AUA Summit - Urologic Connections: Dr. Harvard Hersey Crabtree

Urologic Connections: Dr. Harvard Hersey Crabtree

Early this year, the Didusch Center for Urologic History received the following biography of an early AUA member, Dr. Harvard Hersey Crabtree, compiled by his grandson, Stephen Jones, and Dr. David Bloom. We were particularly excited because one of our favorite artifacts in the museum was donated by Dr. Ralph Emmott in 2006 with the following story about Dr. Crabtree:

While preaching in Africa, a Baptist missionary met a tribal chief who told him the medical history of his son who could urinate only while standing on his head. The missionary took this story back to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston where he had met Dr. Harvard Hersey Crabtree, also a religious man. When he heard the story, Dr. Crabtree immediately suspected the diagnosis based on the symptom. The child was sent to Boston where Dr. Crabtree removed a bladder stone, thereby curing the young boy. After the child returned to Africa, his father sent Dr. Crabtree the tribal doctor's pouch as a gift of gratitude...from one doctor to another.

Contents of the pouch and uses:

Shell and bones from a turtle (long life)
Seed pod (fertility)
Duck bill
Chrysalis (rebirth)
3 carved wooden objects (2 people, 1 drum)
Sticks and other items wrapped in string or woven material (relationships)
Knotted string (Love/fertility, relationships)
Animal toe bones
Animal hooves
Animal claw (childbirth and physical strength)
Fish teeth (fertility and virility)
4 Bird talons
5 Pecans
Shell (money, prosperity)

Harvard Hersey Crabtree, MD (1882-1971)

Harvard Crabtree received his AB, magna cum laude, from Harvard College in 1907 and his MD, cum laude, from Harvard Medical School in 1911. He practiced urological surgery on the staff of Massachusetts General Hospital, in private practice, and on the visiting staff of New England Deaconess Hospital for six decades.

He was a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honorary Medical Society, the American Urological Association, and the American Medical Association.

Medical Training

Harvard Crabtree began his medical career at Massachusetts General Hospital, first as a surgical intern, then surgical resident, and finally urological resident. Early on, he caught the attention of Hugh Cabot, the physician credited with establishing urology as a formal discipline at MGH in 1910.

Cabot created a formal program in urological surgery at MGH, one of the first of its kind, and in 1917 Harvard Crabtree was its second graduate. Cabot, Harvard Crabtree, and the small number of surgeons in the MGH Urology Service were pivotal to the development of urology as a specialized practice at MGH and beyond. They pioneered diagnostic and surgical techniques that became standards of care and are a core group upon whose shoulders today’s urologists stand.

Harvard Crabtree possessed in abundance qualities prized by his mentor Cabot: great skill and integrity as a surgeon, wisdom, gentleness, and force of character. Thus, it was no surprise Cabot entrusted the care of his patients to Harvard Crabtree when he decamped for France at the beginning of the United States’ entry to World War 1. Still, for Harvard Crabtree, his mentor’s decision was a compliment of the highest order.

After the war, Cabot became the head of the medical school at the University of Michigan and contributed greatly to establishing it as a top-tier institution while Harvard Crabtree continued to practice in Boston. Joining the ranks of world-renowned physicians like Paul Dudley White (cardiology) and Elliott Joslin (diabetes), Harvard Crabtree was a master surgeon, a dean in the Boston medical community, and he was one of the first chairmen of the General Staff at New England Deaconess Hospital.

Highly respected by his peers, Harvard Crabtree was universally loved by his patients. He was the embodiment of humility, modesty, and kindness, and well known for his empathetic bedside manner. Harvard Crabtree inspired and encouraged his patients with his personal interest in them, not only in their physical problems but in all aspects of their lives. His typical workday began about seven, and he often did not finish his rounds until nine or ten at night because of the amount of time he devoted to patients under his care.

Early Years

Harvard Hersey Crabtree was born in Hancock, Maine in 1882, the son of Henry Clay Crabtree and Rose Stratton Crabtree.

Typical of the region’s multi-skilled Yankee culture, Henry Crabtree was a farmer, ship captain, and an accomplished carpenter and boatbuilder. He also served as Hancock Town Clerk, and in the 26th Maine Infantry Regiment in the Civil War. His company commander was a certain CPT Hersey of Bangor, hence Harvard’s middle name. It is thought that Rose Crabtree was a schoolteacher. Harvard Crabtree, no doubt, absorbed much from their way of life, especially his father’s manual skills and his mother’s love of learning. Like his father, Harvard was a lifetime member of Lygonia Masonic Lodge in Ellsworth.

Harvard Crabtree attended Higgins Classical Institute in Charleston, Maine. It is not known what caused him to enroll at Harvard College which, in those days, was an exceptionally long leap from his small coastal Maine community.  He lamented that his studies at college were very demanding; not that he lacked the intellect, but that Harvard instruction was arranged for those who had prepared at prestigious eastern boarding schools. He said that he knew people in college who were smarter than he, but owing to relative deficiencies in his earlier schooling he never knew anybody who had to work harder. Nonetheless, he graduated with distinction.

Harvard Crabtree married Constance Mason Newell of Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1914 in Boston. They had four children: Constance Stratton, Harvard Hersey Jr, Elizabeth Newell, and Stephen Mason. Much sadness was to follow. Stephen Crabtree resigned from his premedical studies at Harvard College in 1942 to enlist in the Army. He was initially assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, then to ATSP, then to the 97th Infantry Division which disembarked at Le Harve, France in February 1945. He was killed in Germany on April 10, 1945, just 28 days before VE Day. This tragic event aggravated Mrs. Crabtree’s heart condition and led to her death in 1946.

Harvard Crabtree passed away in 1971 at the home of his eldest daughter, Constance Jones, in Northfield, Vermont. To say he led a life of quiet commitment and consequence is an understatement.

His son-in-law, Rodney G Jones, said that he never knew a man to have come from such humble origins and achieved so much as Harvard Crabtree. To his three grandchildren, Barbara N Jones, Stephen G Jones, and Carole O Victory, he remains the central loving figure in their lives.

Stephen G. Jones
September 2023