Biography of Howard Van Rensselaer


AMONG the rising young men of our city, one whose fine tastes, cultured manners, general and professional intelligence, have brought him into favorable notice among a large circle of friends, is Dr. Howard Van Rensselaer, of 94 Columbia street. He was born in Albany on the 26th of June, 1858, and spent his earliest years in the old Dutch city, in which his forefathers, many generations ago, took such a prominent part in its history and development, as well as in that of the surrounding country. Many an interesting and eventful page have they furnished for our municipal and county annals. But they have almost all passed away to the silent land, and new generations of various nationalities have come to take their place, showing the mutability of human affairs and the ever-occurring changes of life.

As we have already in the sketch of William Bayard Van Rensselaer, the brother of our present subject, given a succinct account of the ancestry of the Van Rensselaer family, we need only refer the reader to that memoir for information on this point. Howard Van Rensselaer is a son of Bayard Van Rensselaer, a native Albanian, whose earthly career was closed in 1859, when the boy was but nine months old. Thus early deprived of a father’s watchful care and love he was tenderly nursed and reared by his mother, a woman of many virtues, whose maiden name was Laura Reynolds, daughter of the celebrated Marcus Tullius Reynolds, who in his day was one of the brightest stars in the legal profession in Albany. This estimable lady still lives to receive the grateful homage of her sons for training them in ways of usefulness, gentleness, morality and intellectual aspiration.

At an early age Howard was placed in the Normal school at Albany, where he learned the elementary branches, and was inspired with a deep love for the pursuit of knowledge. Later on he became a pupil of the Albany academy, where so many of our Albany boys have received the best instruction under well-known, competent and painstaking teachers. On leaving the Albany academy, after having been there two terms, he was sent to a private boarding school at Catskill, noted for its excellence in the instruction of boys and for its grand, natural, healthful surroundings. He remained there three years, when he went to St. Paul’s school at Concord, N. H. He was but twelve years of age when he entered that quite noted school of the granite state, where larger boys are thoroughly trained both in intellectual and physical education. And there during six years he pursued his literary course with great interest and improvement, paying special attention to his favorite department – – that of scientific study and investigation. His diligence and proficiency were clearly shown while at St. Paul’s school by his there taking a yearly testimonial for high standing and two literary prizes, also the school medal, the highest honor given at St. Paul’s. But while a studious youth he did not overlook the importance of physical exercise in the preservation of health or in the strengthening of the muscles. He became much interested in athletic sports, and being very agile in his movements succeeded in some of the school pedestrian contests and in making the record of three-mile walk and one-mile walk, which have never since been beaten. He was also stroke in the successful school crew; on first eleven in cricket club, and got in that when he was in the third form, which was rather early; and was also president of the athletic association.

On leaving the school in Concord at the age of eighteen, Mr. Van Rensselaer attended the Yale Scientific School, taking the course preparatory to medicine, graduating there with honor in 1881, and taking the degree of Ph. B. He was also a student for some time in the Yale Art School. He took a literary prize at Yale and made the record there in walking. On his college graduation he was not at a loss what profession to choose for life work; for from the early age of thirteen the study of medicine was uppermost in his thoughts, and to gratify his desires in this respect, at some future day, was his highest ambition. Accordingly, when he had fully completed his scientific studies he immediately started for New York and entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons, then under the direction of Drs. Clark, Dalton, Sands and other eminent medical instructors. He was now more than ever in his element, and for three years attended the regular courses of lectures and read with avidity and a retentive memory all the principal standard works relating to the various branches of his profession. To gain a more practical knowledge of medical science and a larger experience in the best methods of treatment he went for some time into the Chambers Street hospital as an assistant practitioner, and also became a student in the post graduate medical school. Finding hospital experience of so great advantage to him in rounding out his medical attainments he passed the severe competitive examination for the New York hospital and as interne remained there the required eighteen months. While there he entertained the idea of visiting the old world with a view of studying disease in its various forms and symptoms and the different modes of treatment as adopted in the largest hospitals by the most celebrated physicians.

Carrying out his plans for foreign study and observation we next find him crossing the Atlantic, and landing on the shores of Germany in January, 1887. He visited all the great hospitals of Europe, excepting those of Spain, studying in the hospitals of Berlin, Paris, Vienna, Munich, London, Edinburgh, etc. He was careful to embrace and improve the rare opportunities then offered to him, and two years were thus passed – years which were not spent in vain – – in the search after new medical light, and the latest and most scientific modes of treatment in multitudes of cases. In the meantime, he partially changed his medical investigations by making flying visits too many a famous place in European history. From the North Cape he found his way through romantic regions to Constantinople and the classic soil of Greece. While in Norway he made a special study of leprosy in the hospitals there, and saw more than four hundred cases.

Dr. Van Rensselaer is, moreover, a great lover of the fine arts, and has visited nearly all the famous galleries of Europe and looked with admiring eyes upon the works of the grand old masters.

On the 1st of February, 1889, after an absence of two years, he returned from Europe greatly benefited both professionally and physically, and settled down again in his native city. He was at once appointed visiting physician to St. Peter’s hospital and the dispensary of the Child’s hospital – positions which by previous education and experience he is well qualified to fill. During the fall of 1889 he was appointed instructor of nervous diseases, and diseases of the chest, at the Albany Medical College. In December he was given the position of attending physician to the Hospital for Incurables. In January, 1890, he was elected visiting physician to the Home of the Friendless. In June he was called to the position of lecturer on materia medica at the Albany Medical College.

Besides his visits and studies abroad, Dr. Van Rensselaer has traveled extensively on the American continent, and with keen observation of human character and natural scenery, has looked upon the wildness of the Rocky Mountains, the wonders of Colorado, the Yellowstone regions and the glories of southern California, He has also visited the West India islands.

He is a member of several well-known clubs and literary societies in the country, such as the Calumet club of New York; the Berzelius club of Yale College – the oldest scientific society in the Union; and the Fort Orange club of our city.

In his personal appearance Dr. Van Rensselaer is of the medium size, with an impressive countenance, dark hair and eyes, easy and gentlemanly in his manners, with the thoughtful look of the student, and without the least affectation. He is altogether a person who apparently takes real enjoyment in his chosen profession, in books, in artistic designs, and in the beauties and sublimities of nature.

Van Rensselaer,


Noted living Albanians and state officials , A series of biographical sketches. 1891.

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