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Ewing, James

Ewing, James

(b. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 25 December 1866; d. New York, N. Y., 16 May 1943)


Ewing was the son of Thomas and Julia Hufnagel Ewing, members of a prominent western Pennsylvania family. He completed a classical education at Amherst College, from which he received the A.B. degree in 1888 and the M.A. in 1891. In 1891 he obtained a medical doctorate from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University; he subsequently returned there as a tutor in histology (1893–1897), a Clark fellow (1896–1899), and an instructor in clinical pathology (1897–1898). Ewing’s mentors at the College of Physicians and Surgeons were Francis Delafield and T. Mitchell Prudden. He also served a brief apprenticeship with another eminent pathologist of the era, Alexander Kolisko, at the Vienna Clinic.

In 1899, following a period of voluntary service as a contract surgeon in the Spanish-American War, Ewing accepted a professorship in clinical pathology at the Medical College of Cornell University in New York. In 1932 he assumed the newly created chair in oncology there, which position he occupied until his retirement in 1939.

A review of Ewing’s earlier works reveals the underlying influences of his preceptors at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and especially the inspiration of Prudden, to whom Ewing dedicated the first and second editions of his Clinical Pathology of the Blood (1901; 1903). His contributions of this period include significant reports on the pathogenesis of infectious diseases (see, for example, his Wesley M. Carpenter Lecture of 1900), immunity and blood serum reactions, and medicolegal questions. Ewing’s connection with Cornell University allowed him to do research at the Loomis Laboratory for Research in Experimental Pathology, where an experimental cancer program was begun in 1902 under the auspices of the New York Memorial Hospital (Collis P. Huntington Fund). In 1906 Ewing and his associates published a significant finding on lymphosarcoma in dogs. This investigation showed that the disease was transmitted from one animal to another during coitus by the transfer of viable tumor cells. By virtue of this and other important laboratory discoveries, Ewing soon became one of the foremost American spokesmen in experimental oncology.

By 1910 Ewing recognized the need for a comprehensive organization of anticancer activities. Ewing’s scheme for such a center was characterized about 1950 by Leonard Scheele, then surgeon-general of the U.S. Public Health Service, as a plan for “a cancer institute in the modern sense—an institution where scientists of many disciplines combine their efforts and resources in a common mission, cancer research.” Ewing was able to implement his idea in 1913, when he was elected president of the Medical Board of the General Memorial Hospital for the Treatment of Cancer and Allied Diseases. In this position and later as first director of research and director of Memorial Hospital (from 1931 to 1939), Ewing supervised the creation of a primary cancer facility—the present Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Under Ewing’s direction Memorial Hospital entered a new era, one especially fruitful for the clinical management of neoplastic disorders through radiation therapy. As in his studies on the fundamental aspects of cancer research, he brought to the problems of radiology and radiotherapy his own creative and systematic intellect (see his Mutter Lecture of 1922 and the Caldwell Lecture of 1925), and he imparted the wealth of his practical experiences to a younger generation of clinicians. Ewing’s stature as the medical administrator of Memorial Hospital is measured precisely in Emerson’s dictum that “Every institution is but the lengthened shadow of some man.”

The early death of his wife, Catherine Halsted, in 1902 evoked reclusive and eccentric tendencies in Ewing’s personality. In later years he suffered the agonizing discomforts of tic doloreux (trigeminal neuralgia), which curtailed his professional activities. He remained an avid sports enthusiast nevertheless, with a marked preference for tennis and baseball, and he possessed a keen artistic temperament.

Ewing’s works include several monographs and textbooks. Clinical pathology of the Blood is a rich source on hematologic disorders, while Neoplastic Diseases is the cornerstone of modern oncology. In the latter work Ewing recorded a number of significant discoveries in tumor morphology and distinguished that form of malignant osteoma now called “Ewing’s sarcoma.”

Ewing was a founder and charter member of the American Association for Cancer Research (1907) and the American Cancer Society (1913), and an appointee to the first National Advisory Cancer Council (1937). His services to pathology were acknowledged by numerous international tributes and by his election to the National Academy of Sciences.


A complete list of Ewing’s publications through 1930 (with some biographical detail) appears in a special cancer edition of The Annals of Surgery, 93 (1931), xi-xv. see also Frank E. Adair, ed., Cancer in Four Parts... Comprising International Contributions to the Study of Cancer (Philadelphia, 1931), pp. xi-xv.

Ewing’s books and monographs include Clinical Pathology of the Blood: A Treatise on the General Principles and Special Applications of Hematology (Philadelphia-New York, 1901; 2nd ed., 1903); Neoplastic Diseases: A Textbook on Tumors (Philadelphia-London, 1919; 2nd ed., 1922; 3rd ed., 1928; 4th ed., 1940); and Causation, Diagnosis and Treatment of Cancer (Baltimore, 1931).

Ewing’s contributions to periodicals include “Conjugation in the Asexual Cycle of the Tertian Malarial Parasite (The Wesley M. Carpenter Lecture),” in New York Medical Journal, 74 (1901), 145–151; “A Study of the So-Called Infectious Lymphosarcoma of Dogs,” in Journal of Medical Research, 15 [n.s. 10 (1906), 209–228, written with Silas Beebe; “Cancer Problems (The Harvey Society Lecture),” in Archives of Internal Medicine, 1 (1908), 175–217; “An Analysis of Radiation Therapy in Cancer (The Mutter Lecture),” in Transactions of the College of Physicians of philadelphia,3rd ser., 44 (1922), 190–235; and “Tissue Reactions to Radiation (The Caldwell Lecture)”, in American Journal of Roentgenology, 15 (1926), 93–115.

See also Ewing’s articles on “Identity” (pp. 62–103), “The Sings of Death” (pp. 104–137), and “Sudden Death” (pp. 138–160) in Frederick Peterson and Walter S. Haines, eds., A Textbook of Legal Medicine and Toxicology, vol.I (philadelphia-London, 1903); and “Identity” (pp. 132–174), “The Sings of Death” (pp. 175–208), and “Sudden Death” (pp. 209–233) in Frederick Peterson, Walter S. Haines, and Ralph Webster, eds.,Legal Medicine and Toxicology, by Many Specialists, vol. I (Philadelphia-London, 1923). In addition see Hans Schmaus, trans. by A. E. Thayer, ed. with additions by Ewing, A Textbook of Pathology and Pathological Anatomy (Philadelphia-New York, 1902).

Although no formal biography of Ewing exists, a number of Ewing documents are held in the Hayes Martin Collection at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Library, New York, N. Y. Three peripheral works which in part discuss Ewing’s contributions are Victor A. Triolo and use L. Riegel, “The American Association for Cancer Research, 1907–1940 : Historical Review,” in Cancer Research, 21 (1961), 137–167; Victor A. Triolo, “Nineteenth Century Foundations of Cancer Research: Origins of Experimental Research,” in Cancer Research, 24 (1964), 4–27; and Victor A. Triolo and Michael B. Shimkin, “The American Cancer Society and Cancer Research: Origins and Organization, 1913–1943” in Cancer Research, 29 (1969), 1615–1641.

Victor A. Triolo

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