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About | Classical Genetics | Timelines | What's New | What's Hot


The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project: Providing world-wide, free access to classic scientific papers and other scholarly materials, since 1993.


ESP Biographies 17 Jul 2024 Updated: 

Walter S. Sutton

Stanley R. Nelson, MD

Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
University of Kansas Medical Center
Kansas City, KS

Peter S. Nelson, MD

Clinical Research Division
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Seattle, WA.


Early Years on the Rutgers Ranch, Russell, KS

Walter Stanborough Sutton was born in Utica, NY in 1877 and at the age of 10 moved with his parents and 4 brothers to a ranch near Russell, Kansas. Prior to moving west, Walter Sutton's father, William Bell Sutton, was a successful lawyer and judge in Utica, NY.

Judge Sutton was born in Indiana, PA on February 12, 1849 of English decent. He was descended from William, founder of the family in America, who was born in Warwickshire, England in 1641 and came to Massachusetts colony about 1660 and settled in Eastham. James, son of Thomas and father of Judge Sutton, was born in Indiana, PA in 1812 and died there in 1870. Judge Sutton was descended from the Stanborough family on his maternal side, which was of Welsh origin and founded in America early in 17th Century by Josiah Stanborough who came from England and settled in Southampton, Long Island where he died in 1661. Judge Sutton was 8th in descent from Josiah. Sarah Cook Stanborough, the mother of Judge Sutton was born May 27, 1816 and died Feb 28, 1899 (Pixton, 1998).

Judge Sutton graduated in 1868 from Washington and Jefferson College, Cannonsburg, PA and married Miss Agnes Black June 8, 1868. She was the daughter of John E. Black, banker of Cannonsburg and treasurer of Washington and Jefferson College. They moved to Utica, NY in 1869 where Judge Sutton practiced law and was elected County Judge of Oneida County, NY in 1880 for a six-year term. At the end of this term he looked west to buy a ranch and stock it with the best breeds of livestock (Wilson 1901). Judge Sutton's brother, Thomas Sutton, also was interested in purchasing land and in 1886 Thomas, his wife and Charles, 17-year-old son of Judge Sutton, came to Russell, Kansas to view available land.

From this survey, Judge Sutton purchased the Rutger's ranch, 725 acres a mile northwest of Russell, Kansas, and moved to this location with his family in 1887. This was hilly land most suited for cattle grazing but 325 acres were tillable and rye, barley, oats and potatoes were raised. In 1895, the year before Walter started college there were 10 horses, 2 mules and 8 milk cows on the ranch (Russel County Historical Museum). Thomas Sutton bought land north of the Rutger's ranch; near the present town of Paradise that became know locally as the Sutton ranch.

A few years after moving to Russell, Judge Sutton resumed his law practice and because of his ability as a public speaker he was in demand for political campaigns. In 1894 he was elected to Legislature and served on several state boards and in 1897 moved to Kansas City, KS to devote full time to the practice of law. His older sons, Charles and James, remained on the ranch. Later, James attended college at Kansas State at Manhattan, KS and was in business in Harper, KS. Charles moved to Lawrence, KS and later, to Denver, CO.

Walter and his brother, Will, were at the University of Kansas at the same time. After graduating from the University of Kansas in 1899, Will went on to law school at the university and later went into partnership with his father in Kansas City, KS. He left the partnership to become counsel for the Prairie Oil and Gas Co. in Eastland, TX. Everett (Buzz) was the youngest son and was born in Russell in 1889. He moved with his parents to Kansas City, KS where he went to high school. He attended the University of Kansas and was involved in the oil business in Independence, KS before moving to California.

Walter Sutton was a sensitive, respectful son who, at an early age, demonstrated considerable mechanical skill in the operation and maintenance of the farm machinery that pointed him to a career in engineering. A seventh son, William Marshall, born in 1873 died after 5 months. James and Will were both in the 1890 graduating class of Russell High School. Walter was in the class of 1894 and enrolled in the school of engineering at the University of Kansas in 1896.

He changed from engineering to biology and a premedical curriculum in the fall of 1897after a summer of caring for his family, sick with typhoid fever. His younger brother, John Marshall age 17, died of the illness and his acceptance to the Naval Academy arrived the day of his burial in Russell. The years training in engineering were not wasted. He put what he learned into good use as mechanical innovations were a consistent theme throughout his life.

Biology and Basketball at the University of Kansas

Walter Sutton's first class in histology in the fall of 1897 was also the first class that instructor C. E. McClung taught histology. Since the time for class had arrived Walter offered to help McClung finish some charts. From this time on a close partnership ensued, and a crucial one for Sutton's chromosome hypothesis. As McClung later related the episode, "...but I recall as though it were but yesterday his statements that the drawing was easy for him since he had just entered the college from the engineering school, and that his purpose was to study medicine later. For that reason he desired to undertake the work in histology which I was offering for the first time. The gentle dignity and quiet voice of the boy at once attracted me to him and when the ordeal of the lecture was over and the students gone the memory of him remained with me. Soon we were friends and, since I was myself a beginner, fellow-workers." (McClung in the Family memorial). Sutton later became a helper in the department as well as student and friend of McClung.

McClung became interested in zoology through Samuel W. Williston who introduced him to histology and paleontology. McClung did graduate work with E. B. Wilson at Columbia University one summer and W. M. Wheeler at the university of Chicago another summer. Wheeler suggested he work on the spermatogenesis of the "long-horned" grasshopper, which he was doing when Sutton joined him (Wenrich 1946). In this way, Sutton became familiar with cellular characteristics of insect testes and later recognized a better species for study in harvest fields. This occurred in 1898 when Sutton returned to the family farm, now run by brothers Charles and James, to help with the harvest.

Harvesting equipment included a header, pulled by horses that cut the heads from the grain stalks and elevated them on moving canvass into a header box. When filled, the box was taken to a threshing machine that removed grain kernels from the heads. Large numbers of grasshoppers were transferred with grain heads into the header box where Walter could easily separate the large "lubber" grasshoppers from the rest. After dissecting some of the large insects, he found that the germ-cells in the testes were very large and easily studied.

He sent a specimen to McClung who agreed they were well suited for cytological studies and he asked Sutton to collect as many as possible. From this beginning, the use of Brachystola magna ("Lubber" grasshopper) for cytological studies spread to laboratories throughout the world. Sutton's mentor, E. B. Wilson of Columbia University, later stated, the "lubber grasshopper" was "one of the finest objects thus far discovered for the investigation of the minutest details of cell-structure...." (Wilson in the Family memorial ).

Sutton received the Bachelor of Arts degree in June 1900 and in September he entered Graduate School with a teaching assistanceship in Zoology. He was McClung's first graduate student and his germ-cell studies resulted in the paper, "The spermatogonial divisions in Brachystola magna." (Sutton, 1900). This paper also served as the thesis for the M. A. degree he received June 1901. Referring to the "lubber" grasshopper, this paper begins, "The material for this paper was collected in the summer of 1898, in Russell County, Kansas,...."

It is in this 1900 paper that Sutton states that during maturation germ-cells retain the individuality of their chromosomes. This differed from much of the thinking of the time, that all chromosomes were equivalent. Sutton noted that an unusual chromosome, first described as a nucleolus but called the "accessory chromosome" by McClung in 1899, was consistently identified by a longitudinal split present at a stage later than that of other chromosomes. At the conclusion of this paper Sutton states: "I would conclude, therefore, that the changes of the nucleus of the secondary spermatagonia are purely metabolic in their nature, and that the individuality of the chromosomes is maintained." The following year (1901) Sutton's mentor, McClung, reported that the accessory chromosome was the sex determinant. This demonstrated that a phenotype (sex determinant) is associated with a particular chromosome (Mayr 1982).

These papers cited by Sutton and McClure are single author papers, but they worked closely together in overlapping areas for at least three years, 1898-1901. McClure recalled that during a location change for the Department of Zoology, "...Walter and I carried the entire material assets of the department in two trays. In these quarters we remained during the rest of his stay at Lawrence and here we shared one small room, which was dignified by the name of "office." Two windows opened into the room and through one light was shed upon problems of Brachystola and through the other upon the conditions in Hippiscus and its kind." (McClure in the Family memorial). It was here that Sutton manufactured (in the engineering shops he left after his first year) his first invention: a paraffin-melting system using an incandescent lamp. It was used by McClung for years after Sutton left the laboratory.

There was much work but Sutton and McClung also played sports and the game they enjoyed was basketball, then being introduced to the University of Kansas by its originator, Dr. Naismith. James Naismith invented basketball in 1891 at the Springfield Y.M.C.A. College as part of its research program in developing new games. The positions were forward, center and back. Naismith was hired for $1300 per year in 1898 as Associate Professor of Physical Training, Chapel Director and basketball coach. The game was immediately popular with the organization of eight teams of students and faculty. The gym was in the basement of Snow Hall but games and practice were often played in a rented skating rink in downtown Lawrence. Naismith selected his first varsity team in 1899 that included Walter Sutton and his brother Will, team captain. They lost their first game to a Kansas City YMCA team 16 to 5. In their first home game they beat the Topeka YMCA team 31 to 6 with about 50 in attendance (Taft 1941).

Graduate Studies at Columbia University

Sutton's move to New York to work on a doctorate in Zoology occurred through the encouragement and help of McClung and Dr. Samuel W. Williston. They both knew Edmund B. Wilson and believed Sutton was ideally suited to study with this well-known cytologist. McClung knew Wilson having spent a semester in graduate studies with him before receiving his MA in 1898 from the University of Kansas. And Williston, a physician, chairman of anatomy and Dean of the two-year medical school that was formed in 1899 at the University of Kansas, knew Wilson from student days at Yale where Williston obtained his MD in 1880.

As Williston later recalled Sutton, "His zeal, intelligence and interest from the beginning made him a marked member of my classes." When Williston found that Sutton was deeply interested in the study of the cell and wanted to continue cellular investigation, he later stated, "there was but one place for him to go, Columbia University, New York, with Professor Wilson." Williston recalled, "I knew not only his great and just fame as a scientific man, but I knew him also as a friend, and felt free to write him in Walter's behalf... I told him that, of all the students I ever had in my classes, there was none who, intellectually and personally, reminded me so forcibly of an old friend of mine, whose name was E. B. Wilson," (Williston, Family memorial).

Sutton received a graduate fellowship in Zoology at Columbia University in the fall of 1901, the first student West of Mississippi to receive this recognition. He brought his cytological preparations and recorded observations into Wilson's laboratory. Wilson wrote: "His work in my laboratory was largely devoted to extending those observations. They led him, step by step, to a discovery of the first rank, namely, the identification of the cytological mechanism of Mendel's law of heredity." (Wilson, Family memorial).

This discovery was revealed in two papers in the Biological Bulletin, one in December of 1902, "On the Morphology of the Chromosome Group in Brachystola Magna," (Sutton, 1902) the other in April, 1903, "The Chromosomes in Heredity" (Sutton, 1903). In the first of these two papers, Sutton methodically carries the reader through the crucial theme that chromosomes retained individuality throughout the life of the organism. He does this by following the size relationships of eleven chromosomes through consecutive cell generations during spermatogenesis where a subgroup of three small chromosomes is consistently separated from eight large chromosomes. Since fertilization unites homologous chromosomes, he anticipates that the same chromosomal size relationship is persistent in oogenesis.

He then reports his observations that the graded sizes of chromosomes in oogonia and in follicle cells correspond perfectly with that of spermatogonia. The accessory chromosome was identifiable in half the spermatozoa, providing additional evidence for the individuality of the chromosomes. Since McClung showed that the accessory chromosome in some way confers sexual identity to the offspring (McClung, 1899) (McClung, 1902), Sutton made a more generalized suggestion that not only is each chromosome consistently distinct by virtue of size but that it may be physiologically unique as well.

This was summarized by Sutton in the following way: "We have already reviewed the reasons for believing the accessory chromosome in the cells of Brachyostola to be the possessor of specific functions and it only remains again to call attention to the likelihood that the constant morphological differences between the ordinary chromosomes are the visible expression of physiological or qualitative differences" (Sutton, 1902).

At the end of this paper, Sutton presents his hypothesis. "I may finally call attention to the probability that the association of paternal and maternal chromosomes in pairs and their subsequent separation during the reducing division as indicated above may constitute the physical basis of the Mendelian law of heredity" (Sutton, 1902). The writing of this paper coincides with a visit to New York by the leading figure of the day in heredity research, William Bateson, who that year published a translation of Mendel's Principles of Heredity (Bateson, 1902).

Bateson was spreading the word on the rediscovery of Mendel's principles and Sutton may have seen for the first time how these principles related to his work. McClung and Sutton corresponded during this period and McClung writes that Bateson's presentations on Mendel had a striking impact on Sutton. "This was all that was needed to fix in his mind the relation between the mechanism of the germ cell and the exhibition of body characters, and led him almost at once to the conception of the theory which appears in his paper"'The chromosomes in heredity'" 1903, the basis for which was laid in his earlier paper, "'On the morphology of the chromosome group on Brachystola magna,'" 1902."

Based on a letter from Sutton, McClung stated that ... "the germ of the conception was in his mind fully a year before it was hastened to development by the recital of Mendel's results." (McClung, Family publication). The originality of Sutton's thinking at this time is all the more impressive when we read Wilson's recollections of this period. "I well remember when, in the early spring of 1902, Sutton first brought his main conclusions to my attention, saying that he believed he had really discovered "'why the yellow dog is yellow.'" I also clearly recall that at that time I did not at once fully comprehend his conception or realize its entire weight." In the summer of 1902, Wilson and Sutton collected and studied marine specimens at Beaufort, N.C. and later at Casco Bay, ME. Wilson states ". ...(it was) in the course of our many discussions, that I first saw the full sweep and the fundamental significance of his discovery." (Wilson, Family memorial).

The experiments of Wilson's graduate students, Sutton and W. A. Cannon (Cannon, 1902), both pointed to the relationship between chromosome behavior and heredity and he wrote a short paper on their findings (Wilson 1902). During that summer, Sutton fully worked out his theory of chromosomes in relation to Mendel's laws and on returning to New York he prepared the more inclusive paper, "The Chromosomes in Heredity" (Sutton 1903). This paper is remarkable in the manner in which Sutton builds his arguments and for his insight into the consequences of chromosomes behavior during meiosis. He provides a table of the possible number of chromosome combinations for different chromosome numbers based on the random selection of a male or female chromosome in the reducing division of meiosis.

The concept of a mixture of parental and maternal chromosomes in the gametes was not in the 1902 paper and was probably based more on the realization of how it explained Mendelism than what he saw under the microscope (Martins, 1999). Also, he favored the presence of multiple hereditary characters on one chromosome in explaining the coupling of characters reported by Bateson and Saunders (1902). He states, "Such results may be due to the association in the same chromosomes of the physical bases of the two characters" (Sutton, 1903). However, he did not anticipate cross-over, the exchange of parts of maternal and paternal chromosomes, because he believed this would result in infertility.

The chromosomal theory of inheritance is known as the Sutton-Boveri theory. Wilson had close ties with Boveri that probably accounted for Wilson's adding Boveri's name when he named the hypothesis. Wilson related that, "Subsequent to the appearance of Sutton's papers, Boveri stated, 1904, that at the time they were published he had himself already reached the same general result." (Wilson, Family memorial). He was a close friend of Boveri, spent time in his laboratory and dedicated his book, "Cell in Development and Inheritance" (Wilson, 1900), to him. In 1897, Miss O'Grady, a student of Wilson's at Columbia University, came to Wurzburg to work with Boveri.

In 1898 they were married, and as a zoologist, she was an important collaborator. It seems Wilson wanted to give lasting credit to Boveri for his years devoted to the study of chromosomes in development, including his demonstrations of the individuality of chromosomes (Baltzer, 1964) but recognize Sutton for presenting the first physical (chromosomal) explanation of Mendel's laws. "Sutton, however, was the first clearly to perceive and make it known; and I desire here to bear witness to the fact, after having followed every step of this work on the subject, that the conception was his own, wholly uninfluenced by the work or the ideas of others excepting insofar as every important discovery has been built upon a foundation laid by earlier investigators;. ..."(Wilson, Family memorial).

Most scientists in the field, particularly cytologists, readily accepted Sutton's hypothesis. Noteworthy was the lack of initial acceptance by two leaders in the field, Bateson and Thomas Hunt Morgan. This is understandable in that the individuality of chromosomes and the manner of chromosome separation during meiosis described by Sutton only provided a working mechanism for Mendel's laws. Other than the sex determinant of the accessory chromosome, proof of characteristics on chromosomes was slow in coming.

Seven years later Morgan accepted the hypothesis when he found that the unusual occurrence of a white-eyed fruit fly was due to a mutation on a sex chromosome (X-chromosome) (Morgan 1910). Bateson's non-acceptance of the chromosome hypothesis of heredity was longer (19 years) but he could not refute Morgan's accumulating evidence and in an address to the AAAS, December 28, 1921 he stated, "The transferable characters borne by the gametes have been successfully referred to the visible details of nuclear configuration." (Bateson, 1922).

The Sutton papers of 1902 and 1903, referred to above, were planned as preliminary presentations with more fully developed conclusions and finished drawings reserved for his Ph.D. thesis. However, Sutton, now 26, left Columbia University to the regret of Wilson and others. The reasons for his leaving are not clear, although Wilson believed if he would have been assured a reasonable living from a life of research he would have stayed (Wilson, Family memorial). It is as likely that he saw oil exploration as a new arena to apply his creativity, a side-trip before returning to medicine.

Contributions to the Field of Oil Exploration

Sutton left Columbia in the fall of 1903 and returned to Kansas to work in the oil fields. He must have arrived in Chautauqua County, Kansas just when the oil boom started in this county. This county on the Oklahoma border in the southeast area of Kansas was named from a bill introduced in the Kansas Legislature in 1875 by Edward Jaquins who was originally from Chautauqua County, NY. According to Henry Helvie (Family memorial), whom Sutton hired December 1, 1903, "he was looking after the interests of The Chautauqua Oil and Gas Company. I went to work for the company under his orders. Although the oil business was all new to him he handled his work in a way that would have done credit to a man who had had years of oil field experience." Helvie relates that Sutton's first radical change to oil field practice was in the perfection of a device to start large gas engines with high-pressure gas. This method was soon in general use in the Mid-continent field wherever high gas pressure was available.

The second change was a patented invention for pulling the bottom cylinder or barrel from the well in order to replace worn cups on the valves. The same power that pumped the well was used to pull the cylinder from the well, saving many hours when compared to the previous method using horses. Basically, the up and down action of the oil pump was made to rotate a wheel on which a cable was wrapped. The cable raised the well cylinder and after new cups were placed in the valves, the cylinder was dropped back down the well.

He was working on methods for using electricity to drill oil wells when he decided to return to medical school. After two years in the oil fields, Sutton phoned Henry Helvie from Peru, Kansas and said, "Well, Henry, I guess I will have to tell you good bye for a while as I am leaving this afternoon for home, and from there I will go to New York to take up my medical studies. I have just received a letter from father telling me to go back and complete my work in school, and as I have always minded father I will not change now." (Helvie, Family memorial). Later, several of Sutton's brothers also worked for oil companies for variable lengths of time.

Medical Degree and Surgery, Columbia University

Sutton returned to New York to complete the last two years of medical school at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University. It was a common procedure for graduate students in the medical sciences to take courses with the medical students. Sutton received first year medical school credit for courses taken for his master's degree at the University of Kansas and second year credit for courses while a graduate student with Wilson at Columbia University.

Classmate and roommate of Sutton, John Vaughn, recalled (Family memorial) how Wilson, in a talk on cytology to the class, noted that much of the recent work on the cell had been done by a new member of the class and then asked if Walter Sutton would please stand up. In this way Sutton was introduced to the second year medical class when he first arrived at Columbia University in 1901.

When Sutton returned to Columbia in 1905 he found that Vaughn had also been absent from New York, having spent two years in the arctic. Finding themselves in similar situations, Sutton and Vaughn decided to room together. Vaughn related, "After a search we took possession of a big old-fashioned back parlor and prepared for a year of hard work." (Vaughn, Family memorial). Sutton often received reprints from cytologists and would compare their work with what he had written in his thesis.

Vaughn encouraged him to publish the thesis but Sutton believed he could not spend time on final preparation of the manuscript but he hoped to return to it at a later time. Vaughn recalled that the room was often filled with drawings of oil machinery. Since the patent for the hoisting apparatus was submitted in 1905 but not approved until 1907, it is likely that a number of drafting changes were required during the interval. Also, there were drawings related to the use of electric motors in drilling oil wells, as this was a major interest when he left the oil fields. During the fourth year of medical school, Sutton substituted at several hospitals and at this time he began designing improvements to medical instruments.

Dr. Walter S. Sutton graduated with "high standing" from the College of Physicians and Surgeons and began an internship at Roosevelt Hospital in June 1907 on the surgical division headed by Dr. Joseph Blake.

In addition to his clinical duties, Sutton found time to carry out investigations in the Surgical Research Laboratory of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. George Brewer, Professor of Surgery, recalled that, "After months of painstaking experimental work he devised an apparatus with which he was able to administer the anesthetic by the colonic method without danger of accident or complication. All of the surgeons on duty at the Roosevelt Hospital adopted the method for mouth operations, operations on the larynx, thyroid and neck." (Brewer, Family memorial). Sutton published two reports on this subject (Sutton, 1910), (Sutton, 1914). ). The method had been tried at Boston City Hospital but abandoned because of frequent complications. Sutton was able to correct the defects in design that made it a successful method of anesthesia.

During this period, he also perfected a system for abdominal irrigation developed by Roosevelt Hospital surgeon, Dr. Joseph Blake, for use in treating peritonitis. Blake thought highly of Sutton and commented on Sutton's year as house surgeon. "His keenness and enthusiasm, coupled with marked intelligence and extreme dexterity, made him advance with great rapidity. It was a great regret to me that he decided to quit New York and practice at his home. I had hoped that he would return to New York and become a valuable member of the surgical department at the University." (Blake, Family memorial). Later, Sutton would see several of the Roosevelt Hospital surgeons in France in 1915, during the early part of WWI.

Surgical Career — University of Kansas School of Medicine and France

Dr. Walter S. Sutton returned to Kansas in 1909 after two years as an intern and house surgeon at Roosevelt Hospital in New York. His total of six years in New York was very productive. The two papers (Sutton, 1902, 1903) written as a graduate student under E. B. Wilson at Columbia University formulated the concept that chromosomes carried the units of heredity and explained Mendel's laws. This hypothesis carried him to the forefront of research biologists. He, and probably no one else at the time, could foresee that the code of these hereditary units, the genes, would be deciphered and the chemical basis of mutations understood.

During his final two years of medical school at the College of Physicians and Surgeons and two years at Roosevelt Hospital, Sutton was recognized for his surgical skills and innovative work on medical instruments. With these successes and the opportunity to remain at the prestigious Roosevelt Hospital, one may wonder why he returned to Kansas. Sutton was a warm, friendly individual with very strong family ties, factors that made it quite natural for him to return to his home state. Also, he believed he could help make the medical school a first class institution.

On returning to Kansas City, Kansas, Sutton lived with his parents at 650 Everett St. His father was Wyandotte County Judge and a partner in a law practice with his son Will. The 1910 census lists the following individuals at the fashionable Everett Street home; William B. Sutton 61, Agnes 60, Walter 33, Everett 20 and Margaret Johnson 30, cook. Initially, Sutton was undecided as to what course to take on arrival in Kansas City and considered work as railroad surgeon. A letter to Mr. Evarts January 20, 1910 shows Sutton changed his mind as he was becoming more established at the medical school. "The work with the Medical School and with Dr. Binnie has grown up gradually so that from a sort of spectator and occasional assistant I have come into a regular position with corresponding responsibilities. ...However, after Dr. Binnie's return from Europe where he was at the time of my last letter to you, I continued my work with him and gradually came to be regarded as a regular assistant. ...About this time I was appointed to a place as Assistant Professor of Surgery in the State University with duties to be assigned later."

Sutton was appointed assistant professor of surgery at the University of Kansas School of Medicine on September 30, 1909. The position was somewhat insecure in that the four-year-old university hospital (Bell Memorial Hospital) had a marginal budget with physicians in private practice staffing the clinics. Sutton started a private practice and shared rooms 810 - 815 in the Rialto building in Kansas City, Missouri with surgeon John G. Hayden. Sutton operated at St. Margaret's Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas as well as the University's Bell Memorial Hospital. The medical school was struggling. Associate Dean Sudler, a surgeon with practices in Lawrence and Kansas City and doctorates in both medicine and philosophy, was a competent, highly respected administrator but had considerable political pressures related to finances and faculty appointments.

Sutton's time at Bell Memorial Hospital was spent in surgery, surgical clinics and teaching medical students and nurses. For the six years prior to going to France, his surgery covered areas that have long since become subspecialties and included neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, Ob-Gyn, oral surgery and plastic surgery. Patient histories and operative notes that have been preserved indicate this variety of procedures. Sutton wrote these records in black ink on 5 X 7 cards. Many have sketches of the surgical incision and the gross pathology.

For example, on 7/13/1911 he did a hysterectomy and the pathology is described along with a sketch of the uterus and the site of a large fibroid tumor. On 11/21/1910 Sutton did a craniotomy and removed a bullet and bone fragments from a patient's cerebellum. Drs. Hayden and Skoog assisted him. On 12/1/1911 he treated a young man accidentally shot with a 12-gauge shotgun. He wired fragments of the jaw together and cleaned and drained the hole in the patient's hand that had been over the barrel opening when the gun fired. The operative note shows Sutton's sketch of the fractured jaw and placement of wires. On 1/10/12 he did an appendectomy on a 21-year-old medical student from Larned, Kansas; assisted by Dr. Finney. On 2/3/1914 he did a mid-thigh amputation on a 19-year-old female for periosteal carcinoma of the tibia. On 1/7/1914 he did a radical mastectomy for carcinoma of the breast; assisted by Dr. Hayden. On 3/12/1914 Sutton grafted bone from the tibia onto a non-union of the radius near wrist that followed a Colle's fracture.

His surgical skills and artistic talents were increasingly used in correcting congenital abnormalities of the limbs and faces of children. Success in these procedures gave him recognition well beyond the state of Kansas and he took on complicated cases without pay if he thought he could help the patient. This attitude is indicated in a 1914 letter Sutton wrote to the mother of a prospective patient living in Fort Smith, Arkansas. "In regard to the hospital, it is a State Institution, and free patients are rarely taken in from outside the State. The lowest rates in the Hospital are Ten ($10.00) Dollars per week, and a small operative fee. .... If circumstances justify it, I should be glad to operate upon your daughter without charge."

Sutton published several papers related to his early clinical work. The paper "Anesthesia by colonic absorption of ether" was based on 140 patients that Sutton himself anesthetized while on the surgical services of Drs. Blake and Brewer at Roosevelt Hospital. The paper was written while he was in New York but it was published in 1910 when he was at the University of Kansas Medical School (Sutton, 1910a). In this paper Sutton notes that the colonic method of anesthesia and the related photographs published by N. B. Carson in the Interstate Medical Journal were done without his "knowledge or consent". Sutton had sent the materials only to help Carson use the method.

Over the next several years Sutton wrote four papers (Sutton, 1910b, 1910c, 1911a, 1911b). He also took many photographs to follow the progress of his surgically treated patients and as a teaching aid in his surgical lectures to medical students. Photography was a lifelong hobby having its beginning when he built a camera as a boy on the family ranch at Russell, Kansas. Skinner reported that in later years, "Walter's photographic propensities led him into all manner of extravagances in special lenses, Graflex cameras, color photography, Cooper-Hewitt illumination, etc." (Skinner, Family memorial).

There is no record of why Sutton became interested in the military several years before the outbreak of World War I. Nevertheless, he received a commission in the Army and responded with a letter June 29, 1911 to Adjutant General Henry P. McCane, War Department, Washington, DC:

" Sir: - I have the honor to accept herewith the commission as First Lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corps recently received thru your office and inclose my oath of office."

After WWI started, Sutton wrote to Dr. Hugh Auchincloss in New York on November 6, 1914 for information about the Military Hospitals sponsored by Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney. During the war, Mrs. Whitney started and maintained American Base hospitals in France that were manned by physicians and nurses from American universities. Mrs. Whitney was Gertrude Vanderbilt, daughter of Cornelius and Alice Vanderbilt. She studied sculpture in New York and Paris. When the Metropolitan Museum of Art turned down her donation of 500 pieces of modern American art, she started her own art museum, the Whitney Museum, which opened in 1931 in New York. Her own sculptures often reflected the WWI soldier.

Therefore, Sutton was familiar with the medical needs in France and had a reserve army commission when surgeons at Columbia University asked that he help them man Hospital B near the front. On Sunday, February 7 1915, Dr. Lyle at Columbia University sent a telegram to Sutton hoping to recruit him, with the plan that Sutton would later take over as officer in charge of the hospital. Sutton promptly wrote Lyle that he would make the boat on the 13th. Sudler secured a leave of absence from the university for Sutton through a letter to Chancellor Strong on Feb. 9, 1915. "Through Dr. George Bewer, Attending Surgeon of Roosevelt Hospital, New York City, Dr. Walter S. Sutton has been invited to accept a position with the American Hospital at Paris. ... Inasmuch as Dr. Sutton has given about three years of his time to the work in the medical school and hospital without vacation, with the exception of a period of twelve days last summer, I would respectfully recommend that he be granted leave of absence, on full pay, for this work..."

The small surgical group met on the deck of the U.S.M.S "Philadelphia" on the morning of February 13 and sailed for France. They arrived in Liverpool, England and after a day there, crossed the English Channel to France. They arrived at College de Juilly February 23. It was now partially converted to a hospital 40 miles from the front and wounded had been received for about three weeks. Wounded French soldiers were first brought to College de Juilly for care during the first Battle of the Marne in September 1914 and several months later, in January of 1915, the French Government gave space in the buildings to Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney for a hospital.

A history of the College de Juilly, just north of Paris, is given in Pottle's book, Stretchers, (Pottle, 1929) and can be summarized as follows. Juilly is believed to have gotten its name from Julius Caesar who may have established a Roman camp in the area. A monastery for monks was built near a fountain at a spring in the city in the twelfth century, followed by a school in the thirteenth century. The monks left in 1637 and Louis the XIII converted the buildings to a seminary ("Academie Royale") for the education of his young nobles. This seminary, College de Juilly, was converted to a hospital three times before WWI, during the war with England in 1790, the Napoleonic battles of 1814 and the Prussian occupation in 1870.

In a letter to his mother April 15, 1915, Sutton indicates he will take Dr. Lyle's place as head of the hospital until the arrival of Dr. Brewer the first of July. "That is pretty long and I don't like it much but there is no one else they want to ask to run the place..." He also states "We are having admissions right along but for some time no great numbers of serious cases. I evacuated 11 from my ward a few days ago but still have 39 left." As surgeon-in-chief at the hospital, Sutton's duties included chief administrative officer in addition to his surgical responsibilities. George E. Brewer stated, "It was, however, during his service in the American Ambulance Hospital at Juilly, France during the spring and summer of 1915 that Dr. Sutton achieved his greatest reputation. This hospital, founded and supported by Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney of New York, was at the time the nearest base hospital to the firing line in France or Belgium. As a result of this, the hospital was kept full of the seriously wounded, and cases requiring the highest degree of surgical judgment and skill." (Brewer, Family memorial). Brewer was one of the surgeons that operated on William Osler's son, Revere, near the front in 1917. Revere did not survive his internal shrapnel injuries.

For generations the fields of France and Belgium were fertilized with manure. This resulted in heavy contamination of the muddy trenches with a variety of bacteria including the anaerobic gas forming "Welch" bacilli. Therefore, nearly all war wounds were heavily contaminated with bacteria. Metal, particularly from shrapnel and shells, carried contaminated clothing into the wounds, causing prolonged suppuration and lack of healing. Removal of foreign material and devitalized tissue from the wounds was essential. Effective methods to localize and remove foreign bodies were needed and many methods were tried with variable success. Sutton modified for general use a method Wullyamoz had used for removing foreign bodies from the brain (Skinner, 1917).

In a letter home, March 18, 1915, Sutton indicates the instruments he designed for removing foreign bodies were being made in Paris. "I have 44 patients now in my exclusive care and it is a pretty good load. Have only been to Paris once and to Compeigne once. The dressings take the greatest time, as nearly all the wounds require dressing for a long time. Operations were quite frequent.... I expect to go to Paris tomorrow to get instruments for localizing bullets, etc. in the deep parts of the body and rather expect it to be my last chance before the big fighting is resumed." Sutton made additional comments on the use of the instruments in a letter to his father March 29, 1915. "Another factor in keeping things going in the operating room is a system I have developed for locating balls, shell fragments, etc. by X-ray so that we can cut down on them with absolute certainty. I have cleared up my ward so that only two cases now harbor foreign bodies and we expect to get those when the patients are in proper shape for another operation."

Sutton would make 15 or 20 foreign body localizations then go to the operating room and remove the foreign bodies located at the end of the piano wire. By this time the fluoroscope was cool enough to explore for foreign bodies in another group of patients.

A New York Times article (New York Times October 14, 1915.) reported on a New York Surgical Society meeting, where Dr. Walton Martin and Dr. H. M. Lyle talked about Sutton's method for localizing metal foreign bodies in war wounds. Dr. Lyle demonstrated it before the society and in a note to Sutton on November 11, 1915 he encouraged Sutton to publish the method. Sutton replied that he planned to include the method in Binnie's new edition of "Operative Surgery". When Sutton returned to Kansas City, he re-established his friendship with Binnie and the article, "War Surgery" (Sutton, 1916), appeared in the appendix of J. F. Binnie's Manual of Operative Surgery. The procedure was also included in an article by Martin in the Annals of Surgery (1916), the American Journal of Roentgenology in July 1917 (Skinner, 1917), and Military Surgeon (1917). On June 17, 1917, a Committee of Military Roentgenologists selected "The Sutton Localizing Method" and two other methods as the techniques all military roentgenologists must learn in Government schools used to train radiologists for military duty. After Sutton's death, his father sent the localizing instruments to the U.S. Government as a pattern for their manufacture. (Binnie, Family memorial).

Sutton sailed from France June 26, 1915 and was back at the University by July 16. He had taken many photographs during his stay and used lanternslides of landscapes, war scenes, patients and hospital settings to accompany about 50 presentations in the Kansas City area, often for charitable causes.

Sutton resumed his teaching and surgical activities and joined the surgical staff at the new Christian Church Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, where colleague John Binnie was chief of staff. He was active in local and national medical organizations that included the American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, Western Surgical Society, Kansas State Medical Society, Jackson County Medical Society and Medical Association of the Southwest. One of his last presentations was to the Tri-state Medical Society, October 1916. This address titled "Spondylolisthesis" was published in the Osteopathic Physician. In a footnote to the article, the editor notes he was a boyhood friend of Sutton in the late 1880's on the Kansas plains. R. J. Bunting may have been this editor because the article was sent to Sutton's mother with a note at the top, "Dear Mrs. Sutton, to show that our "Walter" is still with us. With love from R. J. Bunting". He also states that the presentation was published in the Chicago Medical Recorder about the time Sutton died, in November.

The clarity of Sutton's writing in papers and in his "War Surgery" article in Binnie's Manual of Operative Surgery did not go unnoticed. In a letter of May 16, 1916, C.V. Mosby, President of Mosby, the medical publisher, asked Sutton to write and illustrate a book of general surgery. He knew that with Sutton's writing ability and drawing skills a very successful book was likely. He encouraged Sutton to get in touch with "our mutual friend, Dr. [Richard] Sutton and get his opinion of the service that we are able to render". Mosby at the time was completing Richard L. Sutton's (no relation to Walter Sutton) book on dermatology. Richard Sutton taught dermatology at the medical school. On September 26, 1916, Mosby wrote Sutton that he was making plans to come to Kansas City so that they could discuss the book of general surgery. A meeting in the middle of October was agreed upon and a contract was signed shortly thereafter.

Sutton had moved back into his parents home after returning from France and shortly after his return family members noted that he appeared increasingly tired. At least by February 1916 Sutton knew he was not well and was considering the need for surgery. This is indicated in a letter Sutton received from a patient, Florence Maddox, Feb. 6, 1916.

"Dear Dr. Sutton,

In a letter we received from Mrs. Darnall the other day she said you were not feeling at all well and that you might have to have an operation. We are both sorry to hear this and hope that you will soon be feeling allright again, and above all, we hope that you will not have to go on the operating table for we both know what a lot of suffering it means. ..."

On Monday evening, November 6, Sutton went to bed early but was called to the hospital during the night for an emergency case and returned at 4 AM. He left again at 6AM and performed two operations at the University Hospital (Bell Memorial Hospital) and another at the Christian Hospital. Later, in a letter to the Dean of the Medical School, C. Arden Miller, Dr. Don Carlos Guffey wrote, "I saw Walter that morning at Bell Hospital. He said he had a terrific pain in his abdomen. I tried to persuade him to go to bed and let me call Dr. Sudler. He said he was going to Christian Hospital and would see someone there."

He reached his office at noon, exhausted and ill. He had acute appendicitis. Surgery was performed at 3:30 PM, Tuesday November 7 at the Christian Hospital, Kansas City, MO. On November 9, 1916, Mosby wrote Sutton, "I have just learned through our mutual friend, Dr. Richard L. [Sutton], that you were suddenly stricken with appendicitis and have been operated on. .... my sympathy goes out to you and I sincerely hope that everything is going well and that you will pull through this ordeal in fine shape. I shall think of you constantly and shall hope daily that all is well." Sutton improved briefly after surgery, then his condition deteriorated and he died at 9:30 PM on Friday, November 10, 1916, three days after the operation.

The funeral service was held in the First Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Kansas, at 3PM on Sunday November 12. The service was described in a Kansas City Times article on November 13, 1916 and stated the 800 seats in the church were filled long before the service began. Three local ministers conducted the service. Presentations were given by Olin Templin, University of Kansas Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Samuel Williston, a mentor of Sutton at the University of Kansas; S. J. Crumbine, Dean of the University of Kansas School of Medicine and F. W. Perry, President of the Christian Church Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

A newspaper article stated burial would be at the Highland Park Cemetery, however, there is no record of burial in this cemetery. Sutton's body may have been moved to a temporary site before being placed in its final location in the Sutton family division of a mausoleum that was built in 1917 at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas.

Because of Sutton's early death, at age 39, his parents, and most of his contemporaries and mentors were alive when he died. The outstanding esteem and affection held for Walter Sutton prompted the family to publish a 156-page memorial to him in 1917, "Walter Stanborough Sutton, April 5, 1877 - November 10, 1916". This volume includes contributions from a wide range of friends and colleagues. From this memorial one gathers, even now, the warm, cheerful personality and accomplishments of this creative scientist-surgeon. His greatest scientific contribution was his relating the chromosomes with heredity and Mendel's laws. However, his surgical inventiveness, treatment of soldiers during the WWI years and teaching surgery at the University of Kansas were all noteworthy accomplishments.

Sutton's nephew (son of Everett and Lena Sutton), also named Walter S. Sutton and a graduate of the School of Business at the University of Kansas, established the Walter S. Sutton Award at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 1964. " honor to be conferred annually in recognition of outstanding research or scholarly study by a student in the School of Medicine of the University of Kansas. Preference in making the award is to be given to students working in the field of genetics."


Baltzer F. 1964. Theodor Boveri. Science 144:809-815.

Bateson W. 1902. Mendel's Principles of Heredity. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Bateson W. 1922. Evolutionary faith and modern doubts. Science 55:55-61.

Bateson W and Saunders. 1902. Experimental studies in the physiology of heredity. Reports to the Evolution Committee, I., London.

Cannon WA. 1902. A cytological basis for the Mendelian Laws. Bull. Torrey Botanical Club. 29.

Family memorial, Walter Stanborough Sutton. April 5, 1877 – November 10, 1916. Published by His Family, 1917. (This is a collection of recollections written by Walter Sutton's family, friends, mentors and medical colleagues. It provides a clear picture of this scientist-surgeon who impressed all who knew him with his wit, judgment, inventiveness and scientific insight.)

Hunter SJ and Sutton WS. 1899 . Technique in the study of Coccidae. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 17:3, (read by Title).

Hunter SJ and Sutton WS. 1899 . Melanoplus differentialis and M. bivittatus1 in Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 17:3, (read by Title).

Hunter SJ and Sutton WS. 1899 . The orthopteran genus Melanoplus in Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 17:3, (read by Title).

Martins LA-CP. 1999. Did Sutton and Boveri propose the so-called Sutton-Boveri chromosome hypothesis? Genet. Mol. Biol. 22:1-18.

Mayr E. 1982. The growth of biological thought, Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge MA.

McClung CE. 1899. A peculiar nuclear element in the male reproductive cells of insects. Zool. Bull. 2.187-197.

McClung CE. 1902. The accessory chromosome — sex determinant. Biol. Bull. 3:43-84.

McKusick VA. 1960. Walter S. Sutton and the physical basis of Mendelism. Bull. Hist. Med. 34:487-497.

Morgan TH. 1910. Sex limited inheritance in Drosophila. Science 32:120-122.

Peters JA: editor. 1959. Classic Papers in Genetics. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Pixton, Beth Sutton. 1998. Geneology of descendents of William B. Sutton.

Pottle FA. 1929. Stretchers . (www.

Skinner EH. 1917. The Sutton method of foreign body localization. Am. J. Roentgenology 4:350-355.

Sutton WS. 1900. The spermatagonial divisions in Brachystola magna. Kansas Univ. Quart. 9:135-160.

Sutton WS. 1902. On the morphology of the chromosome group in Brachystola magna. Biol. Bull. 4:24-39.

Sutton WS. 1903. The chromosomes in heredity. Biol. Bull 4:231-251.

Sutton WS. 1910a. Anesthesia by colonic absorption of ether. Ann. Surg. 51:457-479.

Sutton WS. 1910b. The proposed fistulo-enterostomy of Von Stubenrauch. Ann. Surg. 52:380-383.

Sutton WS. 1910c. A new incision for epithelioma of the upper and lower lips of the same side. JAMA 55:647-648.

Sutton WS. 1911a. A handy pocket case for blood pipettes and solutions. JAMA 56:737-738.

Sutton WS. 1911b. A speedometer for proctoclysis apparatus. Surg. Gynec., and Obst. 12:166-167.

Sutton WS. 1914. Anesthesia by colonic absorption of ether. J. T. Gwathmey's Anesthesia. Macmillan, New York, NY.

Sutton WS. 1916. War Surgery. In J. F. Binnie's Manual of Operative Surgery. 7th ed., 1285-1316, Blakiston, Philadelphia, PA.

Taft R. 1941. Across the Years on Mount Oread. 1866 – 1944, Univ. of Kansas Press.

Wenrich DH. 1946. Clarence Erwin McClung 1870 – 1946. Science 103:551-552.

Wilson EB. 1900. The Cell in Development and Inheritance, The Macmillan Co. New York.

Wilson EB. 1902. Mendel's principles of heredity and the maturation of the germ-cells. Science 16:991-993.

Wilson HP. 1901. A Biographical History of Eminent Men of the State of Kansas, , The Hall Lithographic Co., Topeka, Kansas

ESP Quick Facts

ESP Origins

In the early 1990's, Robert Robbins was a faculty member at Johns Hopkins, where he directed the informatics core of GDB — the human gene-mapping database of the international human genome project. To share papers with colleagues around the world, he set up a small paper-sharing section on his personal web page. This small project evolved into The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project.

ESP Support

In 1995, Robbins became the VP/IT of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA. Soon after arriving in Seattle, Robbins secured funding, through the ELSI component of the US Human Genome Project, to create the original ESP.ORG web site, with the formal goal of providing free, world-wide access to the literature of classical genetics.

ESP Rationale

Although the methods of molecular biology can seem almost magical to the uninitiated, the original techniques of classical genetics are readily appreciated by one and all: cross individuals that differ in some inherited trait, collect all of the progeny, score their attributes, and propose mechanisms to explain the patterns of inheritance observed.

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In reading the early works of classical genetics, one is drawn, almost inexorably, into ever more complex models, until molecular explanations begin to seem both necessary and natural. At that point, the tools for understanding genome research are at hand. Assisting readers reach this point was the original goal of The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project.

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Usage of the site grew rapidly and has remained high. Faculty began to use the site for their assigned readings. Other on-line publishers, ranging from The New York Times to Nature referenced ESP materials in their own publications. Nobel laureates (e.g., Joshua Lederberg) regularly used the site and even wrote to suggest changes and improvements.

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When the site began, no journals were making their early content available in digital format. As a result, ESP was obliged to digitize classic literature before it could be made available. For many important papers — such as Mendel's original paper or the first genetic map — ESP had to produce entirely new typeset versions of the works, if they were to be available in a high-quality format.

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Early support from the DOE component of the Human Genome Project was critically important for getting the ESP project on a firm foundation. Since that funding ended (nearly 20 years ago), the project has been operated as a purely volunteer effort. Anyone wishing to assist in these efforts should send an email to Robbins.

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With the development of methods for adding typeset side notes to PDF files, the ESP project now plans to add annotated versions of some classical papers to its holdings. We also plan to add new reference and pedagogical material. We have already started providing regularly updated, comprehensive bibliographies to the ESP.ORG site.


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In the small "Fly Room" at Columbia University, T.H. Morgan and his students, A.H. Sturtevant, C.B. Bridges, and H.J. Muller, carried out the work that laid the foundations of modern, chromosomal genetics. The excitement of those times, when the whole field of genetics was being created, is captured in this book, written in 1965 by one of those present at the beginning. R. Robbins

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