Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology History | NYU Langone Health

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About the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology History

Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology History

The histories of NYU Grossman School of Medicine, its training programs in obstetrics and gynecology, and Bellevue Hospital, today called NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, have been intertwined since their founding.

The 17th Century: A Forerunner to Bellevue Hospital

In 1658, Jacob Hendrickssen Varrenvager, a barber–surgeon, was tasked with establishing a hospital for New Amsterdam residents that included a small midwife’s house. This hospital was a forerunner to Bellevue Hospital. In addition to the barber–surgeon, a midwife and a ziekentrooster, or “comforter of the sick” who served as the equivalent of a social worker, were also hired. Thus, the model for the current Bellevue team of an obstetrician, midwife, and social worker existed nearly 340 years ago.

The 18th Century: The Roles of Midwives and Physicians

By the early 18th century midwives were licensed, and physicians who immigrated to New York City emphasized a scientific approach to childbirth, principally the use of forceps. However, the vast majority of births occurred at home attended by family members and midwives.

The first lying-in hospital in New York City was established in 1799 in an almshouse on Chambers Street, a direct antecedent of Bellevue. Valentine Seaman, MD, assumed responsibility for teaching midwifery at the hospital and offered lectures on anatomy, physiology, and the art of obstetrics exclusively to women.

The 19th Century: An Obstetrics and Gynecology Curriculum

In 1816, a new hospital opened on the grounds of Belle Vue and Kips Bay. It was formally named Bellevue in 1825, with the Bellevue Hospital Medical College opening in 1861. Two decades earlier, the Medical College of New York University, which offered a curriculum in obstetrics and diseases of women and childbirth, was established. It merged with Bellevue Hospital Medical College in 1898 to become the University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College. It was renamed the NYU College of Medicine in 1935, and today is NYU Grossman School of Medicine, which houses the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The 20th Century: Midwifery in Flux

In 1911, Louisa Lee Schuyler helped open the Bellevue Hospital School of Midwives, the first of its kind in the United States. It was closed in 1935 during the height of the nationwide transition to physician-attended, in-hospital deliveries.

The 21th Century: The Growth of Services, Facilities, and Training

Today, under the leadership of Dana R. Gossett, MD, the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology offers women comprehensive and advanced clinical services, from annual well visits and reproductive endocrinology and infertility, to maternal–fetal medicine and menopause, all based on a foundation of research and education.

Our research initiatives continue to expand, including those in ultrasonography and fetal diagnostics, perinatal medicine, menopausal medicine, reproductive endocrinology and infertility, gynecologic cancer, LGBTQ+ healthcare in the obstetrics–gynecology setting, and global women’s health, among others.

Educational programs are also a priority. Clerkship evaluations have shown high levels of student satisfaction in overall quality, didactic training, and educational objectives, while the residency program is consistently rated among the top 10 programs in the Northeast by reputation with Doximity. Fellowship subspecialty training programs and continuing medical education also continue to be an integral part of the department.

Because of its continued growth, the department is moving into a 200,000-square-foot facility in 2021.

Leadership History

For decades, our faculty have been among the leading figures in the field obstetrics and gynecology in this country. Some of the more notable past faculty include the following.

Gunning S. Bedford, MD

In 1841, Dr. Bedford was named the first director of obstetrics and diseases of women and childbirth at the Medical College of New York University, of which he was also a founder and served in this position until 1864. He is credited with establishing the first obstetrics clinic and the first obstetric and gynecologic curriculum in the United States. The extent of his involvement with the Bellevue obstetric and gynecologic services is unclear.

William Thompson Lusk, MD

A Civil War veteran, Dr. Lusk was appointed professor of obstetrics and diseases of women and children at Bellevue Hospital Medical College in 1871 and served as president of the Bellevue Hospital Faculty in 1889. Lusk performed the second cesarean delivery in the city. In addition to his influential text Science and Art of Midwifery, he published on uremia as a common cause of death in uterine cancer, irregular uterine action during labor, and the pathology of uterine cancer.

Henry Clark Coe, MD

Dr. Coe is thought to be the first director of gynecology at Bellevue. He served from 1898 to 1914.

William Emery Studdiford, MD

Dr. Studdiford was director of gynecology at Bellevue from 1915 to 1919. He advanced the surgical treatment of cervical carcinoma and then abandoned this approach when the utility of radiation therapy became clear. Dr. Studdiford also introduced the concept of preoperative evaluations and developed a first-class gynecology service at Bellevue. He strongly favored unifying the obstetrics and gynecology services and resigned in 1919 because of the lack of access to obstetrics.

Frederick Clark Holden, MD

Dr. Holden was director of gynecology at Bellevue from 1919 to 1932 and served as the first director of the combined departments of obstetrics and gynecology from 1932 to 1933. His directorship was short-lived because of the challenges associated with creating a single functioning department and curriculum. He retired from Bellevue in 1934.

William E. Studdiford Jr., MD

The obstetrics and gynecology services at Bellevue were effectively unified into one department in 1933 under the directorship of Dr. Studdiford Jr. In that same year, he was also appointed professor and chairman of the medical school department. Dr. Studdiford Jr. produced 60 publications, including landmark treatises on cervical and abdominal pregnancy and the Barton forceps. Beginning in the pre-antibiotic era, he introduced a protocol for the aggressive surgical treatment of septic abortion and demonstrated the value of early curettage. He left Bellevue in 1942 but returned as chair in 1947 and remained in the position until 1956.

Gordon Watkins Douglas, MD

Dr. Douglas was chairman of the medical school department and director of obstetrics and gynecology at Bellevue from 1956 to 1986. In addition to working with Dr. Studdiford Jr. on a paper about septic abortion, Dr. Douglas published on cervical, endometrial, and ovarian carcinoma and obstetric anesthesia, among other topics. He is credited as one of the originators of the subspecialty system in obstetrics and gynecology and established subspecialty divisions and fellowships at NYU School of Medicine, including one of the nation’s first maternal–fetal medicine divisions and fellowships. Dr. Douglas took a leave of absence in 1983 to receive treatment for lung cancer and returned later that year. He retired in 1986.

Robert Porges, MD

Dr. Porges, one of the foremost vaginal surgeons in the city, was interim chair in 1983 during Dr. Douglas’s absence and served in the same position in 1987 to 1994, 2001 to 2002, and 2008 to 2010. Despite the challenge of working without a permanent appointment and lack of an endowment or recruitment funds, Dr. Porges established a prenatal diagnostic unit at Tisch Hospital and introduced an attending coverage system at Bellevue and established programs in in vitro fertilization and women’s wellness.

David L. Keefe, MD

Dr. Keefe became chair of the department in 2010, a position he held for 11 years. Under his leadership, services for patients expanded. Notably, the number of deliveries and gynecologic surgeries performed increased, as did reproductive services. Dr. Keefe helped found the gynecological robotic surgery program, which has grown into one of the largest in the United States. Working with the Department of Urology, he also formed a program in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery that combines urology and gynecology.