A Detroit Bond Leads to Dr. F. Janney Smith History

As we’ve been celebrating our 100th anniversary this year, I’ve had the great opportunity to hear and read many personal stories about your history at Henry Ford, and reminisce with colleagues about the days when we were interns and residents, just beginning our medical careers.

JS med school skit

F. Janney Smith (middle, with headgear and fake mustache) participating in a skit with other medical students at Johns Hopkins in 1911, where they’ve successfully removed a football from a patient, pleasing their professor.

One personal history, however, stood out for me. It came from a shared Detroit bond, decades in the making.

In early spring, Dr. Richard Dryer forwarded an email to me. The email, from his daughter Mary Beth Dryer, included an interesting conversation between her and Dr. Steven Smith about their shared connection to Henry Ford Hospital.

Both had fathers employed at Henry Ford Hospital. But nearly 60 years separated their fathers’ medical careers.

Amazingly, Dr. Smith’s father was none other than Dr. F. Janney Smith.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, Dr. F. Janney Smith was among the first wave of physicians at the hospital. In fact, he was the first recruit of Physician-In-Chief Dr. Frank Sladen, and the first cardiologist in Michigan.

Dr. F. Janney Smith, who graduated from Johns Hopkins an unbelievable 102 years ago, was the head of cardio-respiratory diseases.

By 1919, he established the hospital’s first inpatient unit for cardio-respiratory disease and brought some new technology, the electrocardiogram, to Henry Ford Hospital.

Dr. Smith's recipe for treating congestive heart failure at the turn of the century: Boil an herbal treatment on the stove! “Wisconsin leaves” are Foxglove, and they contain digitalis, an excellent treatment for the failing heart. Using this recipe, you could go out today into a field, pick some leaves and boil them into a broth.

Dr. Smith’s recipe for treating congestive heart failure at the turn of the century: Boil an herbal treatment on the stove!

He was an interesting individual.

Born in Baltimore where he attended Johns Hopkins University, he was a cigarette smoker who refused to quit.

This created quite the conflict between him and the hospital’s chief administrator Ernest G. Liebold since Henry Ford Hospital was smokeless per Mr. Ford’s direction.

He was also a semi-professional baseball player, although I can find very little about this phase of his life.

But there’s so much more to his history at Henry Ford Hospital.

Thanks to his son Dr. Steven Smith, a prominent interventional radiologist in Chicago, I’ve had the chance to learn even more about Dr. F. Janney Smith’s life and career at Henry Ford.

Dr. Steven Smith shared with Doc in the D some personal memories of his father, photos and an amazing transcript of Dr. F. Janney Smith’s 1955 oral reminiscences of Henry Ford Hospital, now archived at The Henry Ford.

Dr. Steven Smith still has his father's copy of “Principals and Practice of Internal Medicine by Sir William Ostler.

Dr. Steven Smith still has his father’s 1909 edition of “Principals and Practice of Internal Medicine” by Sir William Ostler.

Like his father, Dr. Steven Smith completed his medical internship and residency at Henry Ford Hospital. He also was born at the hospital in 1950, and it is where his father and mother met.

As described by Dr. Steven Smith, his father experienced a remarkable evolution in his lifetime – from horse and buggy as a boy to space travel as an adult.

On the medical front, he did the first randomized trial of anticoagulation for coronary thrombosis in 1955 (something to think about the next time you prescribe plavix or Coumadin!).

And, he purchased the first EKG machine in Michigan, which arrived from Germany in a crate with wires, a bucket and instructions in German.

While living in the hospital staff quarters early in his career, Dr. F. Janney Smith also built a four-hole golf course on the medical campus for “amusement and exercise.” But the fun was short lived when Liebold shut down the course.

(As an aside, Dr. John Sigler, who rose to the position of Division Head of Rheumatology and was a great amateur golfer, created a short course chipping area in the Clara Ford courtyard. By placing speakers out to the courtyard, Dr. Sigler could hear his overhead pages.)

Another image, shared by Dr. Steven Smith, is that of his father’s WWI draft card.

WWI draft card

Dr. F. Janney Smith’s WWI draft card

It’s well documented that Mr. Ford opposed American involvement in the war. At his direction, Liebold forbid the medical staff from enlisting, but Dr. F. Janney Smith, along with many other Henry Ford physicians, was drafted anyway.

His return from the army was on the eve of the catastrophic influenza epidemic of 1919. In his oral reminiscences, Dr. Janney Smith recalled this “terrifying” epidemic with patients “seriously ill, many of them dying.”

The oral reminiscences transcript reads like a “who’s-who” of the early days of Henry Ford Hospital, as well as the all-important Johns Hopkins connection many shared.

He talks about Dr. John Ormond, his poker buddy and discoverer of retroperitoneal fibrosis; Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Roy D. McLure; and Dr. John Mateer, who served as head of the Division of Gastroenterology for 40 years.

As Dr. Steven Smith wrote to Doc in the D:

My dad knew W.S. Halstead, was trained by William Ostler’s chief resident, and was good friends with Paul Dudley White (they consulted when the President had a heart attack in 1955).  He was the doctor of every Detroit big shot.

“He was a teacher, but was regarded as a gruff legendary figure by the residents in his later years.  We saw a skit put on by the residents once.  One said to the other, excitedly, ‘Dr Janney Smith spoke to me!’ ‘What did he say?!’ Said the other: ‘He said ‘get out of my way!’”

Dr. F. Janney Smith also cared for Mr. Ford near the end of his life, and was Clara Ford’s doctor for many years.

Dr. Steven Smith even recalls sitting on Clara Ford’s lap as a baby every Sunday when his father would go to Fairlane to check up on her:

“She was a lovely person, as (my father) told us. The last time Henry was seen in public was my oldest sister’s wedding in 1947.”

Another Dr. F. Janney Smith story, his sons recalls, was his final illness, when he was in an oxygen tent and on a monitor:

“He supposedly called out to an intern passing by in the hallway ‘Hey you!  Come in here.  I’m having an arrhythmia. Do something before it kills me.’”

Dr. Steven Smith had though the story apocryphal, until years later he met the intern, who was then head of anesthesia at another Detroit hospital. The former intern confirmed every word.

In all, Dr. F. Janney Smith said his career at Henry Ford Hospital was of “the most professionally satisfying and social pleasing variety.”

Truly, one of the greats, both as a physician and a personality.

Learn more about those, like Dr. F. Janney Smith, who have been a part of our incredible history at www.HenryFord100.com.

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One thought on “A Detroit Bond Leads to Dr. F. Janney Smith History

  1. As I age, I am turning into my father, a true history buff of Detroit and the automotive industry. (He is a Ford Motor Company retiree.) I cannot get enough of the stories being shared this 100th year. Keep them coming!

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