Gordon Watkins Douglas, M.D.

Gordon Watkins Douglas

1921 - 2000

AAOG: 59, AGS: 60

Gordon Watkins Douglas was born in Midlothian, Virginia on June 2, 1921. He graduated from Princeton University in 1942 and received his medical degree from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1945 where he also spent a year of internship in Medicine. From 1948 through 1952, Dr. Douglas served as a Resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City. He stayed at New York University-Bellevue Medical Center for the remainder of his career.

In collaboration with Dr. William Studdiford, he made signal contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms and appropriate therapy of septic abortion with hypotension and vascular collapse. His work established the appropriate therapy for this condition, resulting in the saving of many lives at a time when abortions were illegal and many were done in unsterile conditions by "back street" abortionists. Dr. Douglas was named a Markle Scholar in Medical Science in 1952.

In 1956, Gordon Watkins Douglas, M.D. was appointed Professor and Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine and Director of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Bellevue Hospital Center. He was charged with the development of a strong clinical and academic department. He was 35 years old at the time. Dr. Douglas more than successfully completed his charge. He developed a department internationally known for its clinical excellence and its strong scientific underpinnings. Many of Dr. Douglas' trainees went on to successful academic careers.

Gordon Douglas, M.D. was a fair, honest and honorable man. His experiences at Bellevue taught him to be a strong advocate of women's health and women's rights, even before these issues were popular. When Dr. Douglas took over the service at Bellevue Hospital, contraception was forbidden. Abortion was illegal and disallowed for any reason. Bellevue Hospital was the flagship hospital of the city system, so many of the severest complications of botched desperate abortion attempts ended on his doorstep. This made a lasting impression on him. This was a time of archconservatism. Surgical sterilization was only allowed in women under the age of 30 if they had seven living children. An obligatory requirement for admission to the operating room for any procedure was clearance by clergy. In this environment, Gordon Douglas established what is believed to be the first contraceptive clinic in a municipal hospital. A sworn advocate of a woman's right to choose, he quickly established a pregnancy termination clinic as soon as this became legal in New York State, several years before Roe vs. Wade.

Dr. Douglas' leadership skills were widely recognized. He has served in leadership positions in many important organizations. Dr. Douglas was President of the American Gynecologic Society in its centennial year. He served as President of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology from 1970 to 1974, during the formation of specialty certification in Reproductive Endocrinology, Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and Gynecologic Oncology. The introduction of subspecialization into Obstetrics and Gynecology resulted in improvements in the training and quality of subspecialists which, in turn, improved the healthcare of American women. From 1978 to 1980 he served as the President of the American Board of Medical Specialties.

In 1960, Dr. Douglas was a founding member of the New York Gynecological Society, an organization formed in part to balance the sexism of the New York Obstetrical Society of the day. He ultimately prevailed and in 1968 was elected President of the New York Obstetrical Society, helping move that organization into modernity.

Dr. Douglas' clear thinking and clear-mindedness, as well as his skill at obtaining a consensus, has made him one of the most effective leaders of American Obstetrics and Gynecology in the 20th Century.

In 1986, after a 30-year career, Dr. Douglas resigned as the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University. He continued to practice until 1993 and remained on the faculty through 1995. Dr. Douglas died peacefully on July 29, 2000, at the age of 79. His life has made a lasting imprint on patients that he cared for, physicians that he trained, and the field that he so dearly loved.

Submitted by Gerson Weiss, M.D.

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