Dr. Ramon Guiteras

Inducted: 2009
Born: 1858 - Died:
1917

Dr. Ramon Guiteras, founder of the American Urological Association, surgeon, statesman, and sportsman, was the most prominent Rhode Islander of Latin American heritage at the turn of the 20th century. He was born in Bristol, Rhode Island, on August 17, 1858, to Ramon and Elizabeth Manchester (Wardwell) Guiteras. His grandfather sailed from Spain to Cuba, acquiring a coffee plantation near Matanzas. His mother was from a prominent Puritan family in Bristol. 

Ramon Guiteras was educated in Bristol, prepared for college at Mowry and Goff’s English and Classical School in Providence, then entered Harvard. His close friends included Theodore Roosevelt and Leonard Wood, a physician who served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army and Military Governor of Cuba. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1883, Guiteras studied under eminent surgeons in Paris, Vienna, and Berlin for two years. On his return, he took the naval medical examination for the post of assistant surgeon, receiving the highest honor of his class. Instead of accepting a naval commission, he joined a poorhouse that later became the City Hospital of New York. He began teaching surgery at the New York Post-Graduate Hospital in 1890 and was appointed visiting surgeon to the City and French Hospitals in 1892. He continued at the Post-Graduate Hospital for his entire career, where he became Professor of Operative Surgery in 1894 and Chair of Geniti-Urinary Surgery in 1898. 

General surgeons performed most urological procedures until Dr. Guiteras founded the American Urological Association (AUA) in 1900. The society was initially named the New York Genito-Urinary Society, but in 1902 it became the AUA. Dr. Guiteras was elected as its first president. The annual meeting quickly became a major social and scientific event, with the first annual convention held in Saratoga Springs, New York, on June 13, 1902. The AUA is currently the largest urological organization in the world, with members on six continents. The Ramon Guiteras Award, given annually, is the AUA’s highest honor.

Dr. Guiteras published Urology, a two-volume text, in 2012. It was translated widely and considered the superior text of its time. It included 943 illustrations and photographs, described medical and surgical approaches to urological disease, and detailed practical guides such as instrument sterilization and efficient clinical and operating spaces. He published over 100 articles on diverse urological topics, including an investigation into ureteral catheterization. 

Dr. Guiteras served on multiple advisory boards and was recognized by Woodrow Wilson’s administration for his linguistic skill and expertise in Cuba. He was a leader of the Pan-American Medical Congress and, during WWI, was sent on missions to Cuba to ascertain the sentiment of the Cuban people on the war. He was also sent to France as an advisory surgeon. In 1917, he made a trip to Italy as chairman of a commission of physicians to report on work by the American Red Cross. 

Guiteras had a lifelong interest in boxing and was a member of the New York Athletic Club. He served as a referee for boxing matches conducted in Madison Square Garden and as a judge for the amateur boxing championship of the New York Athletic Club in 1887. Dr. Guiteras is reportedly the only man to knock down John L. Sullivan, heavyweight boxing champion from 1882 to 1892. It was during a sparring session at the Yale gymnasium, and Sullivan is reported to have shaken Guiteras’s hand and referred to him as a “good boy” after the session. Dr. Guiteras served as surgeon of the African Hunting Club, founded by his Harvard classmate Theodore Roosevelt. He was the best hunter and leader in times of danger, according to Roosevelt. 

 Dr. Guiteras was a member of the most prominent social clubs in New York, including the Union, Players, Harvard, and the New York Yacht Club. He died suddenly at the age of 59 of meningitis at the French Hospital in New York City on December 13, 1917. “In looking back over his career, we are moved by the tender solicitude he exhibited for his profession, the faithful service he rendered the sick and the poor, and the generous teaching of young students in the medical sciences,” Rhode Island Governor Augustus O. Bourn said in a eulogy.  

Dr. Guiteras left $350,000 to construct a junior high school in Bristol to honor his mother, which became known as the Guiteras Memorial School. The large colonnaded brick and limestone building was completed in 1925. It overlooks Bristol Harbor and remains one of the town’s most visible and impressive landmarks. He also left funds to construct a public library in Matanzas, Cuba, in honor of his father. Unfortunately, it was seized by Fidel Castro in 1962 and turned into a communist social club. The library was relocated to the Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami and houses over 35,000 books, the most extensive collection of Cuban books outside of Cuba. 

Dr. Guiteras was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2009. 

For additional reading:

  • The Founding of the American Urological Association with a tribute to its founder, Dr. Ramon Guiteras, by C. L. Begg, NY Academy of Medicine, 1976. 
  • Early days of urology in New York and the founding of the American Urological Association, by F.P. Twinem, NY Academy of Medicine, 1967. 
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