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For Mary Putnam Jacobi

January 4, 1907 — Memorial for Mary Putnam Jacobi, Academy of Medicine, New York City


As there are many here this evening so well fitted to pay tribute to the character and influence of Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, I shall only bring to that tribute a few words from an experience in working by her side, which it was my privilege to do in the early days.

When Dr. Putnam came from her medical studies in Paris, it was after exceptional opportunities, and most thorough training. These advantages, together with her high ideals in regard to the practice of medicine, lent such zeal and enthusiasm to her work as to be to many of us a revelation.

Nothing to her, if worth doing, was too small to be done without the best thought. Nothing so large, but that it should be striven for in the hope of its accomplishment, if it promised ultimate good. There was no faltering or turning aside because of obstacles, these indeed seeming but to add to her endeavors. Her untiring effort and determination to do and to have things done — at whatever cost of time and thought — in the way which was to her the only, because the best way, extended itself to her work with others, and she expected from them the same zeal. This came as a surprise to those with whom she was firs associated, and her exactions not infrequently led on their part to opposition. This opposition, however, often ended in their increased loyalty to the work before them, and devotion to the one who had inspired it.

In regard to the results of her work Dr. Putnam was most exacting; and critical and she was of others her severest criticisms were reserved for herself.  She was never satisfied. There was always a better than her best, a higher than her highest to be striven for; and in this striving she was not influence by personal ambition, but by the higher object — the truth to be attained.

It was this same spirit which led to her rejoicing in the success of others, and to her generosity toward them when victory was theirs instead of her own.

To her students, Dr. Putnam taught the value of well-directed effort for itself alone. No amount of time was too great, to labor too arduous to devote to their interest. She exacted in return care and thought and scientific accuracy. She would not tolerate superficial methods, while for honest, intelligent effort, her appreciation was unbounded, and her encouragement and help always ready. She stimulated others to do their best in their power, and made them realize through their own ideals the greatness of the work which was before them.

All of us who were associated with Dr. Putnam, know well the tenacity with which she met opposition when she believed right to be on her side, and with what courage and zeal — often against obstacles from those who did not appreciate the underlying principle — she would battle for an idea.

There were none, however, more ready to admit an error, or to yield more gracefully and generously, when proven in the wrong.

It was these moral qualities in Dr. Putnam Jacobi, together with her straightforward honesty of purpose, and her fearlessness in acting upon her convictions, which so strongly impressed itself upon her associates; and while her sparkling wit and intellectual brilliancy is to those who knew her a treasured memory, it was the nobleness of her character, which made the world better and wiser because of her having lived in it, that is her best legacy; and the realization of it, our highest tribute to her.



Source: In Memoriam: Mary Putnam Jacobi (New York: The Knickerbocker Press), 1907, pp. 11-14.