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The Benevolence of a Surrogate First Lady

Harriet_LaneHarriet Lane was a Surrogate First Lady for her uncle James Buchanan, the fifteenth United States President (1857-1861). In 1866, Harriet wed the wealthy Baltimore banker, Henry Elliot Johnson; two sons soon enhanced the couple’s marriage.

The early 1880s were catastrophic for the former Surrogate. Both her sons died in their adolescence from the effects of rheumatic fever, in the pre-penicillin era. Her husband died shortly thereafter. After the demise of their second son, the couple decided to memorialize their sons’ lives by founding a medical clinic for children.

As a result of their decision, Harriet Lane Johnston, left a sum of over $400,000 at her death in 1903 to establish the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children. In 1906 the Trustees of the Harriet Lane House elected to build the home at The Johns Hopkins Hospital with the hospital providing the land and supplying the medical and nursing staffs. In 1909 construction on the Hopkins site commenced.

In October 1912 the Harriet Lane Home officially opened. It was the first children’s clinic in the United States that was associated with a medical school. Eventually treating over 60,000 children a year, the Harriet Lane Home became a pioneer pediatric treatment, teaching, and research clinic.

From 1930 to 1963 Helen Taussig, who helped to develop the blue baby operation, headed its pediatric cardiac clinic. The author fondly recalls the gentle Dr. Taussig instructing him in proper cardiac auscultation when he was a junior medical student many decades ago. In addition, child psychiatrist Leo Kanner did studies of autistic children and Lawson Wilkins established an endocrine clinic that developed treatments for children with glandular disorders, including dwarfism.

In 1972 the Harriet Lane Home closed giving way to the modern Edwards A. Park Building and the Home was demolished in 1974. Fortunately in 2006 the Harriet Lane Clinic was relocated to the new David M. Rubenstein Child Health Building where thousands of children continue to receive excellent medical treatment.

The mission of today’s Harriet Lane Clinic is to improve the health and quality of life of children and adolescents within the community and to educate trainees in this model of care. The continuing century-old association between Harriet Lane and the latest advances in pediatric medical care is cemented by frequent editions of the Harriet Lane Handbook. This provides the standard of care for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of children. The 20th edition of the Handbook was published in 2015.

Lud Historian
1 Comment
  • Ludwig M. Deppisch M.D.
    Posted at 18:34h, 04 March Reply

    Dr. Helen Taussig, mentioned above, also achieved deserved recognition for being the first to note the connection between the drug thalidomide given during pregnancy and the high frequency of birth defects.

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