Ben M. Peckham

Ben M. Peckham


Obstetrics and Gynecology lost one of its modern-day pioneers and I lost a good friend when Ben M. Peckham died on the 14th of June, 1994.

Ben was a native of Wisconsin and spent almost his entire career either in or in close proximity to his native state. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin, graduating in 1939 with honors. Medical school followed at Northwestern University. He was granted his M.D. degree in 1942 and his internship was performed at St. Luke's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. Ben spent the next 3 years in the navy on combat duty with the marines, where he participated in several landing operations, for which he was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for gallantry. After the war Ben began to prepare in earnest for a lifetime in academic medicine by spending the next 3 years in Northwestern University Graduate School, where he received a Masters Degree in Science in 1947 and a Doctorate of Philosophy in 1949. Both degrees were in physiology. He did this while taking a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Chicago Maternity Center and Chicago Wesley Memorial Hospital; he completed his residency in 1950. While a resident at Wesley Memorial Hospital he was under the tutelage of D. Ronald Greene, who imparted in Ben a love of obstetric and gynecologic pathology that was to last a lifetime. Ben remained at Northwestern Medical School as an instructor until 1956, holding the ranks of instructor and then assistant professor. His work in the laboratory involved an intense study of the ovary with regard to the function of the granulosa cells and tumor development in these cells. Much of this work was done in collaboration with Dr. Greene.

Ben was appointed the chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin in 1956, a position he held for the next 27 years. During this period Ben developed an excellent department of obstetrics and gynecology in his own university and was extremely active on the national scene. He was the president of a young organization, the Association of Professors of Obstetrics and Gynecology. This organization, which was developed to promote teaching at the student and resident level, was tailor-made for Ben, a superb teacher who had innovative ideas about how it should be done. He was the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1963 and the Outstanding Clinical Teaching Award in 1972, both at the University of Wisconsin. He was still teaching pathology after his retirement as chairman, and it remained one of the most popular activities in which the residents took part.

Ben's research activities continued at a rapid but high quality pace, as he worked on the metabolism of the graafian follicle and did some very fine studies in the diagnosis and therapy of cervical carcinoma. His research expertise was recognized by his colleagues with election to the Society for Gynecologic Investigation and the presidency of that organization in 1965. He was also a member of the National Institutes of Health, Human Embryology and Development Study section, and the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council.

Ben was always very strong in his commitment to women's rights. This was demonstrated by his work with Planned Parenthood and the strong stand he always took in regard to a woman's right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. These were not always popular stands to take, but Ben always had a very strong supporter at his side, his wife Ann, whom he married in 1944. Ann provided tremendous emotional strength and was a very accomplished politician as well. The two were an awesome team.

One might think in reading Ben's academic accomplishments that all he ever did or thought about was medicine; that, however, was not the case. He was an accomplished jewelry designer and maker. His knowledge on the subject was so great that I once saw him entertain an audience of obstetricians and gynecologists for an hour, and I am sure that he could have kept us spellbound for even longer had he so wished.

Ben truly was a Renaissance man who will be missed by all who knew him.

Submitted by E. J. Quilligan

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