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  • About RSNA
  • Part 5 Surviving the Great Depression

  • As the Great Depression of the 1930s continued, attendance at the RSNA annual meetings declined. Donald S. Childs, MD, the Society's secretary-treasurer, and other RSNA leaders decided to make the meeting more attractive to RSNA members. Consequently, they established a major annual lecture at the 1934 meeting in Memphis. This lecture was to recognize significant service to radiology and was to be given at a Plenary Session that would not conflict with the Scientific Sessions. They named it after Russell D. Carman, MD, the beloved 1923 RSNA president who had led the Society through the legal battles to regain control of Radiology from the separately established Radiological Publishing Company. The first Carman Lecture was given by Byrl R. Kirklin, MD, Dr Carman's successor at the Mayo Clinic.

    Walk on the Boardwalk 

    By 1937, the Society had weathered nearly 8 years of economic hard times. However, RSNA President John D. Camp, MD, and other Society leaders realized that the RSNA would not exist much longer without tighter fiscal management. Specifically, they believed money could not be spent on programs and projects that duplicated efforts being carried out by the other two major organizations in the field—the American Roentgen Ray Society (ARRS) and the American College of Radiology (ACR). Leaders of the ARRS and the ACR also were facing severe financial difficulties. Thus, a meeting of an intersociety committee was arranged to better define the mission of each organization.

    Committee members Edward Chamberlain, MD, Arthur C. Christie, MD, Lowell S. Goin, MD, Eugene P. Pendergrass, MD, and Edward H. Skinner, MD, met in Atlantic City and agreed on the role each organization would play for the next 50 years. The ARRS, the respected, most senior organization in the field, was to concentrate its projects on the promotion of clinical research. In addition, representatives from the ARRS and the RSNA, as well as the smaller American Radium Society, were to be members of an enlarged ACR Board of Chancellors. Membership in the ACR was to expand beyond its previously established limit of 100, and that organization was to take over the socioeconomic and political functions concerning radiology. (Its first objective was to address the perceived economic exploitation of radiologists by hospital managers.) Finally, the RSNA was to continue to hold a major educational meeting for 1 week each year and promote continuing education from its Syracuse headquarters—an office still staffed solely by [then] Executive Director Marguerite Henry—during the rest of the year.

    As a result of this intersociety meeting, the RSNA was officially recognized as [i]the[/i] organization for continuing medical education in the field. In retrospect, the agreement among the three organizations enabled the RSNA, ARRS, and the ACR to carry out projects cost effectively, which was critical to survival during the Depression. Years later, this important meeting was referred to as the "Walk on the Boardwalk," suggesting that committee members decided the fates of the radiologic organizations as they sauntered along Atlantic City's famous landmark. More likely, they probably made the major decisions inside the city's hotel meeting rooms.

    Saving the Memorial Fund 

    In 1938, Dr Childs turned his attention to the Memorial Fund, which had been established a decade earlier to support research in radiology. The closing of many banks during the Depression threatened its existence, and many RSNA members could not spare a contribution to the Fund. Consequently, Dr Childs had the Fund transferred to his name. Records show he received $1,228.18. He kept that amount separate from his personal accounts and hoped for better economic times ahead.

    Also in 1938, another change was made to the annual meeting. RSNA leaders led by President Howard P. Doub, MD, believed continuing medical education should not just relate to what was new in the field but also comprise reviews of established information, especially for younger radiologists. These "refresher" courses were first offered at the annual meeting that year in Pittsburgh's Hotel William Penn. Dr Doub later commented that "the opportunity to conduct these [refresher] courses was cherished by men of the highest qualifications" (1). Included in the program of refresher courses was a "film-reading session" scheduled during the afternoon of the first day of the annual meeting. This soon became the most popular session of the meeting.

    One of the few additional projects the RSNA was able to carry out in the 1930s involved development of radiologic techniques based on a standard x-ray unit of measurement. By the late 1920s, the "r" unit was adopted as a standard measurement by radiologists worldwide and by the U.S. Bureau of Standards, thanks, in part, to the perseverance and efforts of Western Roentgen Society cofounder Edwin C. Ernst, MD. During the 1930s, RSNA members serving on the Society's Standardization Committee evaluated methods of employing the r unit in various medical situations. In 1935, Lauriston Taylor, DSc, gave a report to the Society listing requirements for certification of laboratories and x-ray physicists because of this work.

    Signs of Impending War 

    By 1939, the financial health of the RSNA had improved. Under the presidency of Raymond G. Taylor, MD, membership had reached 1,250. The annual meeting, held at the Biltmore Hotel in Atlanta, GA, was a success. Yet, as the United States began to emerge from the depths of the Depression, other troubles were developing across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. On September 1, 1939, German troops invaded Poland, precipitating another European conflict, while Japanese aggression was creating turmoil in Asia. Throughout 1940 and most of 1941, the United States tried to stay out of the conflicts. At the same time, RSNA President Bernard H. Nichols, MD, and his successor, Walter W. Wasson, MD, managed the RSNA with a "business-as-usual" attitude. For example, in 1940, Edith Quimby, MD, and George Lawrence, MD, published Technical Bulletin No. 1 of the RSNA Standardization Committee, which discussed all aspects of the measurement of radiation dosage. The 1940 annual meeting was held at the Hotel Statler in Cleveland, OH, and the 1941 meeting convened at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, CA.


    1. Doub HP. Radiological Society of North America: Fifty years of progress. Radiology 1964; 83:771B784.
    Howard P. Doub, MD
    Raymond G. Taylor, MD