Biography of Dr. William H. Watson
Oneida County, NY Biographies

William Henry Watson, M. A., M. D., LL. D., was born at Providence, Rhode Island, November 8, 1829. He is the only son of the Hon. William Robinson Watson and Mary Ann Earle Watson, and is descended from many families which, at an early date, were prominent in the history of New England and have made deep impress upon the annals of their respective states. On. the paternal side he is a lineal descendant of Thomas Hazard (1610-80), who settled in Newport, Rhode Island, (1638); of William Robinson (1693-1751), governor of Rhode Island (1745-47); of Henry Bull (1610-1694), governor of Rhode Island under the Royal Charter (1685-86-90); of George Brown (1745-1836), deputy governor of Rhode Island (1799); of Jeremiah Clarke, regent and ac cing governor of Rhode Island (1648); of Walter Clarke (1640-1714), governor of Rhode Island during King Philip's war (1676-77, also in 1686-96-97-98), and who served the colony until his death; of Philip Shearman (1610-87), one of the original proprietors who settled Pocasset, Rhode Island, (1638), first secretary of Providence Plantations (1639) ; of Philip Wanton, and a collateral descendant of William Wanton, governor of Rhode Island (1732-33); of John Wanton, governor of Rhode Island (1734-40); of Gideon Wanton, governor of Rhode Island (1745-47); and of Joseph Wanton, elected governor for seven successive years. He is a lineal descendant on the maternal side of Major General John Mason (1600-72), founder, patentee and deputy governor of Connecticut, under a charter from Charles II, and commander of the colonial forces in the Pequot war; of John Brown (1583-1662), joint grantee with Edward Winslow in the Indian deed of Rehoboth from Massasoit (1645), and commissioner of the united colonies for twelve years (1644-56); of Hugh Cole, an original proprietor of Mettapoisett (Swansea) Massachusetts, by a deed from King Philip (1667); of John Coggshall (1591-1647), representative of Boston in the first general court of Massachusetts, one of the founders of Newport, Rhode Island, and the first governor of Rhode Island; of John Coggshall 11 (1618-1708), deputy governor of Rhode Island (1686-90); of Caleb Earle (1771-1851), deputy governor of Rhode Island (1821-24); of Stukeley Wescott (1592-1677), an original proprietor of Salem, Massachusetts, and of Providence Plantations; of Richard Scott and Chad Brown, two of the thirteen signers of the first written compact of Providence Plantations (1637); and of Richard Warren and Francis Cooke, two of the historic founders of Plymouth Plantation; of Dr. William Baulstone (1600-78), and Sir Thomas Gardiner.

Dr. Watson's father, son of John Jay and Sarah Brown Watson, was born at South Kingston, Rhode Island, December 14, 1799. He pursued his early preparatory studies at the Plainfield Academy at Plainfield, Connecticut, and was graduated from Brown University in the class of 1823. Among his classmates were Chief Justice Ames, of Rhode Island, Rev. Dr. Crane, George D. Prentice, the distinguished editor of the Louisville Journal, and Judge Mellen, of Massachusetts: Professor Trammell, in an article on the necrology of Brown University, 1863-64, states that Mr. Watson "was admitted to the bar but engaged to only a very limited extent in the practice of his profession. His life was devoted preeminently, and almost exclusively, to politics. For nearly forty years he was one of the most active and prominent politicians in Rhode Island. Very probably no individual ever exerted a greater influence in its local politics. Mr. Watson was, also, during the greater part of his life, a writer for the political press. In several instances, usually for brief periods prior to important elections, he conducted editorially certain papers with which he was politically connected. His writings were almost invariably of a political character and in the interest of the whip party of which he was a devoted champion in Rhode Island. The most elaborate of these were a series of papers first published in the Providence Journal, in 1844, under the signature of 'Hamilton.' These papers were afterwards collected and printed in pamphlet form. The political doctrines then held by the whim party were therein explained and vindicated with unusual force and clearness." Mr. Watson was distinguished alike for the integrity and ability with which he discharged the duties of the many and varied public offices which he filled; for grace, elegance and force of diction; and for kindness of heart and dignified urbanity of manner. These traits of character secured the attachment of many of the warmest of friends, by whom his agreeable qualities were fully appreciated.

Dr. Watson pursued his preparatory studies at the high school and the University Grammar School in Providence. He entered Brown University in 1848 and was graduated therefrom in 1852, receiving on his admission to college, in the former year, the first entrance prize in Latin and second entrance prize for proficiency in Greek studies. Throughout his collegiate course he maintained the highest standing in the classics, receiving prizes for compositions in Latin in 1849, 1850 and 1851, and in Greek in 1849 and 1850. He was awarded the highest distinction, that of delivering the Oratio Latina, at the junior exhibition in 1851. He was commencement orator on being graduated in 1852. While in college he became a member of the United Brothers, Psi Upsilon and Phi Beta Kappa societies. He received the degree of M. A. from Brown University in 1855. Immediately after graduation he entered upon the study of medicine. After attending medical lectures at the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Hospital of Philadelphia, in the spring of 1854, he received the degree of doctor of medicine. On his graduation in medicine he was chosen to deliver the address before the Hahnemanthan Institute of Philadelphia, February 28, 1854.

In the spring of 1854 Dr. Watson settled in Utica, New York, where for fifty years he has enjoyed an extensive, influential and lucrative practice. To his counsels, energy and devotion, the thorough organization and scholarly position of the homeopathic school are largely due. He was one of the original members of the Oneida County Homeopathic Medical Society in 1857, and was elected its president in 1860. He became a member of the State Homeopathic Medical Society in 1855, and was its president in 1868. He became a member of the American Institute of Homeopathy in 1854, and in 1879 a senior member thereof. He was also one of the founders of the New York State Homeopathic Asylum for the Insane at Middleton and was a member of its first board of trustees. He was appointed a United States pension examining surgeon in March, 1875, and served as such for three years. He was surgeon general of New York during the gubernatorial incumbency of Alonzo B. Cornell. He was nominated without his knowledge, by Governor Hill, to the office of commissioner of the state reservation at Niagara and was confirmed by the senate. He declined the position, however, because of the pressure of private and professional engagements. The degree of doctor of medicine, causa honoris, was conferred upon him by the board of regents on the nomination of the State Homeopathic Society in 1878. In June, 1901, he received the honorary degree of doctor of laws from Hobart College, "in recognition of long and faithful service in the development of the higher educational system of the state, especially those parts of it pertaining to the study of medicine." He was elected a regent of the university of the State of New York, February 2, 1881, and "for twenty three years was prominent and influential in its councils, serving successively as chairman of the committees on examinations and colleges, and upon that on university extension." He was very active and influential in originating and urging to a successful passage through the legislature of the state of New York of the act relating to the examination of candidates for the degree of doctor of medicine, passed May 16, 1872. He became a member of the first board of examiners appointed by the regents under that law on its organization in 1872, and remained in office until his election in 1881 by the legislature to membership on the board of regents. While a member of the board of examiners he held the appointment of examiner in diagnosis and pathology.

Dr. Watson passed two years in Europe, 1881-83, in visiting the hospitals of the principal cities and the most noted health and pleasure resorts, and made a critical examination of the different systems of medical education in various countries. On his return he delivered an address on Medical Education and Medical Licensure at the twenty third convocation of the University of the State of New York, held at Albany, New York, in July, 1885. In this address he showed that the scope and relations of the medical profession demand a high standard of education in its candidates, in order to ensure the greatest efficiency in its practitioners. He demonstrated that the standard was then so low as to have given rise to an urgent demand for its elevation. He strenuously insisted that it is the prerogative of the state to determine the educational qualifications of those who are to care for the lives and health of its citizens, and that there must be an entire separation of the teaching from the licensing interest. He outlined the proper condition of licensee as follows:
First A fairly liberal preliminary education.
Second Four years of professional study.
Third Examination and licensure by an impartial court appointed by the state.

This address received the unanimous approval of the convocation and, widely attracting public attention, was highly commended by gentlemen of prominence in educational matters in many portions of the country. "He was specially persuasive in inspiring and procuring the passage of the act to provide for the preliminary education of medical students which, presented by him to the regents, met their approval and became a law, June 13, 1889. He was also largely influential in extending the term of study for practice of medicine from three years to four; decisively influential in determining the basis of admission to practice in the three legalized branches of the medical profession through the jurisdiction of an independent court appointed by the state." In recognition of these services and his work for the educational advancement of the people of New York he received a loving cup from the State Medical Society and other friends at Albany, February 14, 1905, with the following inscription: "In recognition of his professional attainments, his ripe scholarship, his distinguished services in the organization of the County and State Medical societies, in securing advanced and uniform standards of qualification for the practice of medicine by state examining boards; his steadfast support of the cause of higher education and his eminent career as a member of the board of regents of the University of the State of New York." On December 14, 1892, at the request of the regents of the University of the State of New York he delivered a memorial address upon their late colleague, ex United States Senator Francis Kernan. In 1902 he attended the Abel Fest of the Royal University of Christiania and the tercentenary celebration of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, England, as the representative of the University of the State of New York.

Dr. Watson during his whole professional life has held sound tenets and principles. While his position has been in advance of that of his associates, the profession in every instance has finally adopted the propositions which, as a wise and prudent leader, he originated, described and earnestly advocated. In his address delivered at Albany, February 28, 1861, he advocated substantially the same preliminary educational qualifications as are now required by the law of 1889, which was framed in compliance with his suggestions and earnest championship. It will be seen that Dr. Watson has the satisfaction of having witnessed the complete adoption into the forms of law and into the tenets of the medical profession of the three great reformatory measures to which he has given special thought, and for the success of which he has labored with undiminished energy and zeal, and of finding the principles to which he has devoted the best energies of his life fully recognized in the greater liberality, the broader culture and increased efficiency of the profession, not only in this state but throughout the western continent, viz.:

First - The bill providing for the preliminary education of medical students and thus giving to the medical profession statutory safeguards against illiterate practitioners. (Minutes of Regents, 1889, p. 532.)

Second - The extension of the course of study in the profession to the period of four years instead of three. (Transactions of Homeopathic Medical Society of the state of New York, Vol. 1, 1863, p. 39.) The standards suggested by Dr. Watson in 1861 have now been adopted by the leading medical colleges in the United States.

Third - The examination and licensure of physicians for practice by an impartial court appointed by the state, as embodied in the law of 1890 and its amendments in 1893 and subsequently.

The law of 1872 was the prototype of the law of 1890, and fully embodied all the essential provisions of that law by which the right of medical licensure is effectively transferred from the medical colleges to state boards of medical examiners. In the contest which preceded the passage of the law of 1890, Dr. Watson took a deep personal interest, the principles involved therein being consonant with the lines of progress which he had held and endeavored to promote during a life long adherence thereto, and the three state boards of medical examiners, created by that law were appointed on his nomination as chairman of the regents committee on examinations, on June 11, 1891. (See Minutes of Regents, 1889-1899, page 69.)

Dr. Watson was an intimate personal friend and political adherent of the late Hon. Roscoe Conking, and for more than thirty years his attending physician. He delivered several political addresses in Mr. Conkling's interest before the Conkling Club of Utica when the possibility of the nomination of Mr. Conkling for the presidency seemed so promising in the year 1876. In 1887 he visited California. In the spring of 1888 he visited Florida. Having had ample opportunity for personal observation and for instituting a just comparison between the famous watering places of the old world and the health resorts of the United States he published several monographs presenting valuable information on these subjects. That the life long work of Dr. Watson is appreciated by his profession is evident from the editorial in the New York Medical Times, a leading medical journal, published in the city of New York, in April, 1896. The following extract is taken from the article upon "Regent Watson's Speech at the Hearing on the Stanchfield Bill before the Judiciary Committee as Chairman of the Regents Committee on Examinations, on February 19, 1896." "His able and exhaustive article before the assembly committee on the judiciary, in opposition to the Stanchfield Bill, the passage of which at one fell swoop would sweep away the standards of medical education in this state, should be and we trust will be conclusive against it. The profession in this state has been fortunate in having a leader within its ranks of that broad and liberal culture, that sincerity of purpose and untiring zeal in the cause of progress to inaugurate and push forward, step by step, those measures which are doing so much to fill the ranks of the profession with men of greater culture and minds more carefully trained in all the details of their work, and to insure to the public greater protection to life and health. By his rare scholarship, the clearness of his judgment, the force of his logic and the sincerity, the honesty and intelligence he brought to bear upon every measure he advanced, Dr. Watson was eminently fitted for leadership in the work in which he has accomplished so much and for which he will be long held in grateful remembrance. In forty five years of active professional labor, in every official position he has held, as a founder and for many years trustee of the Middletown State Insane Hospital, as United States pension examining surgeon, as surgeon general of the state and as regent of the State University, there have been two preeminently distinctive principles upon which his whole professional life has rested. These are:

First-No sectarian tests as a qualification for office, and no sectarian monopoly of state or national institutions.

Second-The elevation of the educational standards of the medical profession."

He has contributed numerous papers on medical subjects to medical journals and has delivered many addresses upon medical and literary themes. He is a councilor of the Oneida County Historical Society, corresponding member of the Rhode Island Historical Society, member of the Society of Colonial Wars of the State of New York, of the Society of Mayflower Descendants, of the Order of Descendants of Colonial Governors, a charter member of the New York Society of the Order of the Founders and Patriots of America, member of the Fort Schuyler Club of Utica, University Club of New York and of the advisory board on tuberculosis of the New York state department of health. He is senior warden of Grace church, Utica, and has not infrequently represented the Protestant Episcopal church in its diocesan conventions and was a delegate to the general conventions of that church, held in New York in 1889, in Boston in 1904 and in Richmond, Virginia, in 1907.

Dr. Watson married Sarah T. Carlisle at Providence, Rhode Island, May 1, 1854. She died at Utica, New York, July 27, 1881. On December 16, 1891, he married Mrs. Julia M. Williams, of Utica, New York. He had one son, William Livingston Watson, a graduate of Harvard University and who is mentioned below; and one daughter, Lucy Carlisle Watson.

History of Oneida County, New York
From 1700 to the present time
of some of its prominent men and pioneers.
By: Henry J. Cookinham
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Chicago 1912

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