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Dr. John Cronyn

Dr. John Cronyn, M.D., was a native of County Cork, Ireland. He was born in 1827, and he emigrated to Canada in 1837 with his mother, his father having died. There he received his medical education. He could not immediately receive his degree, however, as he refused to take the test oaths designed to exclude Catholics from the professions. He applied, instead, to the provincial licensing board for his medical license. (Several years later, when the discriminatory laws were rescinded, he was awarded his medical degree, with honors.) He established a medical practice in Fort Erie, which was quite successful. He also served as superintendent of schools there, and served one elected term as reeve (the chief executive officer of the county).

In 1859 Dr. Cronyn removed to Buffalo, where he set up and maintained a large medical practice until his death on February 11, 1898. He was closely associated with Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo, initially as a surgeon, and later as the chief physician. He was for the marine surgeon of the Port of Buffalo for eight years, and was president of both the Buffalo City and the Erie County Medical Societies and of the New York State Medical Association, and an honorary member of the Ontario Medical Association. Dr. Cronyn was a member of the Board of Managers of the Buffalo State Hospital, serving several years as its president.

He was a key figure in the establishment of the medical department at Niagara University in 1883. He was a professor there, and was president of faculty. The university awarded him a Doctorate of Philosophy in 1888, and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1893.

His biography was published in the fourth volume of History of Medicine in New York: Three Centuries of Medical Progress:

John Cronyn, M.D., Ph.D., LL.D. — One of the foremost physicians of Western New York, Dr. Cronyn, until his death, held high and honorable position in Buffalo, that city being the scene of his American practice. He was born in Ireland, not far from the city of Cork, in 1827, the youngest son of David and Mary (Carney) Cronyn, and died in Buffalo, New York, February 11, 1898.

He learned to read, and received his first lessons in Latin from his father, who also taught him Irish. After his father’s death, he was sent to school at the North Monastery, Cork. In 1837 he came with his mother to America and lived for several years in Thornhill, near Toronto. In 1845 he began his medical studies in Kings’ College, later the medical department of the University of Toronto, being at the same time employed as apothecary in the Toronto Insane Asylum, where he spent in that capacity more than five years. In hours spared from his duties and the study of medicine he continued his course in the Classics and English Literature at Knox College, under private tutorship. During the terrible epidemic of typhus, or “Emigrant Fever” as it was called, of 1847, Mr. Cronyn did notable service in the tents and hospital, where he was one of the clinical clerks, and one of the very few among physicians and students who escaped the plague. In 1850 he passed his examinations with high honors, and won several prizes, but was debarred from his degree on account of the Test Oath, which required candidates to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles. Being a Catholic, this, he of course refused to take, but went before the Provincial Licensing Board and was admitted to practice. When a few years later the colony acquired control of its own educational establishments, one of the first acts of the Canadian Parliament was to remove all sectarian restrictions. Mr. Cronyn immediately went up for his degrees, writing for the M.D. a thesis which won the Chancellor’s prize, a special distinction as, though founded years before, that prize was then for the first time given.

Shortly before the close of his examinations Dr. Cronyn had received a very flattering invitation to settle in New Orleans. He had been offered also a position in the East India company, and a partnership with one of his professors, the elder Dr. King. While considering a choice he went temporarily, at the request of Dr. Widmer, president of the Provincial Board and Nestor of the profession in Toronto, to the village of Fort Erie, whence a petition for a physician had been sent. Entering at once upon an extensive practice, both in Fort Erie and the counties adjoining, he was soon persuaded to remain.

In the fall of the same year, 1850, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Matthew and Elizabeth (Renfrey) Willoughby of Toronto.

He was for some time Reeve of Fort Erie and also Superintendent of Schools in the township. In 1859 Dr. Cronyn moved to Buffalo. He became a member of the Erie County Medical Society, of which he was several times president. His private practice was very large and for nearly forty years he was on the staff of the Buffalo Hospital of the Sisters of Charity, first as surgeon and then as physician-in-chief. During eight of his twenty odd years of surgeon’s service he was also Marine Surgeon for the port of Buffalo. He was for several years president of the board of managers of the Buffalo State Hospital.

He was a member of the Buffalo Academy of Medicine, the New York State Medical Association, of which he was one year president, and an honorary member of the Ontario Medical Association. In 1872 Dr. Cronyn went to Europe for a much needed rest. Always solicitous for the honor of his profession and anxious for a higher standard of medical education, he welcomed the opportunity to advance both, when, in 1883 the Medical Department of Niagara University was established, Dr. Cronyn becoming professor of Principles and Practice of Medicine and president of the faculty. In 1888 Niagara University conferred upon him the degree Ph.D. and in 1893 that of LL.D.

Dr. Cronyn was always a student and abreast of all modern discovery and initiative, very often ahead of it, indeed. Much that was claimed as modern, his wide reading enabled him to prove very ancient.

Beyond a few addresses and a few clinical notes, written in the earliest years of his practice, he published nothing, although for many years he had kept copious records of his observations and had hoped to gather them in book form. The duties of his daily routine as general practitioner were, however, too numerous and exacting to allow him the necessary leisure for authorship. He read the best of what other scholars of the profession wrote, but his great task remained always at the bedside; he was pre-eminently the “family doctor,” and to the end of his life the ideal, skillful and “beloved physician.”

Dr. Cronyn was survived by his wife and children — two sons, the elder a physician, and four daughters.

– James J. Walsh, M.D., History of Medicine in New York: Three Centuries of Medical Progress, New York, National Americana Society, Inc., 1919, Vol. IV, pp. 422-424, digital copy online, .