Walter Joseph Meek

12th APS President (1929-1932)
Walter Joseph Meek

During Walter J. Meek's term in office a committee was created to examine fully the policies and finances of the Society's publications. Its report led to the establishment in 1933 of a Board of Publication Trustees to oversee all aspects of the publications. Meek was appointed first chairman of the Board of Publication Trustees and served in this position of great responsibility and authority from 1933 to 1946.

Meek received his A.B. degree from the University of Kansas in 1902, his A.M. degree from Penn College (Iowa), and his Ph.D. degree from the University of Chicago in 1909. Appointed an instructor in physiology under Joseph Erlanger at the University of Wisconsin in 1908, Meek rose through the ranks to become professor of physiology in 1918. In 1919 he became chairman of the department, a position he retained until 1948. He also served as assistant dean of the Medical School from 1920 to 1942 and acting dean from 1945 to 1949.

Meek's research dealt mainly with the cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal tract, and autonomic nervous system. His work on the heart included studies with A. J. Carlson on the heart of the Limulus and a series of papers with J. A. E. Eyster on the origin and conduction of the heartbeat in mammals. On this subject, Eyster and Meek published the first article in the first volume of Physiological Reviews (1921). In other studies, Meek investigated the effects of anesthetic agents, in particular cyclopropane, on cardiac irritability and rhythm, studied the origin of fibrin in the liver, and investigated distension as a factor in intestinal obstruction.

Meek was elected a member of APS in 1908 and soon became a stalwart of the Society. He was a member of Council from 1915 to 1919 and again from 1924 to 1936. He served as secretary from 1923 until 1929 when he was elected to the presidency. Perhaps his greatest service to the Society was as chairman of the Board of Publication Trustees. Under his guidance the publications of the Society were reorganized and new procedures and regulations instituted, including for the first time peer review of all papers submitted. As chairman of the Semicentennial Committee, Meek arranged the nostalgic banquet program, presided over by Porter, which was published verbatim in the semicentennial history. An avid historian of medicine, Meek assisted Howell and Greene with the writing of the history and held the office of Society historian from 1938 to 1954.

The memorial notice in The Physiologist said of him that he was a man of "a modest, unassuming manner and was easily approachable by students and colleagues alike. He had keen critical faculties based on sound logic and was quickly able to get to the meat of a problem. His scientific work was characterized by energy, experimental skill, originality and critical ability. These characteristics were conveyed to the many co-workers and students who were associated with him."

Selected Publications

1. Anonymous. Walter Joseph Meek, 1878-1963. Physiologist 12: 1-2, 1969.

2. Brooks, C. McC. Walter Joseph Meek, August 15, 1878-February 15, 1963. Biogr Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. 54: 251-268, 1983.

3. Howell, W. H., and C. W. Greene. History of the American Physiological Society Semicentennial, 1887-1937. Baltimore, MD: Am. Physiol. Soc., 1938, p. 135-137.