Wyatt Galt Johnston

Dr. W Johnston portrait

1863 - 1902
Wyatt Galt Johnston received his medical degree from McGill in 1884. As an undergraduate, his interest in pathology brought him in contact with Osler and following his graduation, he was appointed Demonstrator in Pathology at McGill under the soon-to-be famous man. He succeeded Osler as Pathologist at the Montreal General Hospital after the latter left for Philadelphia and was named Lecturer in Medical Pathology by Adami in 1894.
He specialized in bacteriology and forensic pathology, becoming an Assistant Professor of Public Health 1897 and Professor of Hygiene in 1902, and working for many years as a medico-legal expert for the Coroner’s Court in Montreal. He was a prolific writer, publishing over 60 scientific articles in his relatively short academic life. 

Johnston had an important influence on the development of the McGill Medical Museum. In addition to providing many specimens for teaching, he suggested a system for their classification which Abbott developed. This was based on decimal enumeration similar to that used by the Dewey Decimal System of library classification. According to the system adopted by Abbott, each museum specimen was given at least two numerical designations from 0 to 9, with the former appearing before a decimal point and representing anatomical site, and the latter after the decimal point and representing pathologic process; refinements related to more specific organs or pathological processes could be included as additional numbers.

Museum log book entry showing an Osler specimen classified according to the system suggested by Johnston.
For example, a heart showing a myocardial infarct (“heart attack”) would have been given the numerical descriptor “12.26”, with “1” representing the circulatory system, the first “2” the myocardium, the second “2” circulatory disturbances, and “6” infarction. The system could be expanded at will simply by adding numbers (e.g., 12.261 for “remote” myocardial infarct). The number of a specific specimen was indicated by a digit in superscript at the end of the numbers. With this system, specimens could easily and reliably be selected from and returned to storage shelves in the museum for teaching purposes.

The idea of an association of medical museums also originated with Johnston, who suggested to Abbott in 1898 that she and the Curator of the Army Medical Museum in Washington (Major James Carroll) should organize “a society of curators”. The first official meeting of the International Association of Medical Museums (known today as the International Academy of Pathology) was held on May 6, 2007 in Washington, DC. Abbott became the Secretary-Treasurer, a position she held until her death in 1940.

Plaque dedicated to Dr. Johnston. Montreal General Hospital


Remarks by the Chairman of a Committee appointed by the President of the American Public Health Association, during the Sixtieth Annual Meeting at Montreal, September 14 [.pdf]


Abbott ME. On the classification of museum specimens with an exposition of a decimal classification of museum specimens applied in the Pathological Museum of McGill University, after a plan suggested by the late Professor Wyatt Johnston [microform]. Philadelphia. 1903.

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