Noah Morris (1893–1947)

Morris, Noah (1893–1947), biochemist and physician 

by John C. Brocklehurst 

© Oxford University Press 2004–13 All rights reserved

Morris, Noah (1893–1947), biochemist and physician, was born on 4 October 1893 at 150 Stobcross Street, Glasgow, one of five children (four sons and a daughter) of Henry Morris, formerly Sachs, general dealer, later jeweller, and his wife, Sarah, née Gershuni or Gersuny. His father was from Riga and his mother from Vilna, and they had borrowed their surname from that of the captain of the ship that had brought them from the Baltic to Scotland. Observant Jews, they were strict but loving parents.

Morris was educated at Glasgow high school. He proceeded to Glasgow University, graduating BSc (with special distinction in physiology) in 1913, MB ChB (with commendation) in 1915, and MD with honours in 1921, when he won the Bellahouston gold medal. He also obtained the diploma in public health of Liverpool University (1917) and became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (1921). During the First World War he served in France and Italy as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps before returning to Glasgow as Muirhead demonstrator and assistant to the regius professor of physiology, Noel Paton. He was appointed professor of physiology at the Anderson College of Medicine, Glasgow, in 1920. During this time he also worked as a general practitioner, when he was known to leave money for medicines in the poverty-stricken homes of his patients. This experience influenced his outlook and clinical teaching in later years. In 1921 he married Hattie Michaelis (1894/5–1982), daughter of Philip Michaelis of London. They had a son and a daughter.

Morris's career was directly affected by the intentions of two successive vice-chancellors of Glasgow University, Sir Donald MacAlister and Sir Hector Hetherington, to promote medical education by whole-time university staff with scientific backgrounds. MacAlister encouraged the development of research in clinical science by establishing full-time academic appointments as university lectureships in teaching hospitals. One of the first of these was the post of university lecturer in biochemistry in relation to infancy and childhood and clinical biochemist to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, to which Morris was appointed in 1928. During this period he co-operated with newly appointed lecturers in pathology and paediatrics to form a powerful research team, which published widely. He co-wrote Acidosis and Alkalosis (1933), which became a classic text. He created a biochemical laboratory, available to members of the medical staff for their research. He continued to make regular ward rounds with the physicians and established a diabetic clinic, the first in Glasgow. He was made a DSc by the University of Glasgow in 1934. He later became a member of the Royal College of Physicians of London, in 1938, and a fellow in 1943.

Morris's appointment in 1937 to the regius chair of materia medica and therapeutics was one of three appointments made by Hetherington shortly after his arrival in Glasgow. Hetherington's intention was to establish the role of the university in clinical teaching of medical students and to support scientific methods and research in teaching hospitals, by appointing whole-time professors. While pre-clinical teaching in basic medical sciences was already the responsibility of whole-time professors, in the independent teaching hospitals clinical teaching had hitherto been in the hands of part-time honorary senior staff who depended on private practice for their living. Hetherington, together with the medical officer of health (Alexander MacGregor), persuaded Glasgow corporation that developing Stobhill, the largest of the municipal hospitals (with 1709 beds) as a university teaching hospital would establish a national precedent, good for the city and the university. Morris was allotted six wards in Stobhill Hospital to develop his department. He also created a biochemical laboratory.

In his inaugural lecture, ‘Prolegomena to the study of therapeutics’, published in the Glasgow Medical Journal in 1937, Morris quoted Sir Clifford Allbutt that the practice of medicine ‘had moved from tradition and sagacity to an applied science of analysis and law’. Despite his enthusiasm for laboratory science he warned of two opposite attitudes to be avoided—unquestioning belief that the biochemical report solves the problem, and a reactionary attitude of refusing to make use of new-fangled test-tube methods. He reminded his students that the patient is a human being with all the desires, hopes, emotions, and fears of humanity. He stressed the primacy of bedside teaching and of the social worker.

In the following years Morris played an important role in the development of geriatrics. In his presidential address to the university medico-chirurgical society entitled ‘De senectute’, published in the Glasgow University Medical Journal in 1942, his opening statement was ‘Only when one enters a Municipal Hospital does one realize how many old people there are in the world.’ This was in contrast to voluntary hospitals, where the aged and chronic sick were generally excluded. He had contact with Marjory Warren of the West Middlesex Hospital and workhouse, the acknowledged pioneer of geriatric medicine, and arranged for some of his graduate students to spend time in her unit. He set up the first workshop in geriatric medicine in Scotland and was involved in setting up a geriatric clinic at the time of his death. Four of the first professors of geriatric medicine had worked in his department.

Morris was profoundly affected all his life by his Jewish education and background. At a time when antisemitism was not uncommon in Britain, he was proud to be both Jewish and British. He played an active part in the Glasgow Jewish community, particularly in the field of education. In the 1930s he helped many German doctors who had come to Glasgow to requalify after their escape from Germany or Austria. In 1939 the family received a boy who had arrived in Britain under the Kindertransport scheme.

During the Second World War Morris was responsible, with the medical officer for health, for setting up the blood transfusion service in the west of Scotland, and he continued his war work into peacetime as director of postgraduate studies for former service doctors in Glasgow.

Noah Morris was a man of great erudition balanced by humanity and approachability. For background to his teaching he drew liberally on resources built by wide reading from early childhood. His historical knowledge provided a proper perspective for his lectures and his reputation as a teacher rested not only on his medical expertise but also on his vivacity, his enthusiasm, and his provocativeness. It was his firm conviction that the teacher had failed in his intentions if at the end of his discourse he was not mentally exhilarated and physically exhausted. It was not always possible to agree with all his views, but because of the integrity of his character and sincerity of his purpose, he was esteemed by all who worked with him. Having lived latterly in West Chapelton Crescent, Bearsden, Glasgow, he died at the Western Infirmary, Glasgow, on 1 June 1947, of stomach cancer. He was survived by his wife and two children.



BMJ (14 June 1947), 866–7 • Nursing Mirror (14 June 1947) • BMJ (5 July 1947), 36 • Glasgow Medical Journal, 28 (1947), 194–6 • Munk, Roll • C. Illingworth, There is a history in all men's lives (1988), 66 • A. J. Hull, ‘Hector's house: Sir Hector Hetherington and the academization of Glasgow hospital medicine before the NHS’, Medical History, 45 (2001), 207–42 • A. Peden, ‘The history of Scottish clinical biochemistry: Glasgow Biochemists Club, Royal Hospital for Sick Children’, 2004,, accessed on 19 July 2008 • J. C. Brocklehurst, ‘Unsung heroes: Glasgow and the origins of geriatrics’, British Geriatrics Society Newsletter online, 2005,, accessed on 19 July 2008 • A. J. Hull, ‘Teamwork, clinical research, and the development of scientific medicines in interwar Britain: the “Glasgow School” revisited’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 81/3 (2007), 569–93 • WWW • private information (2009) [Michael Morris, son; Sasha Morris, daughter; O. T. Brown] • b. cert. • d. cert.

© Oxford University Press 2004–13 All rights reserved 

John C. Brocklehurst, ‘Morris, Noah (1893–1947)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Oct 2009 [, accessed ]

Noah Morris (1893–1947): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/98228