Friday, November 9, 2012

Sesquicentennial Stories: The Promise of UK #120

Dr. Joseph William Pryor, professor of Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Kentucky from 1890-1929, was a locally respected physician and known in the international medical community for his work with early x-ray technology to study ossification (the formation of bones) in the hands.

Dr. Pryor was born April 3, 1856, in Palmyra, Missouri, the son of Dr. Joseph William Pryor, Sr., and Frances Bailey Pryor. After attending St. Paul's College and Palmyra Seminary, he entered the University of Missouri Medical School in October, 1875, and graduated in a special ceremony in honor of the United States centennial on July 4, 1876. Beginning in 1877, Dr. Pryor served as an assistant to Dr. John T. Hogden, Dean of the St. Louis Medical School, before returning to Palmyra to practice.

Dr. Joseph Pryor
Dr. Pryor married Maggie Cheney of Woodford County, Kentucky, in 1881, and the couple moved to Lexington, Kentucky, in 1882. In July of that year, Dr. Pryor was one of the founding organizers of the Lexington and Fayette County Medical Society. He also led the attempt by that society to establish a free dispensary for the poor of Lexington, which opened in October of 1882.

Dr. Pryor was the physician of several "firsts" in Lexington, including being the first to administer ether as an anesthetic and the first to perform a rib resection. He served as City Physician for two terms beginning in 1886, and was a member of both the city and county boards of health in the early 1900s. He was also involved in charity work at several Lexington hospitals.

Dr. Joseph W. Pryor standing in front of podium
Dr. Pryor's association with the University of Kentucky began in 1885, when he became Medical Examiner for the school. In 1890 he was chosen as chair and professor of the Department of Anatomy and Physiology and began teaching. By 1894, he had developed an interest in the establishment of standards for preparatory education for medical school, including developing a certificate program at the University of Kentucky which would be accepted by several medical schools.

Faculty member Joseph Pryor, shown here, and Merry Pence, together built this early x - ray machine, 1896
 Following his wife's death in 1896, Dr. Pryor married Eleanor Hancock, a former student, on July 4, 1898. The couple's only child, a son, was born in June of 1899 but died slightly over a year later. Eleanor Pryor painted the portrait of her husband which was later hung in Memorial Hall on the University of Kentucky campus.

First x - ray by Dr. Pryor, 1900
Dr. Pryor's work with x-rays began in February of 1896, only three months after Wilhelm Roentgen of Wurzburg, Germany, announced his discovery of the technology. Dr. Pryor, working with another professor (Merry Lewis Pence), developed an x-ray of the hand of one of his patients. Dr. Pryor had previously amputated the hand, and used the x-ray to evaluate how the hand was healing. Later, Dr. Pryor used x-rays of the hands of children in the public city schools to study ossification (the formation of the bones) in the hand. He also studied x-rays of subjects of multiple births, particularly quadruplets, to discover if the births were mono or poly-zygotic. Dr Pryor published multiple journal articles on these topics.

Men taking an X-Ray of a horse's foot for Sphar. The X - Ray was most likely taken by Dr. Pryor, 1911
Dr. Pryor retired from the University of Kentucky in 1929, but remained an Emeritus Professor and professor on special assignment until his death on March 17, 1956, only three weeks before his hundredth birthday.

The University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections houses the  Joseph W. Pryor papers and x-rays

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