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Dr. Roosa passes away

John Conway
Posted 3/8/24

On March 8, 1908, Daniel Bennett St. John Roosa, one of New York City’s most prominent doctors and a native of Sullivan County, suffered a major heart attack and died.

Few men from the …

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Dr. Roosa passes away


On March 8, 1908, Daniel Bennett St. John Roosa, one of New York City’s most prominent doctors and a native of Sullivan County, suffered a major heart attack and died.

Few men from the county have ever risen to greater heights in their chosen profession. Born on a farm in Bethel in 1838, and named for a well-known Monticello merchant and banker, Roosa was, at the time of his death, perhaps the leading authority in the country on diseases of the eyes, ears and throat.

Roosa’s father was Charles Baker Roosa, a prominent farmer and businessman who dabbled in local politics. A loyal Whig considered by James Eldridge Quinlan as “a shrewd politician,” the elder Roosa was an avowed enemy of Frederick DeVoe, Quinlan’s predecessor as publisher of the Republican Watchman. The son was named for Daniel Bennett St. John, his father’s contemporary and fellow Whig, who was a State Assemblyman and U.S. Congressman as well as the first Superintendent of Banking in New York state.

The younger Roosa attended the local school in Bethel and then the Monticello Academy before transferring to a private preparatory school in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. He entered Yale in 1856, but was unable to complete his freshman year because of illness. He continued to study under a tutor, and enrolled in the medical department of New York University the following year, taking special chemistry classes under the highly regarded Dr. John W. Draper.

After graduating from the university in 1860, Roosa was named Assistant House Surgeon at New York Hospital. By the spring of 1861 he had enlisted as a surgeon with the Fifth Regiment of the New York National Guard. After serving his term of enlistment, he traveled to Europe, where he spent a year studying in the finest ophthalmic clinics in Vienna and Berlin. Returning to the U.S. in 1863, he joined the 12th Regiment in time to take part in the Battle of Gettysburg. After the war, he established a practice in New York City.

Roosa was accorded numerous honors and elected to many offices over the years, including the presidencies of the New York State Medical Society, the International Otological Society, the American Otological Society, and the Holland Society, where he served with Teddy Roosevelt. He was a member of the Union League Club in New York and a powerful member of its Committee on Political Reform. Besides his M.D., Roosa obtained an M.A. from Yale in 1872, and an LL.D. from the University of Vermont in 1880. He was a founder of both the Post Graduate School of Medicine and the Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital.

He was a prolific speaker and writer, publishing dozens of articles in professional journals and at least six books. He was a close friend of President Chester A. Arthur, even serving as a pall bearer at Arthur’s wife’s funeral.

Roosa was known as a man who was “positive in every opinion and exceedingly ornery when contradicted.” In 1891, he became annoyed with a young doctor at the Post Graduate School of Medicine who claimed he could cure nearsightedness without the benefit of glasses. According to William Horatio Bates, who later founded the Bates Method of treating weak eyesight that is still in use today, “the trouble reached a climax one evening at the annual banquet of the faculty when, in the presence of 150 doctors, (Roosa) suddenly poured out the vials of his wrath upon my head. He said I was injuring the reputation of the Post Graduate by claiming to cure myopia. I reminded him that some of the men I had cured had been fitted with glasses by himself. I suggested further investigation. ‘Fit some more doctors with glasses for myopia,’ I said, ‘and I will cure them.’ This method did not appeal to him, however. He repeated that it was impossible to cure myopia and to prove that it was impossible, he expelled me from the Post Graduate, even the privilege of resignation being denied to me.”

It was no doubt with his characteristic forcefulness that Roosa informed Dr. Alfred Lebbeus Loomis of the suitability of the Liberty hills when Loomis was looking for a location for his sanitarium for consumptives in 1894. Roosa had long been touting the Sullivan County climate as a curative for almost any ailment. Roosa and Loomis traveled in the same heady social circles in New York and Newport, and as a leading authority on diseases of the throat, Roosa’s opinion carried some weight.

“Many years ago, the old doctors of Sullivan County observed that the gentlemen from New York City, if at all weak in the lungs, who came in limited numbers to fish in the trout streams and hunt in the hemlock forests of what was then a wilderness, became very much stronger and isolated cases of recovery were noted,” Roosa once wrote.

It was largely on his recommendation that Loomis purchased a tract of land outside the village of Liberty on which to construct his sanitarium, which was completed as a memorial to him after his death.

Although suffering from Bright’s Disease, Roosa was in generally good health when he suffered a fatal heart attack at his home. He was survived by his second wife, Sarah Elizabeth Haughwout Howe Roosa. They had no children.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.  


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