Wallace O. Fenn

19th APS President (1946-1948)
Wallace O. Fenn

Wallace O. Fenn took office after election at the 1946 meeting in Atlantic City. He had previously served nine years on the Board of Publication Trustees (1933-42), four years as treasurer (1936-40), and four years as secretary of the Society (1942-46).

Born in Lanesboro, Massachusetts, he as educated at Harvard (A.B., 1914; M.S., 1916; Ph.D., 1919). After a tour of duty in the Sanitary Corps of the U.S. Army during World War I, he held the position of instructor of applied physiology at Harvard (1919-22). With the aid of a Traveling Fellowship from the Rockefeller Institute, he worked with A. V. Hill and H. H. Dale in England (1922-24). On his return, he became professor and chairman of physiology at the new School of Medicine and Dentistry of the University of Rochester. In 1924 he became a member of APS. On his retirement from the chairmanship in 1959, he was appointed Distinguished University Professor and in 1962 also director of the Space Science Center, positions he held until his death in 1971.

Although his graduate work was in plant physiology, Fenn early shifted to animal studies. He worked in four general areas: muscle, electrolytes, respiration, and the effects of high and low barometric pressure. After having made notable contributions to the respiratory metabolism of muscle, he was intrigued by the two new domains that opened up in the 1950s, exploration of the new environments of space and the oceans. He studied the role of oxygen from hypoxia to hyperoxic toxicity and the mechanism of high inert gas pressure effects on various living organisms from unicellular organisms to vertebrates. His last research paper (posthumous) was a theoretical work on partial pressures of gases under high pressure (Science 176: 1011, 1972).

During Fenn's term as president, the Society underwent fundamental changes. The term of president was constitutionally limited to one year, a permanent position of executive secretary- treasurer was established, and annual election of a president elect, who would serve successively as president elect, president, and past president was instituted. Fenn became the Society's first past president and gave the first past president's address. The Society's activities were increased by the establishment of the fall meeting and the Journal of Applied Physiology. Also during his tenure the American Institute of Biological Sciences was founded with APS as its first member society. Fenn's active interest in the institute continued for many years; he was APS representative to the American Institute of Biological Sciences from 1947 to 1963 and served as president in 1957-58.

After his term as president of APS, Fenn served again on the Board of Publication Trustees as chairman (1949-55), was cochairman with Ralph Gerard of the Survey of Physiological Science, and was coeditor with Hermann Rahn of the section on respiration of the Handbook of Physiology (1964-65). He worked with later APS presidents toward the establishment of the International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS) and served actively in its governance as secretary general from 1959 to 1965, president of the XXIV IUPS Congress held in Washington, D.C., in 1968, and president of IUPS from 1968 to 1971. His terminal illness prevented his attendance at the XXV IUPS Congress in Munich, where he would have presided over the IUPS. Among Fenn's numerous valued contributions to APS were his excellent history of the third quarter century (1963) and his history of the international congresses (1968).

A sincerely modest man, Fenn avoided the spotlight and never dominated a meeting or conversation, but he was forceful when required and had a warm, outgoing nature with a delightful sense of humor. He was parsimonious in his use of words. One of O. E. Reynolds best recollections of this is Fenn's telegram to Reynolds in the first months of his study of the effects of hyperbaric nitrogen in frogs. The wire said in effect, "Positive effect of high pressure N2 noted - frog nodded."

Selected Publications

1. Daggs, R. G. Wallace O. Fenn, 1893-1971.Physiologist 14: 301-303, 1971.

2. Fenn, W. O. Physiology on horseback. Past-president's address. Am. J. Physiol. 159: 551-555, 1949.

3. Fenn, W. O. Born fifty years too soon. Annu. Rev. Physiol. 24: 1-10, 1962.

4. Fenn, W. O. History of the American Physiological Society: The Third Quarter Century, 1937-1962. Washington, DC: Am. Physiol. Soc., 1963.

5. Fenn, W. O. (Editor) History of the International Congresses of Physiological Sciences, 1889-1968. Washington, DC: Am. Physiol. Soc., 1968.

6. Rahn, H. Wallace O. Fenn, president of the American Physiological Society, 1946-1948. Physiologist 19: 1-10, 1976.

7. Rahn, H. Wallace Osgood Fenn, August 27, 1893-September 20, 1971. Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. 50: 141-173, 1979.