Sam Lillard Clark

Sam L. Clark, nationally known anatomist, scientist, and medical educator, was born in Nashville on October 5, 1898, a son of Martin and Margaret Ransom Lillard Clark. His grandfather, Dr. William Martin Clark, was a founder and owner at one time of the Nashville Banner.

Clark was educated in Nashville's public schools. He received the B.A. degree from Vanderbilt University in 1922, the M.S. degree in anatomy from Northwestern University, and the Ph.D. degree in anatomy from Washington University in St. Louis. In 1930 he was awarded the Doctor of Medicine degree from Vanderbilt.

Clark served as assistant professor of anatomy at Washington University and later at Northwestern University. In 1930 he was appointed to the faculty of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; by 1937 Clark was full professor and chairman of the Department of Anatomy. His interpretation of anatomy permitted a breadth of interest in his department that encompassed almost the entire scope of medicine. He attracted to his laboratories not only first-year students but advanced scholars and clinicians as well. Throughout his academic career he was an active investigator and contributor to the literature of his specialty of anatomy and to broader fields. In promoting research he was interested in the cultivation of individual capabilities as well as in the solving of problems; he used research effectively as a means of teaching. He had a particular interest in neuroanatomy. Many of his own inquiries concerned morphological aspects of neuroanatomy, but perhaps the most significant ones were experimental and involved physiological phenomena, usually related to the central nervous system. His thoughtful and scholarly "On Becoming an Anatomist" and "Life Within the Brain" are of interest to many in academic medicine.

Clark was highly respected as a scientist. He served as president of the American Association of Anatomists and was editor of the American Journal of Anatomy. He revised and coedited Anatomy of the Nervous System, the standard textbook used in most if not all American medical schools of his time. For many years Clark was an influential member of the medical fellowship committee of the National Research Council and later an advisor to the National Science Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the National Board of Medical Examiners. He served as a member of the overseers committee for the medical and dental schools of Harvard University.

A consummate gentleman, Clark brought distinction to Vanderbilt Medical School as a teacher, researcher, lecturer, writer, and administrator. He established a diagnostic electroencephalographic laboratory at the school and for ten years served as chairman of the admissions committee. From 1945 to 1950 he was associate dean of the medical school and in June 1958 was named acting dean until the appointment of a permanent successor. He was a director of the Bill Wilkerson Hearing and Speech Center and served many years as a member of the state anatomical board.

The distinguished scientist Ernest Goodpasture had this to say about Clark: "Traditionally, it is given to the Department of Anatomy of most Medical Schools to introduce the new-coming students not only to the texture of bones and muscle, organs and tissues, but to medical education and to the profession of Medicine as a whole, that is, to medical culture. This is a difficult and unique assignment. . . . Professor Clark initiated his students into Anatomy and interpreted Medicine to them with an elegance that left an inspiring impression on several hundred of those who entered the first year class at Vanderbilt Medical School during the years of his departmental administration." (1)

Clark was married September 4, 1924, to the former Nettie Lee Petrie. She died in 1941. They had two daughters and two sons, the latter both physicians. Clark died on July 1, 1960, of lung cancer.

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  • Article Title Sam Lillard Clark
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 14, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018