Walter E. Dandy Letters

We are proud to host the transcripts of Walter E. Dandy’s correspondence with his family. These letters illustrate the personal side of this neurosurgical genius, spanning his early college education through senior tenure at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

March 29, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

March 29, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

Well, my week's time as resident is up. I was relieved 3 days ago. I had a wonderful week and think Dr. Halsted was quite pleased with my work. Everything went so smoothly, just as if Heuer were here. Dr. Halsted leaves tomorrow for Germany and will be gone a month. Then leaves again about June 1. I don't believe I will know anything much before he leaves June 1.

I think you had better get your visiting over about that time so as to be ready to come back then, if things look favorable as I think they probably will. I heard the reason Heuer was being kept on so long was because Dr. Halsted did not want Dr. McClure to be resident. He does not like him and has been trying to disappoint him so he would quit rather than put him out. He is not a very heavy man and they do not seem enthusiastic about him. I heard the Dean of the Medical School told someone that they were trying to get him (McClure) out so he would not get the residency. That he was not a very good man. He said Dandy was an excellent man and just fitted in exactly and that I was slated for the residency and they expected to keep me for the full time jobs. Someone asked him about my scrape with Smith, the hospital superintendent, and he said that was all over and didn't amount to anything any more.

There wasn't the slightest hitch while Heuer was away and I think it was a very opportune occasion for me and I think proved my mettle better than at any previous time. I was put to a task. Now don't tell all this gush. It is just for you.

Heuer goes to Germany June 1st. McClure will be acting resident until he comes back and then I think he will quit and go over to Dr. Young's new building in Genito Urinary Surgery. I think I will then soon be resident; certainly it won't be more than another year from now. When the full time jobs come I think Heuer and I will be the two persons who may be kept, though that is such a far away possibility and so many changes occur that I hesitate to prophesy. As it may all work out the reverse.

I think I will get more operating to do from now on, at least after June 1st. From now (McClure comes back from his vacation April 1) until Heuer goes June 1st I am going to try to get in a lot of experimental work and get out of as much operating work as possible, that is-assisting others. I am pretty sure I will get to do all the brain work when Heuer goes. Heuer and I are writing another paper on "Brain Surgery at Hopkins" or something to that effect. It will be Heuer and Dandy, but I am glad to be permitted to come in on it at all. He could easily take all the credit if he chose to do so. I feel more encouraged every day. The Professor thought my paper excellent but he did not have time to look at it closely. Dr. Howland is very much pleased. He is going over it very carefully, revising it as it were.

Spring is still not quite here but it won't be long as it is getting warmer. I am wearing my new suit quite a lot as it is all I have. Am sending you a catalogue of the Summer courses in Surgery. You will see your boy's name again. It will mean about $150 perhaps more.

Well, I think this is all at present.

Your loving son, Walter


April 5, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

April 5, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

Another wonderful week has passed, I have done quite a lot of operating, but a quiet is now about due. McClure is back on the job and I am shoved down a notch, temporarily at least. I got to do a big operation-intestinal obstruction-the other day, but she is now out of danger. It was a very remarkable case.

I did another delicate operation by joining two nerves. One nerve had been destroyed years ago, so I took another nerve and hitched it up to the dead one. It will take several months for it to take effect. I did several other smaller operations all of which have done well. McClure made $1,500 in the 6 weeks he was away but I hardly think I would have accepted such a position and lose so much valuable time away from work. I think I would rather stint and put in some licks that will count than to waste time just for money. He is spoiled with luxury and shows it in all his work. He is the one I told you Dr. Halsted did not like and to whom they had hoped not to give the residency.

Well, things are about as usual, the Professor is now in Europe and nothing will be known until he comes back or gets ready to leave again. I hope to get out of the operating room some now and get some experimental work done before the professor gets back. It is worth more to do that than assist in operations. I am trying to make everything count now. It may soon be that a grand place may open up for me as it begins to look as though Dr. Finney and Bloodgood and the other big surgeons will soon be frozen out entirely and only Heuer and myself may be left, if McClure does not stay, and I do not get in bad with the Professor or something unusual happens. But who can foresee.

About cashing the coupons. I don't have any trouble, nor should you. It is only those with an income of $3,000 or over.

Am glad you are in such good health. It won't be long now until you will be back. I think if I stay this year, it may be permanent. So you can start up right-housekeeping. When I begin to get a little salary you can be on easy street, which you are even now.

Tomorrow I will be 28, just the age Papa was when he got married. You are ahead of me in that respect, quite a distance. I haven't even started yet.

The weather is still chilly, the leaves haven't yet started to come out. It is still nice weather to work. I think I will take a week off in the country sometime in May in preparation for the Summer's work. I think this is all at present.

Your loving son, Walter


April 11, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

April 11, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

I am very sorry about the delay in this letter. I can't understand why. I mailed it as usual Sunday night. I always write it and then throw it down to the man at the front to be mailed. I never carry it around. So I guess the dear boy wasn't to blame that time.

If you could just see me decked out in my new silk hat. I got a great bargain, an $8 high silk hat for $4. So I took advantage and am now prepared for any and all emergencies. I am a great spender for a poor boy.

Spring is beginning to appear, though the leaves haven't appeared yet. I took in the first baseball game today. It was the advent of Baltimore into major league ball. They have a baseball war now and there is very keen competition.

That is digressing temporarily from my main occupation. Got two more dogs' pineals out this week. Have done three now, and all are doing very nicely. I will have to get a lot together and quickly in order to get it out quickly to forestall the Philadelphia people. No, they have a right as well as I. I have my serious doubts about their success, however. I don't believe anyone else can get it out and I think I can get it practically every time now. That's pure conceit isn't it. It will be an absolutely new field. No one has been able to do it yet. Do you remember when you were here how I used to try it so often but always with a false result. And now I can do it though it sometimes takes 3 hours. The last one I did was on a puppy just 2 months old. I must do it on even younger puppies yet.

There haven't been many human operations lately. Easter holidays have kept the people away. A number of big European surgeons are coming here Saturday. Dr. Halsted comes back soon.

I sent my article to Germany and Chicago yesterday. I am working on a couple more. One has just appeared in the Annals of Surgery. Will send you one when I get some copies. It is in English.

I have spent a lot of money this year. It just seems to fall out so easily. Will look around and see what I can find for you soon in the way of a house.… I may take a week's rest in the country before school begins. But I don't know.

Am writing a paper now, Heuer & Dandy on Brain Surgery at Hopkins. Am second this time but am lucky to be on at all, so I am really fortunate. Then there are lots more papers in addition to it. I ought to do pretty well this year in the publishing line.

Hope you are in the very best of health and having an enjoyable time and that you will soon be here.

Your loving son, Walter


April 26, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

April 26, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

Spring is here but so far I have pretty well evaded spring fever and hope I can keep up hard work for a while longer. I can't afford to take time off for a vacation now, everything looks so propitious. Am doing experimental work when I have time. Have now 5 dogs with pineals taken out in operations and all are doing well. I am quite proud of the operations' success as you may remember how they all died when I tried previously when you were here. Now all of them live and, though it is a very difficult procedure, I have had only one die from the operation. I must get them done soon so as to beat the Philadelphia man again. I have my doubts about him getting it out, but I won't take any chances. I went out to find dogs yesterday and got 5 just the right age.

I called to see Mr. Selby but he wasn't home. His green shutters are still there. The whole end of town east of the hospital has improved very markedly. The streets are paved and there are many rows of new houses. Didn't get to Patterson Park.

I guess you saw where MoPac made a big drop of 6 points in one day. It will come back again though.

Well I hardly know what to say. It would probably be better to avoid the hot summer. I know you would work and swelter and I wouldn't see enough of you to make it worth while. However, when I find out something definite and if it is to stay here, I will look in the suburbs and see if there is anything that would satisfy us.

Am glad you are in such good health. I am also and weigh 159, so work isn't hurting me any. I don't need many clothes, so I won't get any more until fall when I will need another.

It looks like a war with Mexico. The Hopkins doctors who are in the army have been called to the front but they don't have to go unless they want to. Dr. Finney, Halsted, Bloodgood, Thayer, etc. are among them. Dr. Thayer and Dr. Barker will not be professors of medicine any more when the full time begins. They could not afford to accept a $10,000 position and give up private practice. You figured it right about Dr. Finney and Dr. Bloodgood if what we expect turns out to be right. But who can tell what will happen. Dr. Halsted comes back this week or next, but he probably won't give out any definite information about positions until June 1 when he sails for Germany again. He was on the Macedonia and sails next time on the Aquitania; they can get to Germany in 5½ days that way which is going pretty fast.

Well, I can't think of any more news to tell you. I had run out of the money before the last you sent me so it came in just right. I think you ought to take a trip to Paris and Germany before you come back.

Your loving son, Walter


May 4, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

May 4, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

This has been a rather dull week with not much to do. Dr. Halsted is back, but has had very little to say and has said nothing about next year's plan. I believe I will go to Chicago sometime this summer and see what is there. I ought to get enough experience this summer to satisfy me if I want to start out. It is a very funny situation, trying to decide between money and honor; one day you think one thing and another, another, but whatever you do turns out for the best theoretically.

I just got the check for $721 and will sent it to Porter tomorrow. It was quite a temptation to have so much money and not put it in MoPac but maybe it is safer and better where it is. I think the MoPac finances have about straightened out now and the stock will rise. It is at the bottom now. I think the rise in notes will soon be permitted and that will help too. I don't believe there will be war. That will also help. It ought to jump straight up now. MK&T preferred is selling for 35 and pays 4% or about 12% which is doing pretty well but they are just earning the interest and no more but they ought to pull up too. The market is quite good now for investment. Take it from an old timer like myself who has lost nearly half of what he put in. Every cloud has its silver lining as you know.

I think your suggestion of turning Mexico over to the Negros is an excellent one, one of the best I have heard, but it will probably not happen.

We have a very pathetic case. One of the pioneers in X-ray, Dr. Baetjer, the professor at Hopkins has lost an eye and part of every finger on both hands and now cancer has developed and it is probably only a question of time until he dies. He is very optimistic in spite of all his troubles. Another woman died of cancer of the gall bladder. One year ago her gall bladder was removed on account of gall stones and I accidently detected a minute cancer and reported it as such. No attention was paid to it, and today she died of cancer. Then it might have been possible to cure, but now there was no hope.

We are having beautiful weather, but I don't get much chance to assimilate much. You say you will wait until September and I think probably that is best. You mention your feeling of chagrin when you see my clothes. They are yours not mine. I am what you made me and evolved me. My clothes are like the decorations of trees and flowers, the recipient of a higher power and merely the adornment of its gratitude and its forces. I shall have to go to the nurses annual dance next week and wear them.

Hoping you are in the best of health as I am at present.

Your loving son, Walter


May 8, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

May 8, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

Well I haven't much news to give you this time.… Every day I lecture I make about $10 which will come in quite handy when it arrives.

I don't know what to do about next year. I will want to see what Dr. Young and Dr. Finney make and about the Chicago deal when they go to Atlantic City this month. I am getting the brain work to do. Had a case last week and another this week. Ought to get quite a number before January 1.

Dr. Halsted sails on the Aquitania. He didn't ask me whether I was going to stay or not and 2 years looks like a very long time when one looks ahead. I would be 32 when I got through and then would not be any farther along if I wanted to do Brain Surgery.

I believe I will go to Chicago if I get a good chance, if not will stay around here and do research work etc. to build a reputation so I will be asked. Heuer is very probably going to do the Brain Surgery here when he comes back. He is welcome to do so but I think I want a little money now and I can make that in Chicago.

Dr. Young said when I want to start up he wanted to lend me some money. He was inclined to advise me to go if it looked good at Chicago. He stayed here 4 years and then switched over to Genito-Urinary work and has made a big reputation and lots of money and has easy work. He didn't get along well with Dr. Halsted. He was telling me what a nasty trick Cushing once played on him and was very much pleased to hear of my escapade with him.

The American Journals have refused to publish our work on internal hydrocephalus because of the fear of the anti?vivisectionists. It will come out in German however, which is all that is necessary. Dr. Welch said it was just as well not to come out in English as they were watching the Journals for Hopkins work. There isn't any reason for such action but let them do as they please. I think I will get more operating to do now, but I believe I am headed for Chicago if there is any way of making it go.

I hope you are enjoying the best of health as I am. Have a good time while you are there. I will soon be making more money than you know what to do with.

Miss McGill has gone. She graduated today but left early and has been to Columbia. If I went to Chicago I would like her to do neurology there. She would be just right then. With much love.

Your loving son, Walter


May 11, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

May 11, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

I am unable to explain the delay of my letters reaching you except on the general basis that everything in Baltimore is very slow. I always see the man at the bottom take the letter to the box and hear the box close so that can't be the reason. However, hereafter, I will mail it myself to be sure. You can't depend much on my dates as I can't keep them straight.

I think probably Fall would be a better time to come. Things would be more certain probably.

I haven't heard anything more definite about next year, but I think things are more favorable every day. Heuer goes to Germany June 1-10 and I get to do all the neurological surgery at least until he gets back. At least I am sure I will. He comes back again as resident, I believe, which I think is the professor's subtle way of getting rid of Dr. McClure who is ahead of me and next in line for the residency. He has been 6 years now waiting for it. But as I once before told you, the Professor does not like him and I think that is why and how he is trying to get rid of him. McClure has evidently let it be known that if Heuer stays he will leave and that seems to be the professor's solution of diplomacy as he never fires anyone outright. He usually lets it be known to those higher up that he does not like a man and he finds it out and becomes quite uncomfortable and leaves of his own accord. The Professor once thought McClure was a good man but has since reversed his judgment. McClure has been offered Dr. Young's residency in the new building and may take that. If things work out as they look upon the above speculation, I may be resident September 1915 or before if I am still in good graces of the chief. The Professor seems very much elated over my work.

I have 9 pineal dogs living now, and have not lost any by operation. They all live after too. Last Saturday, I took out pineals in two puppies which were just 15 days old and they are still alive and doing well so far. That was quite a wonderful feat, I thought, and so did Dr. Halsted. He said I must see you do one and so must Landois (his German acquisition). I said I should be very glad to do so any time. He went over to the Hunterian one day just after I had finished an operation (pineal) on a 5 week old puppy and saw the puppy walking around. He was greatly pleased. He wanted to know everything about it from the boy in the laboratory. He told him it took 4 hours, which was the hardest operation I had ever had. It usually takes 2½ to 3 hours. He wanted to know what I used all the instruments for and everything. He was amazed at operating 4 hours on such a small puppy and having it look so well and was greatly impressed with the magnitude of the operation. He said that makes it all the more interesting. He paid all the bills without a murmur and said he was sorry the pleasure could not be his to pay them out of his own pocket.

I worked from 9 until 3 Saturday solidly, getting out the two 15 day puppies and I was certainly happy when they were successfully completed. I thought of the progress I have made from a universal mortality. Dr. Halsted wanted to know when I got the puppies. I told him I went out in the country and found them myself. He seemed to like that very much, evidently thinking I was on the job. He said I must get out a preliminary publication soon so as to establish priority and that I must do. I don't believe, however, anyone can get the pineal but people often lose by being cock-sure.

The weather is beautiful. Spring has just come about 1 month late. I hardly know what to advise about clothes, but I am sure I am too difficult to please. I appreciate your desire just the same.… I don't need any money for some time but will let you know when I do. Stocks are pretty low now, but I went in for a gamble and am a good sport if I lose it all. But I won't. I sent $720 to Porter as you suggested. I haven't heard from him yet. I still think you ought to go to Paris, Edinburgh, and Ireland again.

You don't seem to say so much about Lena any more. I guess I was pretty cold about it but I am more cautious than I used to be.

Your loving son, Walter


June 14, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

June 14, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

There isn't much new to tell. The Professor has gone without any new developments. He didn't even say goodbye to me, probably, however, not thinking it necessary. I am doing the brain surgery. I had a wonderful case this week which has made me feel very good and I hope it will prove of as great ultimate value as I anticipate. A very brilliant young fellow of 28, a relative of Johns Hopkins by the way, has educated himself to be an electrical engineer and was working in South America at his trade. He was taken with numerous spells of unconsciousness and loss of memory and inability to speak. He came here to be treated, about 8,000 miles. Dr. Thomas sent him, and on account of his brilliancy and in desperation urged me to operate on the right side of his head. I told him it was scarcely justifiable and I would only do it because he wanted it done. The X-ray showed an apparent erosion in the bone and I insisted it did not mean anything.

One night about 12 o'clock, he had one of his big spells and I observed him for 2 hours until he came out and learned from that exactly where his lesion was and told Dr. Thomas exactly what kind I thought it would be. It was on the left side of his head. He did not think so and since there is so much danger of injury on the left side wanted me to look in on the other side. He finally got Dr. Meyer to look at him and he was inclined to agree with me and thought we ought to look in by operating. I operated and found a cyst where I had described to them and opened it and I think he will now get well.

The operation went beautifully and he has recovered beautifully. Everything went perfectly. It was a most gratifying result in every way. I had told him I didn't want to operate but he begged me to do so. (Before I found out where the lesion was.) He is the happiest man now you ever saw. He said he wanted to commit suicide as life was of no use to him and he would soon be crazy and a burden on his family. It was a beautiful cyst and I believe he will be permanently well, though I may be wrong in my enthusiasm. So for 3 days he has been perfectly well. I had all the post graduates crowding around and Dr. Thomas and Dr. Meyer looking eagerly on, but I was so intent I did not think of them. It was quite a difficult case and went beautifully and all Dr. Thomas' fears proved unfounded.

The weather is quite warm, close to 100 degrees. Am feeling fine, and working hard. I guess I have no reason to expect any more than I have. Dr. Halsted really has been very good to me and when you think that I have only had general surgery for a little over a year, it would have been too much to expect him to have given me it all.

I was out to Dr. ________ for dinner the other night and he said Dr. Halsted told Dr. Welch that I had far more ingenuity than either Heuer or McClure. He would scarcely have given me brain surgery to do if he hadn't thought well of me, but I can't depend on him and I hate to hang around here so long. I think I ought to get more general surgery as my ultimate future might be handicapped by being so restricted.

It's really lots of fun to get out of a hole and to cross rivers of adversity-life would be very tame to be on a plain always. Dr. Wood of Sedalia has written me that he will be here next week. I would like to do a brain operation while he is here. Am glad you are well and missing the hot weather but it will soon be time to see you. With much love.

Your loving son, Walter


June 27, 1914

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Baltimore, Md.

June 27, 1914

Dear Mother and Father,

Well everything runs along about as usual. McClure has been away two days and I have been in charge again but haven't had much to do. Dr. Finney operated yesterday-5 big cases. I helped him. He had a big clinic for visiting physicians.

I did two brain cases this week, but no startling developments. I am going down to the place I went two years ago and spend 3-4 days in real recreation, over the 4th of July. Have been working pretty hard recently and think that will be enough rest for the summer. I want to get back and do some writing which counts more than anything else.

I haven't seen Dr. Young yet about Chicago. Dr. Finney probably forgot about it as he hasn't said anything and he was very busy starting up the new school of surgery corresponding to the English F.R.C.S. You can't get in until you have been out 8 years practicing surgery.

Dr. Wood was here from Sedalia. He was quite enthusiastic about my prospects and envied my opportunities. There was nothing new in Sedalia.…

There was a big annual meeting of the American Medical Association at Atlantic City. Several of the men went there from here. Cushing was there. Goetsch dropped in here on his way. He told me Cushing told his men to pay no attention to my paper at Philadelphia last Xmas and not discuss it. Two of his men, one of them his staunchest admirer, has had a scrap and quit him and is coming back here with Dr. Mall. He was the one whom Cushing got to try to disprove my work on hydrocephalus. I think Cushing has passed his highest mark and is now only marking time and making money or reaping the harvest.

The surgical staff had a photograph taken. Will send you one. We are having fine weather. It is pretty hot but we are getting a nice shower nearly every evening.

Dr. Rowntree who was in with me on that German article is going to get married. Several of the other doctors are getting married. I wish I had someone picked out and waiting but I probably wouldn't work very hard if I had. I had better sow work seed thick while the opportunity is present.

Well it won't be so very long until it will be time for you to come back. I think probably furnished rooms or unfurnished rooms might be better than renting a house. What do you think. I may wander off to Chicago and Minneapolis next month but I believe it is too much money to spend. If I stay next year, I am going to strike Dr. Halsted for some salary.

MoPac is not jumping very fast, but it will after July 4. With much love.

Your loving son, Walter


July 1, 1914

11 Holford Place

Percy Circus

London, England

c. July, 1914

My Dear Boy,

…Of course the big fellows who made the laws don't seem to be censored for their acts, but the others do. We have Sir Edward Carson and several others like him who does not want Home Rule for Ireland and who threatens to fight England if they pass the Home Rule bill. Of course he being a big lawer and M.P. his incendary speaches are considered political, therefore not punishable. Lansburg who advised the suffragists to follow in Sir Edwards methods was arrested. He says he as no abjection to punishment providing they punish Carson and others who are equally guilty.

I used to think the law in America was one sided and I think it is the same here. As a whole I think I like the Americans as well as the English men. Their are lots of these English dirty drunken lazy persons. Of course their are some good ones.

I just asked the little Boss if I could go to Paris as per your instructions. She puts up her little hand and at the same time gives me a look that means no. But she don't say anything so you will just have to form your own conclusions about me going.

I would rather see the Panama Canal before water was in it than anything I know of. Especially a few days before it was filled and then see it filled.

Your affectionate Father.


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