FULTON, JOHN, physician, educator, author, and editor; b. 13 Feb. 1837 near St Thomas, Upper Canada; m. January 1864 Isabella Campbell of Yarmouth Township, Canada West, and they had one son and three daughters; d. 15 May 1887 in Toronto, Ont.
John Fulton was raised on the family farm and began his education at an early age; his teachers described him as being one of their best-behaved and most advanced students. At the age of 18 when his health was considered unsuited for the robust life of the farm he became a schoolteacher and displayed a capacity to provide information in a clear and simple manner for his students. After a few years, however, he decided upon a career in medicine.
Fulton studied with a practising physician before entering John Rolph*’s Toronto School of Medicine, which was affiliated with Victoria College, Cobourg. He graduated in 1863 with an md and in 1864 received an mb from the University of Toronto. Fulton worked briefly in Bellevue Hospital in New York City, and then travelled to London, Paris, and Berlin where he visited hospitals. He received a licence from the Royal College of Physicians of London and membership in the Royal College of Surgeons of England. In 1864 he returned to Fingal, Canada West, where he established his practice. Within a few months his former teacher, John Rolph, invited him to be professor of anatomy at the school. Fulton continued in that position until 1871, combining lectureships in physiology and botany during 1869–70. In March 1871, after Rolph’s death and because of the diminishing importance of the Toronto School of Medicine, Fulton resigned from the school and accepted the professorship in physiology at Trinity Medical College in Toronto, a position he held until the early 1880s when he succeeded Dr Norman Bethune* in the chair of surgery. He retained this chair until his death. He was also surgeon to the Toronto General Hospital.
Fulton’s most significant contribution was in the field of professional medical communications. In 1868 he published A manual of physiology, one of the early medical texts written in Canada by a Canadian. The book is derivative but has the virtue of brevity, being intended particularly for medical students. The work is interesting historically although it is difficult to assess what its practical value was to contemporaries.
Fulton’s contribution as an editor was unquestionably valuable. In 1870 he purchased the Dominion Medical Journal (Toronto), changed its name to the Canada Lancet, and edited the journal for the remainder of his life. Its growth in circulation in the first decade from a few hundred to more than 3,000 attests to its acceptance. Before the Lancet Canadian medical journals were, in general, either a pallid imitation of British models or a means of partisan support for a particular medical school or party. But Fulton’s journal was vigorous and fair, at least by contemporary standards. Furthermore, although in the beginning it reprinted much material from other sources, it soon began to publish original material by Canadian, if mainly Ontarian, physicians. Fulton’s editorials became the sinew that bound the rest of the journal together and gave resilience to the whole. He fought against quackery and government interference in the practice of medicine and, on occasion, wrote on topics such as women’s rights in a manner that has a surprisingly modern ring.
Early in May 1887 Fulton caught a cold from which pneumonia developed, and symptoms of typhoid fever also appeared before his death on 15 May. Many of his students at the Toronto General Hospital attended his funeral at Knox Presbyterian Church, where Fulton had been a member and trustee, and doctors Walter Bayne Geikie, Charles William Covernton, and Joseph Workman* were pallbearers.
Fulton, although active in what were turbulent years for medical education in Ontario, seemed able to avoid becoming embroiled in the major confrontations and virulent contests of personality. He had a reputation as a clear-headed, persevering, thorough, and kindly physician who set an example as a painstaking and eminently fair medical editor.
“The late Dr. Fulton,” Canada Lancet (Toronto), 19 (1886–87): 313–14. Evening Telegram (Toronto), 16, 18 May 1887. Globe, 29 Oct. 1884; 17, 19 May 1887. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1886). H. A. Kelly and W. L. Burrage, American medical biographies (Baltimore, Md., 1920), 417–18. The Ontario medical register . . . (Toronto), 1882. A history of the University of Trinity College, 1852–1952, ed. T. A. Reed ([Toronto], 1952). Wallace, Hist. of Univ. of Toronto.