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The Cabot Era (1919–1930)

Origins of the Specialty
Modern urology at U-M begins with the arrival of Hugh Cabot, MD

Hugh Cabot, MD

  • Chair, U-M Department of Surgery (1919-1930)
  • Dean, U-M Medical School (1921-1930)

In 1919, Hugh Cabot, MD, a prominent urologic surgeon and founder of the genitourinary clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital, left Boston to come to U-M where he assumed the role of chair of the Department of Surgery. Cabot, who was educated at Harvard Medical School, had just returned from service in World War I, in France, where he had a distinguished career as an officer. With quick succession, he was appointed dean of the U-M Medical School in 1921. At the time the Department of Surgery was minimally differentiated into the evolving specialties.

Cabot went on to build one of the preeminent surgery departments in the United States. In 1925, he recruited two young men who would become outstanding urologists: Charles Huggins, MD, who went on to win a Nobel Prize for his work with the hormonal manipulation of prostate cancer; and Reed Nesbit, MD, who became the first chief of the Section of Urology in 1930, and remained professor and chair until his retirement in 1968.

In 1925, Cabot oversaw the completion and staffing of the new University Hospital on Ann Street in Ann Arbor, a modern facility designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn to replace the Catherine Street Hospital. During this time, he also took part in campus life. On April 28, 1925, Cabot participated in a student faculty debate on the topic, “Resolved: that intercollegiate athletics in their present form are objectionable and should be materially modified.”

“I saw many technological advances during my time with the Department of Urology. It was an amazing period of transformation. We went from just basic nothing to the innovation of robotic surgery and other new technologies. A lot has happened in the last 100 years, that’s for sure. There have been advances in nephroscopy, ureteroscopy, laparoscopy, extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy, cryoblation, prosthetic surgery and robotic surgery.”

Gary Wedemeyer, Senior Biomedical Engineering Technician (1971-2011)

Cabot was a powerful dean. Often viewed as a visionary, he challenged the status quo to bring change and innovation to the U-M Medical School — notably arguing against the common practice at the time to delay catheterization in surgical patients with urinary retention. Cabot advocated for national health insurance and full-time faculty appointments, which were controversial ideas at the time.

In 1930, he was relieved of his duties by the University Regents “in the interest of greater harmony.” Cabot then joined his friend William Mayo, a U-M Medical School graduate of 1883, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he remained until 1939.

Also happening in the world in 1919

  • Woodrow Wilson was the 28th president of the United States.
  • The signing of the Treaty of Versailles marked the official end of World War I.
  • Prohibition was ratified by ¾ of the states.
  • Women in America were granted the right to vote when Congress passed, and one year later ratified, the 19th Amendment.
  • Modern medicine had yet to make the discovery of penicillin to treat complex bacterial infections.

Also happening at Michigan Medicine

  • 1919: Urology at the U-M remained an evolving branch of medicine under the Department of Surgery.
  • 1919: Revered educator and researcher Victor Vaughan, MD, PhD, was dean of the University of Michigan Medical School.
  • 1921: U-M establishes Pediatrics as an independent department.
  • 1922: U-M pediatrician David Murray Cowie introduces iodized salt as a goiter preventive.
  • 1925: The new 700-bed University Hospital (also known as the Main Hospital) replaces the Catherine Street Hospital.
  • 1928: University Hospital offers the first physician training program in thoracic surgery.