William P. Van Wagenen (1897–1961): pupil, mentor, and neurosurgical pioneer

Historical vignette

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William Perrine (“Van”) Van Wagenen (1897–1961) was the first Chief of Neurosurgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), serving from 1928 to 1954, and was a leading figure in 20th-century neurosurgery. He was a devoted pupil of Dr. Harvey Cushing and helped to found the Harvey Cushing Society (now the AANS) in honor of his mentor and was elected as its first President in 1932. He served as the 27th President of the Society of Neurological Surgeons in 1952. Upon his death in 1961 he bequeathed an endowment for the Van Wagenen Fellowship, which has advanced the education of many leaders in American neurosurgery. His legacy of operative skill, his commitment to resident education and research in neurological disease, his inspiration for the foundation of the Cushing Brain Tumor registry, and his contributions to organized neurosurgery form the foundation of the legacy of neurosurgery at URMC.

Abbreviation used in this paper:URMC = University of Rochester Medical Center.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Kristopher T. Kimmell, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, University of Rochester Medical Center, 601 Elmwood Avenue, Box 670, Rochester, New York 14642. email: kristopher_kimmell@urmc.rochester.edu.

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online May 10, 2013; DOI: 10.3171/2013.4.JNS121520.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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    Photograph of young Van Wagenen in 1918 from the Cornell University yearbook. Image courtesy of the Van Wagenen family.

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    Photograph of Van Wagenen in the Spielmeyer laboratory. Dr. Van Wagenen is seated in the center. Image courtesy of the Van Wagenen family.

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    Detail from Van Wagenen's blueprints for a neurological institute at the University of Rochester. Image courtesy of the Van Wagenen family.

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    The first meeting of the Harvey Cushing Society in May of 1932. Dr. Van Wagenen is standing, fifth from the right. Image courtesy of the Archives of the AANS.

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    Van Wagenen's letter to Cushing regarding the brain tumor registry in November of 1931. Image courtesy of the Archives of the AANS.

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    Copy of Van Wagenen's will detailing the Van Wagenen Fellowship. Image courtesy of the Van Wagenen family.


  • 1

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  • 2

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  • 3

    Van Wagenen WP: The Röntgenological localization of spinal subarachnoid block by the use of air in the subarachnoid space. Ann Surg 99:9399431934

  • 4

    Van Wagenen WP: A surgical approach for the removal of certain pineal tumors; report of a case. Surg Gynecol Obstet 53:2162201931

  • 5

    Van Wagenen WPHerren RY: Surgical division of the commissural pathways in the corpus callosum: relation to spread of an epileptic attack. Arch Neurol Psychiatry 44:7407591940




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