250 Years of Caring for Children

The Department of Pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center can trace its roots to 1767, when New York was still a British colony. In that year the medical department of King's College, now the Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons at Columbia University, was founded. Succeeding generations of Columbia physicians laid the groundwork for what became, over the next 250 years, the modern field of pediatrics. During those two and a half centuries doctors here at Columbia have pioneered many advances in the care of children. Our faculty members established a number of independent pediatric subspecialties, including pediatric radiology, pediatric neurology, and neonatology, and many diseases and disorders were first described by department members. 

Milestones in Pediatrics at Columbia

  • 1770

    Columbia physicians advance the care of children

    Physicians at Columbia University Faculty of Medicine at King’s College describe “blue baby” syndrome, propose a method for intubating infants, and publish the first textbook of obstetrics, A Compendium of the Theory and Practice of Midwifery. They also are at the forefront in recognizing the symptoms, epidemiology, and autopsy findings of diphtheria.

  • 1887

    Dr. Sarah McNutt (pictured) and her sister Dr. Julia McNutt found Babies Hospital

    Black and white portrait Sarah J. Mcnutt.

    Drs. McNutt, Jeannie Smith, Isabella Satterthwaite, and Isabella Banks found Babies Hospital, the first hospital in New York City for children, in a brownstone on Lexington Avenue and 55th Street. The hospital, with only women resident physicians, has 30 beds for sick infants up to three years of age. Malnutrition is most common diagnosis.

  • 1888

    Dr. Emmett Holt named medical director

    Black and white photo of L. Emmett Holt.

    Babies Hospital appoints L. Emmett Holt, who laid the groundwork for the field of pediatrics, as medical director. Dr. Holt observes that nurses are keeping a clipboard at the side of each bed and noting important clinical information on it. He begins adding physician observations to it, giving birth to the medical chart.

  • 1891

    Babies Hospital uses first incubator in US

    Columbia was the first in the US to use incubators, which were developed in France.

    The hospital is the first in the US to use incubators, which were developed in France. Until this innovation many premature babies died because they were unable to regulate their body temperature, and the incubator solved this deadly problem.

  • 1894

    Dr. Holt publishes first manual for mothers

    The care and feeding of children by L. Emmett Holt, M.D.

    Dr. Holt adapts lecture notes that the head of nursing used to educate parents for his book, The Care and Feeding of Children: A Catechism for the Use of Mothers and Children's Nurses.

  • 1897

    First pediatrics textbook

    Rudolph's Pediatrics magazine, 23rd edition.

    Dr. Holt publishes the first modern textbook of pediatrics, Diseases of Infancy and Childhood. This textbook, in its 23rd edition in 2018, is now published as Rudolph’s Pediatrics.

  • 1901

    Dr. Dorothy Reed identifies Hodgkin's disease cells

    Purple and blue swirls of a Reed-Sternberg cell.

    Dorothy Reed, MD observes the presence of a cell (subsequently called the Reed-Sternberg cell) that is characteristic of Hodgkin's disease, enabling physicians to differentiate it from tuberculosis.

  • 1902

    Babies Hospital relocates

    The Babies Hospital on Lexington Avenue and 55th Street, early 1900s, before moving uptown to affiliate with CPMC.

    The new eight-story building on Lexington Avenue has a modern electric elevator, telephone, an X-ray machine, and 80 beds. The hospital also has dedicated departments of pathology, surgery, and radiology.

  • 1907

    Tay-Sachs disease identified

    Black and white portrait of Bernard Sachs.

    Neurologist Bernard Sachs, MD publishes his findings on what was then called “amaurotic family idiocy” and later called Tay-Sachs disease. In 1887 Dr. Sachs had noted the higher incidence of this neurologic condition among Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe.

  • 1909

    First dedicated ward for preemies

    Babies Hospital opens the first ward in the US specifically for premature infants.

  • 1922

    Pioneers in pediatric radiology

    An x-ray of a child's torso.

    Radiologists at Babies Hospital establish the first pediatric radiology service.

  • 1925

    Herbert Wilcox, MD appointed director of Babies Hospital

    During the tenure of Dr. Herbert Wilcox Sr. (P&S '02), and under his leadership, Babies Hospital became closely affiliated with Columbia University and Presbyterian Hospital.  

  • 1929

    Babies Hospital relocates again

    A black and white photo of the Babies Hospital in 1928 in New York City.

    The hospital, now with 191 beds, moves to Broadway and 167th Street, affiliates with the College of Physicians & Surgeons, and becomes part of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. Hospital staff now treat children from three to 12 years of age.

  • 1930

    Dr. Martha Wollstein breaks barriers

    Black and white portrait of Martha Wollstein.

    Pathologist Martha Wollstein, MD, whose research showed that mumps is caused by a virus, is elected as the first woman to the American Pediatric Society. Dr. Wollstein also studied polio and pneumonia, and helped to develop an antimeningitis serum.

  • 1933

    Rustin McIntosh, MD named Chair

    Black and white portrait of Rustin Macintosh.

    Dr. McIntosh remains department chair until 1960. He fostered a “spirit of doubt and need for inquiry” that led to breakthroughs in the treatments of many childhood diseases.

  • 1937

    Rare endocrine disease described

    Donovan McCune, MD, describes the first case of polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, a rare genetic endocrine disease affecting the bones and pigmentation of the skin, subsequently known as McCune-Albright syndrome.

  • 1938

    Cystic fibrosis described by Dr. Dorothy Andersen

    Black and white portrait of Dorothy Anderson.

    Pathologist Dorothy Andersen, MD, is the first to recognize the disease cystic fibrosis, and later helps to develop a test to identify it.

  • 1940

    Kasabach-Merritt syndrome described

    Katherine Merritt, MD, publishes a case report of an infant with thrombocytopenia with giant hemangioma, subsequently named Kasabach-Merritt syndrome.

  • 1942

    New treatment for meningitis

    Black and white photo of Hattie E. Alexander, MD, sitting at a microscope.

    Hattie E. Alexander, MD develops the first effective treatment for a lethal form of bacterial meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenza. Infants and children with this condition nearly always died until the development of her anti-serum, which results in an 80 percent recovery rate.

  • 1945

    Advances in Radiology

    Black and white photo of John Caffey, MD.

    John Caffey, MD publishes the comprehensive text, Pediatric X-Ray Diagnosis, which establishes the intellectual basis of pediatric radiology. Dr. Caffey also publishes a description of infantile cortical hyperostosis, now known as “Caffey disease,” and shortly after that the first description of “shaken baby syndrome.”

  • 1946

    Dr. Spock publishes groundbreaking book

    The cover of Pocket Book of Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock, M.D.

    Publication of The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care turns Benjamin Spock, MD (P&S '29) into a popular authority on parenting—and a global celebrity. His book is dramatically different from past child-rearing manuals, which recommend discipline and strict feeding schedules, and instead offers parents the reassurance to trust their instincts and love their children, as well as basic, medically-informed health advice. The book becomes an influential, best-selling guide for parents.

  • 1952

    Apgar Score created

    Black and white photo of Virginia Apgar, MD, evaluating a newborn.

    Anesthesiologist Virginia Apgar, MD creates a simple scoring method for predicting infant health, now known as the “Apgar score.” The Apgar score measures five body functions to determine the need for life-saving assistance within 60 seconds of birth and remains the international standard for assessing newborn health.

  • 1952

    First randomized clinical trial

    Black and white photo of William Silverman.

    Neonatologist William Silverman, MD creates the first randomized clinical trial, which confirmed the harm of adrenocorticotropic hormone in treating retinopathy of prematurity.

  • 1953

    Sweat test for CF

    Black and white photo of Paul Di Santagnese.

    Building on Dr. Dorothy Anderson's work, Paul di Sant’Agnese, MD first describes elevated sweat chloride in cystic fibrosis, then develops the noninvasive, and now standard, “sweat test” for the disease.

  • 1955

    New paradigm for cancer research established

    Black and white photo of Dr. Wolff with a child.

    Pediatric hematologist/oncologist James Wolff, MD is one of the founding members of the Acute Leukemia Chemotherapy Cooperative Study Group A, which pooled patients from several hospitals to ensure a sufficient number of patients to conduct statistically rigorous trials of new therapies. This eventually became the Children’s Oncology Group, now an international network of more than 200 hospitals, universities, and cancer centers. The results of this coordinated approach have spread far beyond pediatric cancers: Many of the drugs that eventually became mainstay treatments for adult cancer were initially tested by this consortium of researchers in pediatric patients.

  • 1964

    Rh vaccine eradicates Rh disease

    A poster for Rhogam, a pre-filled Anti-D Injection.

    Vincent Freda, MD, an obstetrician, and John Gorman, MD, director of the blood bank at Columbia, pioneer a vaccine that effectively eradicates Rh disease in newborn children. Rh disease is a form of hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn that once claimed the lives of nearly 10,000 babies a year in the US. Drs. Freda and Gorman receive the 1980 Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in recognition of their work.

  • 1964

    Prognostic guidelines for retinoblastoma

    Black and white portrait of Algernon Reese.

    Algernon Reese, MD, founder of the field of ophthalmic oncology, develops the Reese-Ellsworth classification of retinoblastoma to predict a patient’s prognosis after treatment with radiation.

  • 1964

    Breaking through the glass ceiling

    Pink and grey APS logo.

    Hattie Alexander, MD is named president of the American Pediatric Society, and is one of the first women to head a national medical association.

  • 1969

    Welton Gersony, MD publishes the first description of pulmonary hypertension of the newborn.

  • 1973

    Nasal CPAP improves future for preemies

    Dr. Jen-Tien Wung pioneers the use of non-invasive nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy to treat neonates with respiratory distress, with the support of Drs. Stanley James, John Driscoll, other colleagues, and NICU nursing staff. CPAP is shown to reduce the need for invasive mechanical ventilation and its complications and to improve survival rates, especially among extremely low birthweight infants.

  • 1976

    Dr. Michael Katz named Chair

    Pediatrician and noted tropical medicine specialist Michael Katz, MD is named chair of the department. During his tenure specialists at Columbia perform the first pediatric heart transplant, describe the syndrome of persistent fetal circulation, and develop continuous positive alveolar pressure (CPAP) for premature infants. Dr. Katz is a consultant to the World Health Organization, and from 1992-2018 is vice president of research, then senior advisor, transdisciplinary research, of the March of Dimes Foundation.

  • 1982

    First textbook of pediatric rheumatology

    The blue cover of Pediatric Rheumatology for the Practitioner.

    Jerry Jacobs, MD, a leading authority on rheumatoid arthritis in children, publishes Pediatric Rheumatology for the Practitioner.

  • 1982

    A pediatrician leads the America Thoracic Society

    Black and white headshot of Robert Mellins.

    Robert Mellins, MD is the first and only pediatrician to be appointed president of the American Thoracic Society. Dr. Mellins, a founding father of the field of pediatric pulmonology, was an international authority in the field of pediatric asthma and a career-long advocate for multidisciplinary research and patient care who welcomed into his laboratory and clinics trainees from disciplines as widespread as allergy, anesthesiology, engineering, health education, psychology, and nutrition.

  • 1984

    Successful heart transplant in a child

    Columbia surgeons perform the first successful pediatric heart transplant.

    Columbia surgeons Keith Reemtsma, MD and Eric Rose, MD perform the first successful pediatric heart transplant. Pediatric heart transplants are now standard, and surgeons now perform about 30 at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia each year, more than any other center.

  • 1992

    John Driscoll MD named department chair

    John Driscoll, MD sitting next to a little girl making her laugh

    Photo credit: Archives & Special Collections, Health Sciences Library, Columbia University

    Neonatologist John Driscoll, MD, who had directed the NICU since 1971, is named chair of Pediatrics. Under his leadership, the NICU gained international recognition for its innovative approaches. During Dr. Driscoll’s 15-year tenure as chair, he was instrumental in the construction of the new Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. He retired in June 2007.

  • 1995

    FDA licenses chickenpox vaccine

    Headshot of Anne Gershon.

    Based on the research of Anne Gershon, MD, who studied its safety and efficacy, the varicella zoster vaccine is licensed for use in the US. By 2005 the number of chickenpox cases has dropped by 90 percent, and chicken pox-related deaths in children by 97 percent. In 2013 Dr. Gershon receives the Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal from the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

  • 2008

    Lawrence Stanberry, MD, PhD appointed Chair

    Headshot of Lawrence Stanberry, MD, PhD.

    Lawrence Stanberry, MD, PhD, a world-renowned virologist and prolific author, is appointed department chair. Under his leadership the department expands its NIH funding and endowment, creates a faculty development and mentorship program and Children’s Board, and enters the era of precision medicine with the Precision in Pediatric Sequencing (PIPseq) program. The department establishes programs in Global Health Security and Diplomacy, complex care coordination for children with multi-system illnesses, and comprehensive obesity prevention and treatment. The department also opens the Milstein Infant Cardiac Unit, the first dedicated infant unit in world; the Phyllis and Ivan Seidenberg Center for Children’s Digestive Health; and the Neuro Intensive Care Unit. Dr. Stanberry retires in 2018.

  • 2018

    Genetic causes of rare diseases identified

    Headshot of Wendy Chung, MD, PHD.

    While diagnosing and treating children with rare disorders through the Discover Program, clinical geneticist Wendy Chung MD, PhD identifies 40 novel genes in diseases including pulmonary hypertension, congenital heart disease, congenital diaphragmatic hernia, and autism. Dr. Chung and colleagues publish research that justifies New York State mandated newborn screening for spinal muscular atrophy.

  • 2018

    Jordan Orange, MD, PhD appointed Chair of Pediatrics

    Headshot of Jordan Orange.

    Jordan Orange, MD, PhD, an international leader in pediatric primary immunodeficiency, is credited with defining a new class of diseases known as natural killer cell deficiencies. Throughout his career Dr. Orange has blended a commitment to pediatric clinical care with a focus on basic and translational research.