Frederic Schiller Lee

7th APS President (1917-1918)
Frederic Schiller Lee

It is appropriate that Frederic Schiller Lee was president of APS during the war years, for he was one of the most active physiologists in the country in the application of physiology to war-related problems. A student of Martin at Johns Hopkins, Lee received his Ph.D. degree in 1885 with a dissertation on the subject of arterial tonicity. The following year was spent in Ludwig's laboratory at Leipzig, where he worked on electrical phenomena of muscular contraction. He was an associate in physiology at Bryn Mawr, when in 1888 he was elected to APS at the Society's first annual meeting. Most of his career was spent at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. He began as Curtis's demonstrator in 1891 and succeeded him as Dalton Professor of Physiology in 1904. He served as executive officer of the department from 1911 to 1920; in 1920 he became research professor. Like his teacher, Martin, Lee took a broadly biological view of physiology and was instrumental in opening courses in the medical department to students outside the medical school.

Lee's early work dealt with the semicircular canals, vestibular sacs, and lateral lines in fishes with respect to the body equilibrium function of the inner ear. Much of his later research focused on muscular fatigue. His studies on fatigue in isolated muscle led to the practical application of fatigue to workers in factories, and eventually he became America's leading scientific authority on the subject of industrial fatigue. During the war years he carried out studies for the Public Health Service, on which he reported to APS in 1919. He was the author of several books, including Scientific Features of Modern Medicine (1911) and The Human Machine and Industrial Efficiency (1918).

Lee quickly took an active role in Society affairs; he served as secretary from 1895 to 1903, as a member of Council for a total of seventeen years, and as a member of the Publications Committee from 1897 to 1914. He played a leading part in the negotiations resulting in the Society's acquisition of full ownership of American Journal of Physiology in 1914. As president in 1917 he conducted a survey of the war-related activities of all APS members for the National Research Council. Active in international physiology, he was the APS delegate to the International Physiological Congress (Interallied) held in Paris in 1920 and was instrumental in raising funds to hold the XIII International Congress in America in 1929. He was remembered by contemporaries for his unfailing courtesy and his gentle manner.

Selected Publications

1. Hopkins, J. G. A tribute to the work of a leader in modern physiology: Frederic Schiller Lee. Columbia Univ. Q. 47-51, Feb. 1911.

2. Howell, W. H., and C. W. Greene. History of the American Physiological Society Semicentennial, 1887-1937. Baltimore, MD: Am. Physiol. Soc., 1938, p. 52-53. (Reprinted in Physiologist 7: 1-2, 1964.)

3. Root, W. S. Frederic Schiller Lee. In: Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner, 1958, suppl. 2, p. 373-374.