b.1 Nov 1899 d.29 May 1960
OBE(1948) MS Harvard(1921) BA Oxon(1923) MA Oxon(1925) PhD Oxon(1925) MD Harvard(1927) DSc Oxon(1941) Hon DLitt Oxon(1957) FRCP(1953)
John Fulton was born at St Paul, Minnesota, USA, to Dr John Farquhar Fulton, a physician and ophthalmic surgeon who helped to found the University and the Medical School of Minnesota, and Edith Stanley (Wheaton) Fulton. He was of the same family as Robert Fulton (1765-1815), the artist, inventor, engineer and pioneer of steam navigation. He had entered the University from St Paul's High School in 1917, but having enlisted in the United States Army was able to enter Harvard as a 'veteran'. In 1921 he graduated with the highest honours in science and came to Magdalen College, Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar, and in 1923, with a BA of equal distinction in physiology, became Christopher Welch scholar and University demonstrator in physiology. Now he came under the influence of Sherrington that was to make him a neuro-physiologist, and developed the interest in the humanistic tradition of Osler by helping W W Francis and Reginald Hill to compile the catalogue of Osler's library of medical history now at McGill University, Montreal. With Sherrington his studies included neuro-muscular transmission until he returned to Harvard in 1925, but he came back to Oxford in 1928 to continue his neuro-physiological researches; in 1930 he began the most fruitful and productive period of his career, when he took the Sterling chair of physiology at Yale. Here, under his influence, many outstanding contributions in neuro-physiology, electro-cardiology, endocrinology and aviation physiology were made. His own work on this last research proved of great value to the British and American Air Forces in the Second World War.
The invitation of the National Research Council of the United States to organise and act as editor-in-chief of the official medical history of the War was withdrawn when the Government decided it should be undertaken by the medical department of the Army. This disappointed Fulton, but it freed him for work of greater value to medical knowledge. With Harvey Cushing he worked on their common interests of cerebral research and the history of medicine; the latter led to his part in establishing the library at Yale, that now houses his own collection of books and those of Arnold Klebs and of Cushing, and to his editing of the Journal of the History of Medicine.
In 1951 he resigned his chair to become the first Sterling professor of the history of medicine at Yale, which became the Mecca of medical historians from all parts of the world. Governments and universities of many countries showered decorations and honorary degrees on him. In his last years he suffered from illnesses that increased in frequency and severity, but with characteristic courage he continued to dictate, read and write when confined to bed, and to take responsibility with each temporary recovery. He was essentially a good man, ever ready to help his countless friends and his students, who loved and revered him.
In 1923 he married Lucia Pickering Wheatland, of Sales, Massachusetts.
Richard R Trail[References:Arch.Neurol.(Chicago),1960,3,606-09;Brit.med.J.,1960,1,1815-16(p),1963;Bull.Hist.Med.,1961,35,81-6;Canad.med.Ass.J,1960,83,291-2;Int.J.Neurol.(Montevideo),1959,1,89-92(p);Isis,1960,51,560-562;J.Amer.med.Ass.,1960,173.1260-61;J.Hist.Med.,1962,17,1-71(p),bibl.;J.Neurophysiol.,1960,23,347-9;Lancet,1960,1,1301-02(p);Nature(Lond.),1960,187,110-11;New Engl.J.Med.,1960,262,1340-41;Times, 31 May,6,14 June 1960;Yale J.Biol.Med.,1960,33,85-93.Port., after Sir Gerald Kelly,1956.]
(Volume V, page 144)
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