A Wondrous Discovery: X-rays

Blurry X-ray image of hand
Wilhelm Conrad Röentgen's First X-ray Image

At a horse trough in the Texas town of Hillsboro, two men struck up a conversation and discovered a kindred passion for a new, wondrous discovery. It was 1903, only eight years since the German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, Ph.D., had discovered the X-ray.

James Martin, M.D., invited George Bond, M.D., to come see his new static X-ray machine. Because it was low-voltage, he used the machine primarily to treat skin cancers and to make "skiagraphs," or X-ray images, of body parts. Dr. Bond told Dr. Martin that he had actually ordered his own X-ray machine, which was en route from New York. Both men would later limit their private practices to X-ray images and electrotherapeutics.

Although Dr. Röntgen received the first Nobel Prize in physics in 1901, the medical establishment was slow to adopt the science. In a 1965 historical report for the Texas Radiological Society, Dr. Bond's son, Thomas, wrote the following account:

"The specialty had a very stormy course of the next several years. It was not readily accepted, either in diagnosis or therapy, by the profession. Many physicians deplored the advent of X-ray in the treatment of fractures, claiming that every doctor should acquire sufficient skill to diagnose fractures and ascertain the apposition and alignment of the fragments by touch. In their opinion, the use of X-ray would eventually cause medical men to lose this ability and they would not always have access to X-ray for the diagnosis."

Dr. Martin, however, was undeterred. He set up an office in Hillsboro over a drugstore, and became a member of the American Roentgen Ray Society in 1904. His interest in treating skin cancers led to a presentation at the Texas Medical Association's annual meeting and publication.

James Martin Relocates to Dallas

James Martin
James Martin

Edward Cary, M.D., the first dean of The University of Dallas Medical Department and then Baylor College of Medicine, heard Dr. Martin's presentation and invited him to become the medical school's first professor of Roentgenology. Dr. Martin accepted the offer.

In 1906, he relocated to Dallas to establish one of the first laboratories in the southwest devoted to using electrical methods and X-rays in medicine. By several accounts, Dr. Martin was an imposing figure, standing 6'6" tall. Because of his height, he liked to joke he was the highest medical authority in the state.

Perhaps to prove his point, when a young competitor opened a new practice and suggested Martin should leave Dallas, Dr. Martin made it known when he'd be walking downtown so the two could meet. The competitor came out of a bar and saw Dr. Martin with a hogleg pistol in a leg holster, coat strategically tucked behind the handgun. The young man left, never to be seen in Dallas again.

At Baylor, there were no textbooks for radiology. So in 1912, Dr. Martin published "Practical Electro-Therapeutics and X-Ray Therapy," which contained photographs of patients treated for skin and lip cancers.

Two years later, on May 13, 1914, Dr. Martin and Dr. Bond, who had relocated to Fort Worth and established his own successful practice, cofounded the Texas Roentgen Ray Society. Known today as the Texas Radiological Society, the first meeting took place in Houston during the annual Texas Medical Association session. Twenty-three physicians participated in creating the first and oldest state radiological society in the nation. Dr. Bond was the organization's first president (1914-15), followed by Martin as the second (1915-16).

It was during Dr. Martin's presidency that Parkland Hospital became affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine. Half the hospital's staff was made up of medical school faculty, the other half were non-faculty members in good standing with the Dallas County Medical Society.

Over the years, Dr. Martin became a sought-after expert on skin cancers. In 1937 he became the first president of the American College of Radiology from Texas.

Like Father, Like Son

At first, Dr. Martin's son, Charles L. Martin, had not planned to become a physician. In 1914, he graduated from The University of Texas at Austin, receiving a degree in electrical engineering.

James Martin and son Charles Martin
James Martin and Son, Charles Martin

Yet his father persuaded him to consider medicine, even offering to pay for Harvard Medical School.

The younger Dr. Martin's second year at Harvard was interrupted by World War I. He enrolled in the Student Army Training Corps and began a residency program in radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. It was during this time he published one of his first scientific papers, "Roentgen Ray Study of the Great Vessels," in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In May 1920, the younger Dr. Martin received a letter from his father asking him to return to Texas. His mother was ill, the elder Dr. Martin explained, and he hoped his son would join him at Baylor. In 1925, Dr. Charles Martin became a full professor at the medical school.

Karl Hoblizelle
Karl Hoblizelle

For 20 years the two radiologists practiced and taught at Baylor. At the request of the American College of Surgeons, the younger Dr. Martin organized Texas' first accredited tumor clinic at Baylor, in 1931, and was its director for eight years. He became a leading expert on radium needle implantation. He also served as president of the Texas Radiological Society, from 1925 to 1926.

But in 1940, the Martins had a disagreement with Baylor over equipment ownership and finances. When Baylor asked to sever all connections, father and son moved their practice to the Gaston Episcopal Hospital and opened the Martin X-Ray and Radium Clinic.

The Martins weren't the only ones to leave Baylor. In 1939, under Cary's leadership, and with the support of philanthropist Karl Hoblizelle, a group of prominent Dallas citizens organized the Southwestern Medical Foundation. Its mission: to promote medical education and research in Dallas and in the region.

Southwestern Medical College Faculty
Southwestern Medical College Faculty

When Baylor University elected to move its school of medicine from Dallas to Houston in 1943, the Foundation formally established Southwestern Medical College as the 68th medical school in the U.S. J. Davis Spangler, M.D., a local radiologist and president of the Dallas County Medical Society, promised his organization's full support and rallied community members to back the new school.

Barracks-style buildings
Southwestern Medical College

Several years later, Dr. Spangler joined Southwestern Medical College's faculty as an assistant clinical professor. In his final president's letter to medical society members, dated January 13, 1944, Dr. Spangler wrote, "A new Medical School has been completed this year and is now recognized by all as an A-1 institution. The Southwestern Medical Foundation has hit its stride and will, with your continuing support and cooperation, make Dallas the Southwest's greatest Medical Center."

The World at War

Soldiers lined in front of large brick building
Southwestern Medical College's Company A

Because the school emerged during the Second World War, building supplies and manpower were in short supply. The school's first location, at 2211 Oak Lawn Avenue, had prefabricated plywood army barracks. The Dallas-based Eighth Service Command of the U.S. Army authorized construction of the barracks, known as "the shacks," and provided finances for salaries, tuition, and fees. The Army figured supporting Southwestern would provide with a steady supply of much-needed doctors. At that time, it was estimated Dallas had lost half of its doctors to the armed forces.

Barracks-style buildings
The Shacks

Classes in the barracks began on September 27, 1943. Southwestern reached an agreement with the City of Dallas and with Dallas County to provide medical services for Parkland Hospital patients in return for using its clinical facilities for teaching.

On March 20, 1944, 61 seniors graduated from the school. Thirty-eight were commissioned as first lieutenants in the medical corps of the Army, and 15 became medical officers in the Navy. In a commemorative paper celebrating the medical school's 25th year, Dallas radiologist and 1944 graduate E. L. Haag Jr., M.D., shared his memories of that time:

Soldiers in line with inspectors walking among them
Inspection of Senior Platoons


Students seen from behind with Dr. Caldwell in front
Inspection of Senior Platoons

"The military didn't cause us much trouble at all…they took over the medical school just to keep us in medical school, so we didn't have much to worry about. I think this was the first time in history that a whole medical school was inducted into the Army."

Dr. Haag also recalled George Caldwell, M.D., a professor of pathology, admonishing a student who had fallen asleep in class. "How can you sleep in class?" Dr. Caldwell asked. "If I knew as little pathology as you do, I couldn't sleep at night."

There were only nine full-time faculty members, all teaching basic sciences. The remaining faculty consisted of part-time practicing clinicians, including the Martins. The elder Dr. Martin was named professor emeritus of radiology, and remained so until his death in 1947. Before he died, the Texas Radiological Society designed and delivered a bronze plaque with the signatures of his peers, recognizing his pioneering work in the field. The younger Dr. Martin was appointed professor of radiology, and became the unpaid chairman of the radiology division from 1943 to 1956.

Sketch of buildings
Plan for Southwest Medical College Campus


Photo of Inwood and Harry Hines area with arrow and handdrawn note Dallas two miles.
Plan for Southwest Medical College Campus

In a personal letter, Dr. Charles Martin noted, "I was made a member of the Board of Directors of the new school and spent much time in selecting competent new deans and teachers, and working with Dr. Cary in attempting to set up an acceptable new school."

Throughout 1945 the Southwestern Medical Foundation and its donors raised money to purchase 62 acres along Harry Hines Boulevard, connected to a tract of land where the new Parkland Hospital would be built.

In 1946, Jarrell Miller, M.D., a respected Army surgeon, became a full-time professor and director of radiology at Parkland Hospital. He served in that position until 1949, when he resigned to become director of radiology at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas. Dr. Miller would one day return as a clinical professor of radiology at Southwestern and director of radiology at St. Paul Hospital.

Becoming Part of the University of Texas System

The same year Dr. Miller left, the medical school began a significant transformation. Due to the growing financial needs of Southwestern, Dr. Cary and other school leaders concluded the institution must be absorbed into a well-funded university system. After careful consideration The University of Texas at Austin was selected. But for such an affiliation to exist, the UT System Board of Regents would have to submit a request to the State Legislature to create a bill authorizing support.

Council members sitting around a table
The Medical Advisory Council

In a letter, Dr. Martin shared details about convincing delegates to vote favorably.

"Ten members of our Committee were appointed to travel to Austin and appear before committees of the House and Senate, and I think we did a good job. I used colored slides to show the good results that we had obtained in treating certain forms of cancer with X-rays and radium. During an intermission members of the legislature asked me many questions, asserting that they did not know that cancer was curable. We were delighted when we learned that the legislature had granted our request and we would be converted into a branch of the University of Texas."

On September 18, 1949, Southwestern Medical College became part of the University of Texas System and was renamed Southwestern Medical School of the University of Texas. The entering class of 1949 grew from 64 to 100 students.

Seven years later the radiology division experienced its own transformation with the arrival of a new chairman, Frederick Bonte, M.D.

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