William Andrew Horsley Gantt was the son of a Virginia businessman and a college-educated mother, and the grandson of two physicians. His father died in 1895 when Horsley was only three, and his mother began teaching school to support him and his younger brother. Despite great financial hardship, the boys enjoyed a robust, adventurous childhood on the family farm on the James River in Wingina, Virginia.
When Horsley was twelve, his mother moved to Charlottesville in order to enroll him in the Miller School for gifted children. He graduated with the highest marks ever earned. From there he went on to the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia, where he received his M. D. degree in 1920.
In 1922, Gantt embarked for Petrograd (Leningrad), to serve with Herbert Hoover's American Relief Administration (ARA) providing medical assistance to Russian citizens. While there he began a study of the effect of war and famine on the health of Russians, and at the same time collected data and reminiscences for a history of Russian medicine.
Following his work with the ARA, and after a brief stay in London and Finland, Gantt returned to Russia to study with physiologist Ivan P. Pavlov in his Leningrad laboratory. It was this work with Pavlov which directed Gantt's scientific career. Pavlov had investigated the conditional reflex in his famous studies of the bell and the salivating dog. Gantt in turn spent the next fifty-six years in the laboratory continuing the experimental investigation of the conditioned reflex in the classic Pavlovian method. He established two Pavlovian Laboratories in the United States, first at Johns Hopkins in 1929, and later at the Veterans Administration in Perry Point, Maryland. In addition, he founded and presided over the Pavlovian Society, and edited the Society's Pavlovian Journal of Biological Science (originally entitled Conditional Reflex).
His studies of medicine in Russia resulted in several books and numerous articles and speaking engagements concerning Russia and Pavlov. Fluent in Russian, he translated many scientific works and papers. His scientific investigations yielded objective data in the field of behavioral biology, mainly focused on conditioning, pharmacology, and psychiatry. Over the years, he formulated theories of schizokinesis and autokinesis. For his research he received several awards, including the Lasker Award in 1944 for his work on the experimental basis for neurosis, and the American Heart Association Award in 1950 for his work on cardiac conditioning. Gantt was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1970. He was a member and officer of numerous professional societies.
Gantt's life was marked by enormous energy and dedication, his career as a behavioral biologist by insatiable curiosity. He was philosophical and expansive, and his life was filled with abiding friendships and concern for human welfare. These qualities are vividly reflected in his personal papers.
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov
Brief Biographical Sketch
Born in a village in central Russia in 1849, Pavlov was the son of a priest. He thought of becoming a priest himself, but instead pursued a childhood interest in physiology, first at the University of St. Petersburg, and later at the Military Medical Academy. After his graduation in 1879, he immediately began a series of animal experiments, the method of which remained the hallmark of Pavlov's later research - long-term observation of normal, unanesthetized animals. In his investigation of the digestive system, he demonstrated that pancreatic secretion was controlled by the nervous system. For his work, Pavlov won the Nobel Prize in 1904. Further studies of what he called "psychic secretion" led to his famous discovery that salivation began in his dogs merely upon entering the room prior to feeding, and that this salivation could be stimulated with bells or lights. The discovery of these "conditional reflexes" gave Pavlov and all future neuropsychiatrists an extraordinarily useful tool for exploring the relationship between behavior and physiological processes. In further explorations Pavlov began to formulate theories about brain function, personality, and human psychological functions. He died in 1936 at age 86.
Gantt and Pavlov
While talents and interests nurtured by Gantt's early months with the American Relief Administration (ARA) were to remain with him for the rest of his life, the pinnacle of his professional yearnings came when his Russian interpreter, Nicholai Zelheim, suggested that he might like to meet the Nobel prizewinning physiologist, Ivan P. Pavlov - much to Gantt's surprise, since Pavlov's obituary had already been published in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Before coming to Russia, Gantt's principal interests had been surgery and psychiatry, but he had become discontented with both fields. Surgery was too "mechanical" and did not satisfy Gantt's need for more contact with patients, and psychiatry seemed too speculative and confused. In his "psychobiological personality study" written for Dr. Adolf Meyer in 1930, Gantt writes that, having been intensely interested in Freudianism, he rejected it because he was "unable to find a full justification of it in daily life...It is also fantastic, and cannot be verified experimentally." ("Psychobiological personality study," pp. 1-2. Box 3/5). His meetings with Pavlov introduced Gantt to a field of endeavor that would combine his love of surgery and psychiatry in a way that overcame his objections to both disciplines. For that reason and others, Gantt describes his meeting with Pavlov at the Institute of Experimental Medicine in Petrograd as an event "from which I can date my whole subsequent professional life." (Draft autobiography. Box 4/22).
At their first meeting, communicating in German, Pavlov demonstrated his experiments with conditional reflexes. Gantt was impressed with Pavlov's "objective psychiatry" which could translate complex mental phenomena into measurable physical reactions; Pavlov had found a biological frame of reference for theories of behavior. Equally impressed by Pavlov's extraordinary surgical skills and his compelling didactic method, Gantt spent his off-duty hours working in Pavlov's laboratory and learning Pavlov's techniques and theories. By the time the ARA left Russia, Gantt had become captivated by Pavlov both as scientist and person, and he was determined to find a way to continue studying with his new mentor. To this end, Pavlov provided him with a letter of reference certifying that Gantt had his permission to return to work with him at the Institute. It would not be easy, however, for Gantt to secure a return visa: the ARA had been declared an organization of American spies by the Soviet government.
Gantt went to London, where he studied liver pathology with John McNee at the University College Medical School. While there, he made numerous unsuccessful attempts to secure a re-entry visa to Russia. In August of 1924, Gantt went to Finland to live with a Russian-speaking family. Finally, in January of 1925, he was able to return to Pavlov's laboratory, where he worked until October of 1929.
Gantt's life paralleled Pavlov's in many ways. Like his mentor, Gantt was passionately dedicated to a life of scientific inquiry. Both firmly believed in the search for universal truths and emphasized the essential need for unfettered dialogue among scientists. Both lived ascetically, Pavlov refusing material favors from the Soviet regime, Gantt foregoing financial security and enduring privations in order to study with his teacher. The lessons learned under Pavlov's tutelage were to direct Gantt's entire life - a life which centered around the practice and promulgation of Pavlovian methodology and the nourishment of scientific cooperation between American and Russian physiologists.
Gantt realized his role as Pavlov's American ambassador in several ways. He was fluent in Russian, and his translations of Pavlov's seminal works, Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes and Conditioned Reflexes and Psychiatry made Pavlov more widely accessible in the West. He also collected reminiscences and took photographs of Pavlov. Upon returning to the United States, Gantt founded Pavlovian research laboratories, first at Johns Hopkins and later at the Veterans Administration in Perry Point, Maryland. As a professor at Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland, the University of Louisville, the University of Puerto Rico, and the Maryland Academy of Sciences, he carried Pavlovianism to hundreds of medical students and scientists. In 1955, he formed the Pavlovian Society and, subsequently, the Pavlovian Journal of Biological Science. Through letters and return trips to visit and to lecture in the Soviet Union, Gantt remained in contact with Pavlov's followers in that country. As editor of Soviet Neurology and Psychiatry, and as translator of works by Bykov and Luria, among others, he continued to bring Pavlovianism to the United States.
In selecting a mentor, Gantt had not only chosen an internationally renowned scientist; he had also picked a man whose influence became a source of political controversy. It is significant that Gantt's tenure in Russia coincided with a politically critical period in Pavlov's life, when he was outspoken in his criticism of Marxist ideology and the proletarian revolution. As a revered father of Russian physiology, and having earned Lenin's admiration, Pavlov was in a unique position to speak out against the regime. Gantt transcribed these speeches, and because he had access to a diplomatic pouch, speeches and other papers which otherwise would probably not have survived can be found in the Gantt collection.