LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 9, 2012) — In celebration of the University of Kentucky's upcoming sesquicentennial in 2015, the 31st of 150 weekly installments on the university takes an in depth look at the contributions of UK Professor Joseph William Pryor to medicine, and particularly X-ray technology.
Dr. Joseph William Pryor, professor of anatomy and physiology at UK 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.
Pryor was born April 3, 1856, in Palmyra, Mo., 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 of 1875, and graduated in a special ceremony in honor of the United States centennial on July 4, 1876. Beginning in 1877, Pryor served as an assistant to Dr. John T. Hodgen, dean of the St. Louis Medical School, before returning to Palmyra to practice.
Pryor married Maggie Cheney of Woodford County, Kentucky, in 1881, and the couple moved to Lexington in 1882. In July of that year, 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.
A physician of several "firsts" in Lexington, Pryor was 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.
Pryor's association with the institution that would become UK 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 (now the UK Department of 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 which would be accepted by several medical schools.
Following his wife's death in 1896, 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 painted the portrait of her husband which was later hung in Memorial Hall on the UK campus.
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. The Lexington physician, working with another professor, Merry Lewis Pence, developed an X-ray of the hand of one of his patients.
Later, 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. Pryor published multiple journal articles on these topics.
Pryor retired from UK in 1929, but remained an emeritus professor and professor on special assignment until his death on March 17, 1956, only three weeks before his 100th birthday.
UK Libraries Special Collections houses the Joseph W. Pryor papers and X-rays.
This story on UK's history is presented by UK Special Collections. Special Collections is home to UK Libraries' collection of rare books, Kentuckiana, the Archives, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, the King Library Press and the Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center. The mission of Special Collections is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
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