Carter, William Spencer (1869–1944)

By: Chester R. Burns

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: September 11, 2019

William S. Carter, medical college teacher and administrator, was born in Still Valley, Warren County, New Jersey, on April 11, 1869, the son of William and Ann (Stewart) Carter. After studies at Easton (Pennsylvania) High School and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, he received an M.D. degree in 1890. He then interned in two Philadelphia hospitals. After working in several teaching positions, including those of assistant demonstrator of pathology (1891–94) and assistant professor of physiology (1894–97), and serving as attending physician at his alma mater, Carter was appointed professor of physiology and hygiene at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, in 1897. He established one of the earliest research and teaching laboratories in physiology in the South, taught hygiene and public health for several years, and encouraged his assistant, Oscar Plant, to offer the first course in pharmacology at UTMB.

In 1903 Carter became UTMB's fourth dean. During nineteen years in that position, he nurtured the growth and development of the institution. He founded the department of pharmacology and equipped physiology and pharmacology labs. He encouraged educational campaigns for the promotion of public hygiene and control of tuberculosis. He was instrumental in building an isolation hospital behind the Main Building at UTMB and also helped establish a Children's Hospital in Galveston, which was donated by the Texas Public Health Association and operated by a staff from the medical college. In 1913 UTMB became a member of the Association of American Medical Colleges, then a national organization of medical school deans. Fellow deans elected Carter vice president in 1916 and president in 1917.

He left UTMB in 1922 to become a staff member of the Division of Medical Sciences of the Rockefeller Foundation, and in 1923 he was named associate director. For the next twelve years he skillfully orchestrated the development of medical schools in the Philippines, Australia, South Africa, Java, New Zealand, China, and India. In China he was acting director of Peking Union Medical College in 1925, and he helped organize the School of Tropical Medicine in Calcutta the next year. Carter retired in 1934. Urged by alumni and faculty, he returned to UTMB in 1935 as dean. He resigned in 1938.

His memberships included the National Board of Medical Examiners, the American Physiological Society, the American Medical Association, the Texas State Medical Association (now the Texas Medical Association), and the Texas Academy of Sciences. He was the author of Notes on Pathology and Bacteriology (with David Riesman, 1895) and Laboratory Exercises in Physiology (1916). For his medical essays he received the Boylston Prize in 1892 and the Alvarenga Prize in 1903. On October 18, 1894, Carter married Lillian V. McCleavy. They had two daughters. He died on May 12, 1944, in Auburndale, Massachusetts.

Sam Hanna Acheson, Herbert P. Gambrell, Mary Carter Toomey, and Alex M. Acheson, Jr., Texian Who's Who, Vol. 1 (Dallas: Texian, 1937). William Keuller, "William Spencer Carter, M.D.," Alcalde, June 1922. Chauncey D. Leake et al., "William Spencer Carter, 1869–1944," Science 100 (July 21, 1944). The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston: A Seventy-five Year History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967). Who's Who in America, 1944–45.

  • Education
  • Educators
  • Medical
  • Health and Medicine
  • School Principals and Superintendents
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • School Founders
  • Hospital, School, and Association Administrators

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Chester R. Burns, “Carter, William Spencer,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
September 11, 2019

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