Robinson, G. Canby (1878-1960)

 Digital Record
Identifier: 687
Robinson, G. Canby (1878-1960)


  • 1920 - 1960

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Historical or Biographical Note

George Canby Robinson was born on November 4, 1878, in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents were devout Quakers, and he was educated in Quaker schools. The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was two years old when Canby was born, and they grew up together. Canby chose an educational path that led through its college and into the Johns Hopkins Medical School when it was in its youthful vigor. At the end of the path, young Doctor Robinson found himself graduating in the middle of the class of 50, just one position beneath the lowest graduate who was allowed to remain at Hopkins.

Dr. Robinson then took the internship exams at several New York City hospitals and failed to rank higher than "first alternate." But, being of Quaker stock, he was looked upon more kindly in Philadelphia, where he obtained an internship at the Pennsylvania Hospital. It would be the last time he would have to search for a job.

In 1920 Chancellor James Kirkland offered Dr. Robinson the position of dean of the Vanderbilt Medical School and chairman of the Department of Medicine. At that time, the Vanderbilt Medical School faculty consisted entirely of private physicians from Nashville, some of whom maintained their faculty status primarily for its prestige value. Chancellor Kirkland, with much assistance from Abraham Flexner, was trying to establish the first full-time academic faculty in the medical schools 45-year history. George Canby Robinson was the man chosen to initiate that plan. He accepted immediately. Dr. Robinson spent most of his first year as dean living in Baltimore, where he conferred with the architects for the new medical school and occasionally visited Nashville to discuss matters with Chancellor Kirkland.

It was during this time that Dr. Robinson decided that rather than improving and enlarging the medical school buildings on the South Campus, an entirely new medical school should be built on the West Campus with the rest of the University. This idea was not well received, partly because it would cost almost twice as much as the General Education Board had made available to Vanderbilt after the Flexner Report. It is amazing that in 1920 an additional $3 million could be raised following the earlier $4 million that was of itself the largest single grant to a medical school at that time. The money was raised, and the new medical school was off to a fabulous start.

It would take four years to complete the new medical school, and Dean Robinson made good use of that time. He spent 1921 as temporary head of the Johns Hopkins Department of Medicine, 1922 was spent touring Europe, examining the German and English medical schools, purchasing books and journals for the Vanderbilt medical library. In the fourth year of his deanship, he moved his family to Nashville to oversee the construction of Vanderbilt's new medical school and hospital and to begin the process of selecting the men to fill full-time faculty positions. Five of the men selected in 1923 were also given an opportunity to travel to the great European universities during 1924 in order to study the methods of these schools.

Understandably, the old faculty resented the importation of new department heads, and many angry meetings were held protesting their new subordinate position. It is a tribute to Dr. Robinsons administrative acumen that he was able to satisfy these distinguished physicians while assembling an outstanding faculty.

The magnificent new Vanderbilt Hospital and Medical School opened its doors on September 15, 1925. Dean Robinson proved himself to be an able administrator. Though the school seemed to be perpetually operating in the red, Dean Robinson seemed to always be able to find some philanthropic group to donate necessary funds.

A mere three years after the opening of the new hospital and school, Dean Robinson left Nashville for Manhattan, having accepted the position of Director of the new Cornell Medical School. Canby Robinson considered himself the father, not the nursemaid, of the fledgling Vanderbilt Medical School.

Dr. Robinson served in many distinguished capacities after he left Vanderbilt. He retired in 1955 to begin his autobiography, and he died in 1960.

Language of Materials



Biographical file includes photographs, newspaper stories, professional articles, and correspondence.

Repository Details

Part of the VUMC Historical Images and Biographies Repository

Eskind Biomedical Library
2209 Garland Ave.
Nashville TN 37232


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