing. It was wrought in London by Mr. Frank James, an elderly craftsman who has many of the insignias of the Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Garter. The medallion and the gavel, described below, are two treasured symbols of office which are protected in the custody of the president of the AGC each year.
In 1949, the membership of the AGC was substantially enriched by its merger with the North American Gynecological and Obstetrical Travel Club, a very similar society, then 10 years old. The following year, Dr. Richard W. TeLinde, who served as president of both clubs and who was instrumental in the merger, presented to the AGC a gavel unique in the history of gynecology. This gavel was fashioned from the two silver tops of an inkwell from the home of Dr. Howard A. Kelly on Eutaw Place in Baltimore. The inkwell had been presented to Howard Kelly by Dr. Henry M. Thomas, professor of neurology, at Johns Hopkins University upon the occasion of the delivery of their second child by Dr. Kelly.
Except for the years of World War I and 11, the AGC has met annually. Since the founding of the American Gynecological Club, transportation has changed from train and steamship to jet travel. Methodology of teaching and learning has changed from direct written and verbal contact between gynecologists to telecommunications and computers. However, the members of the AGC still find that the most enlightening and enjoyable experiences, both scientific and social, are personal, first-hand communication with our colleagues in their own institutions.