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Stewart, George Neil


(b. London, Ontario, 18 April 1860; d. Cleveland, Ohio, 28 May 1930)


Although Stewart, the son of James Innes and Catherine Sutherland Stewart, was born in Canada, his parents returned to Scotland and he grew up in Lybster, a fishing village in Caithness. His studies at the University of Edinburgh included classics, philosophy, history, and mathematics, the latter leading him to physics and, in 1879, an assistantship with Peter Guthrie Tait. His introduction to physiology came from William Rutherford. Being especially interested in electro-physiology, Stewart spent 1886–1887 studying with du Bois-Reymond at Berlin. After receiving the M.A., B.S., and D.Sc.(1887) degrees at Edinburgh, he became senior demonstrator of physiology at Owens College, Victoria University, Man-chester (1887–1889), where he learned from William Stirling the value of the illustrative experiment in teaching science.

His decision to study medicine led to the M.B. and M.D. at Edinburgh (1889, 1891) and the D.P.H. at Cambridge (1890) while he was George Henry Lewes student at Downing College (1889–1893). He was also an examiner in physiology at Aberdeen (1890–1894). In 1893, at Henry P. Bowditch’s invitation, Stewart went to Harvard as instructor in physiology; the following year he was appointed professor of physiology and histology at Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in Cleveland, where with the exception of four years (1903–1907) as professor of physiology at the University of Chicago, he remained for the rest of his life. In 1907 he became professor of experimental medicine and director of the H.K. Cushing Laboratory.

Stewart’s major contribution was in transmitting modern methods of teaching and research in physiology to American medical education. During his first year in Cleveland, using improvised laboratory equipment, he began illustrating lectures with experiments; simultaneously he wrote a 796-page Manual of Physiology (1895), in which, for the first time, practical exercises for students were appended to each chapter and experiments on mammals were included. The practice spread to other schools, and the Manual became a standard text.

After earlier work on color vision, electrophysiology, Talbot’s law, cardiac nerves, otoliths, muscle proteins, and permeability of blood corpuscles, Stewart later experimentally investigated such clinical problems as the effect of total anemia on the brain, resuscitation, the measurement of blood flow by the calorimetric method, and the estimation of pulmonary blood capacity and cardiac output by indicator-dilution techniques. With Julius M. Rogoff he studied the functions of the adrenal medulla and cortex, including the epinephrine output and the usefulness of cortex extracts to treat Addison’s disease. They discovered that the adrenal cortex was indispensable to the life of higher animals. Stewart was described as a brilliant teacher, witty, and possessed of prodigious energy and an amazing memory. A perfectionist, he had little pleasure outside his laboratory. The University of Edinburgh awarded him the honorary L.L.D. in 1920.

Pernicious anemia and progressive spinal degeneration afflicted Stewart during his later years; but he remained mentally alert until the end, making notes about his own condition.


Stewart’s major work was A Manual of Physiology With Practical Exercises (London, 1895; 8th ed., 1918).

Secondary literature includes Torald Sollmann, “George Neil Stewart, Physiologist, April 18, 1860, to May 28, 1930,” in Science, 72 (1930), 157–162; and Carl J. Wiggers, “The Evolution of Experimental Physiology at the University of Michigan and Western Reserve University,” in Bulletin of the Cleveland Medical Library, 10 (1963), 14–15. See also the faculty minutes and biography file of the Case Western Reserve University Archives.

Genevieve Miller

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