Formative Years / The Geography of Immunology

 Looking Back at AAI and its Earliest Honorary Members

by John S. Emrich and Charles Richter
April 2017, pages 70–71

In 1916, The American Association of Immunologists (AAI) welcomed its first honorary members from the Washington, DC, area, initiating a relationship between AAI and the federal biomedical research laboratories of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Public Health Service (PHS), that has endured for over a century.

The seeds of this relationship were planted one year earlier at the second annual meeting of AAI in 1915, held at the Willard Hotel, in the nation’s capital. Founding member and AAI Council President A. Parker Hitchens (AAI 1913) proposed to the council a resolution extending “active membership, without the payment of dues” to the directors and assistant directors of the laboratories at the Army Medical School, the Naval Medical School, and the Hygienic Laboratory of the PHS. Hitchens himself had served in a variety of capacities in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and understood the importance of the governmental funding of medical research. By offering these memberships to scientists in these laboratories, AAI could forge important connections and reinforce the importance of a professional society for the growing field. In the context of World War I (1914–1918), this overture to military medical science was also a statement of patriotism and readiness to cooperate for the nation’s good. Hitchens’ resolution was unanimously approved.

This declaration made clear that these special memberships were to be associated with director-level positions—not administrators—from these laboratories, suggesting that it was meant to attract working scientists into AAI. During the election of new members at the 1916 annual meeting, no names were read for these new members; only when the election was confirmed by the council did their names finally appear in the official record.

With the association only three years old in 1916, membership categories were still a bit fluid; no formalized membership criteria or categories existed. Just one year later, however, when the first AAI Constitution and Bylaws were enacted, honorary memberships were eliminated. Any honorary memberships prior to the new bylaws were converted to active ones; the idea of non-dues memberships was quietly abandoned. Because of this, the only people to enjoy this benefit were Edward B. Vedder and Eugene R. Whitmore at the Army Medical School, Edward R. Stitt and Charles S. Butler at the Naval Medical School, and George W. McCoy and Arthur M. Stimson at the Hygienic Laboratory.

Of these former honorary members, McCoy had the most significant involvement with AAI. Just two years after becoming a member, he was elected to the AAI Council and became the ninth AAI president in 1922. During his time as director of the Hygienic Laboratory, the scope of research there grew to encompass basic science, in addition to applied research. In his tenure with the federal government, McCoy presided over the Hygienic Laboratory becoming the National Institute of Health and remained its director until 1937. In that same year, AAI declared McCoy a special honorary member. The dues ledger for McCoy indicates that he was never charged a membership fee throughout his lifelong affiliation with AAI.

The other laboratory directors who had received honorary membership (before the 1917 bylaws) continued their research, even after leaving the posts that had provided them AAI membership. In addition to being the only honorary member to publish his work in The Journal of Immunology, Vedder remained in the Army in various research positions. His efforts gained wider recognition by demonstrating that beriberi was a deficiency disease, and in 1936 he first synthesized thiamine for its treatment. After retiring from the Army in 1920, Whitmore taught at George Washington and Georgetown universities. Stitt remained in the Navy, authored two foundational textbooks on bacteriology and tropical disease, served as President Woodrow Wilsons’s attending physician after his stroke in 1919, and was promoted to surgeon general of the Navy in 1921. Butler spent his career in the Navy, retiring in 1939. Stimson spent his entire career in the PHS (1902–1941), serving as the chief of the Division of Scientific Research from 1922–1930.

The three institutions that employed these scientists no longer exist as they had in 1915. The growth of government and military research had necessitated their expansion and relocation to the Maryland suburbs surrounding Washington, DC. After the Hygienic Laboratory became the National Institute of Health under McCoy, the institute relocated to its current Bethesda campus in 1938 and gradually expanded into the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of today. The Army Medical School underwent a few name changes before settling on its identity as the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and moved its headquarters to its current location in Silver Spring. The Naval Medical School, once located at the Old Naval Observatory in Washington, DC, moved to the new National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda in 1942. As part of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, on May 13, 2005, the Naval Medical Center became part of the larger Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, across the street from NIH.

The scientists employed at these government research institutions have been an active and vital part of AAI since the first honorary memberships were bestowed on its early directors. Today, AAI has the honor of counting more than 220 members from their laboratories. The foresight that Hitchens displayed more than a century earlier laid the groundwork for a long and productive relationship, which has had a profound impact on the study and understanding of immunology.



  • Barry, Jeannette. Notable Contributions to Medical Research by Public Health Scientists: A Biobibliography to 1940. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1960.
  • Emrich, John and Charles Richter. “The JI in a World at War.” AAI Newsletter. October, 2016, 38–43.
  • Williams, Robert R. “Edward Bright Vedder: A Biographical Sketch.” The Journal of Nutrition 77, no. 1 (1962): 3–6.
  • In Memoriam: Eugene Randolph Whitmore, 1874–1957." American Journal of Clinical Pathology 29, no. 3 (1958): 269.
  • Obituary: Charles St. John Butler (1875–1944).” American Journal of Clinical Pathology 14, no. 12 (1944): 620.
  • “Stitt.” TIME. December 8, 1924.
  • Minutes of Annual Council Meeting of the American Association of Immunologists. June 10, 1916. AAI Archive, Rockville, MD.
  • Minutes of Annual Council Meeting of the American Association of Immunologists. March 31, 1917. AAI Archive, Rockville, MD.
  • Minutes of Second Annual Meeting of the American Association of Immunologists. May 10, 1915. AAI Archive, Rockville, MD.
  • Minutes of Third Annual Meeting of the American Association of Immunologists. May 11–12, 1916. AAI Archive, Rockville, MD.

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