The first meeting of the Eastern New York Branch of the American Society for Microbiology, was the fruition of many months of planning and negotiation. Through-out much of the depression year 1935, a baker's dozen of professional microbiologists, nearly all of them women, struggled to make their vision of a new branch a reality. Signatures for the petition were slowly gathered as the red-tape of the parent society was slowly surmounted. By mid-December, a petition with 26 signatures was submitted and approved.

On Friday, December 20th, at 5:00pm in the library of the State Laboratory on New Scotland Avenue, the first meeting was called to order. Thirteen of the founding members were present. Officers were elected, headed by Miss Grace Sickles, who led the successful campaign to create the ENYB. Scarcely a month later a Program and Editorial Committee was established under the leadership of Dr. Myrtle Shaw.

From the start, two goals seem to inspire the founding members. First, the ENYB should attract and bring together scientists from institutions throughout New York State. Secondly, each meeting should be both an enjoyable social occasion and a forum for exchange of ideas and communication about the members' immediate scientific concerns.

Both goals were met with remarkable speed.

Although the original core of founding members (including Dr. Augustus B. Wadsworth) worked in the New York State Department of Health, in what is now the Wadsworth Center, the signers of the petition included scientists from Bayer Company, General Ice Cream Corp., Hegeman Memorial Research Laboratory, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Saratoga County Laboratory, Warren County Bacteriological Laboratory, and smaller units of the New York State Department of Health.

New members joined in 1936 from Albany Medical Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Vassar College and in 1937 from the Fulton County Laboratory and Russell Sage College. Today the members represent 47 institutions in the counties covered by the ENYB.

As membership expanded in diversity, it grew in numbers as well. From 26 members in 1935, the roll nearly tripled to 74 members for its first scientific meeting-only three months later in March 1936. During the next 50 years, the membership grew four-fold to about 300 members today.

The dual purpose of the ENYB meetings was established within a year, when 75 members and guests gathered on a Friday evening in October 1936 for a splendid, convivial dinner of roast lamb or filet of sole, with freshly baked apple pie (cost per person: $1), and for eight presentations by members on anticoagulants, nitrogen fixation, a dysentery outbreak, and improvements in laboratory procedures.

Semi-annual meetings in this format were a tradition for many years. Occasionally the papers were planned as symposia on such topics as complement fixation (1937), cardiolipin (1944), radiation in bacteriologic research (1951), influenzavirus (1953), education in microbiology (1969), sexually transmitted disease (1973), and the risk of virus infection in the laboratory (1978).

Guest speakers, several of them world-renowned, were featured at many ENYB meetings -- usually to supplement, not replace, the members own presentations. The first guest speaker, the Swedish biochemist Arne Tiselius, spoke on electrophoresis in 1939. He was followed by Rene´ Dubos (1940), Wendell Stanley (1941), Michael Heidelberger (1942), Selman Waksman (1943), and other luminaries. The branch continued to invite its own speakers until 1963, when the parent Society created the Foundation for Microbiology. Foundation speakers then filled this role.

During the first 30 years, the meetings were usually held at New Scotland Ave, but occasionally at other members' institutions. The programs and abstracts of the presentations were published until 1947 in the Journal of Bacteriology. From 1965 until the early 1990s,, the Sterling-Winthrop Research Institute has generously hosted the ENYB's annual spring meeting, highlighted by a Foundation Lecture and dinner.

Microbiology is, of course, a vast and dynamic field. Over the past half-century, as new clinical and research interests evolved, the presentations and lectures at the ENYB meetings evolved with them. In the 1930s, the topics were chiefly medical microbiology. The emphasis was on diagnosis and treatment of Streptococcal infections, bacterial toxicoses, tuberculosis, syphilis, and gonorrhea. During World War II, the list expanded to include other communicable diseases, rickettsial infections, and malaria.

Virology became an important topic in the early 1940s, with presentations on polio and rabies viruses. Breakthroughs in the treatment of infectious diseases were reflected in presentations on penicillin, sulfanilamide, immune sera, cardiolipin, and bactericidal activity in soil microbes. Later in the decade, some presentations dealt with electron microscopy and sophisticated new diagnostic techniques.

Beginning in the 1950s, the transformation of microbiology from a single field into a network of specialized disciplines, each with its own societies and journals, was reflected in a far greater diversity of topics for presentations and lectures at the ENYB meetings.

Without losing sight of clinical concerns, the programs gradually made room for reports on basic research. By the 1970s and 1980s, lectures and seminars were dealing with such topics as biotechnology, cell transformation by herpesvirus, antiviral chemotherapy, interferons, mechanisms of virus uptake and secretion, and the virulence plasmid of Yersinia.

This transformation was acknowledged by the parent society, which in 1961 changed its name from the Society of American Bacteriologists to the American Society for Microbiology (ASM).

In 1966, at the initiative of the Connecticut Valley Branch (CVB), the ENYB reached out to join the CVB and the Northeast Branch in their first joint regional meeting. Joint meetings have been held every year since then, thanks largely to the financial sponsorship of the sustaining members and commercial exhibitors.

While guided by the traditions formed during this exciting half-century, the ENYB continues to changes with the times. In 1984, for example, graduate students were formally invited to discuss their research at a meeting and were later recognized with awards. In 1985, other students were honored in this way. Perhaps a new tradition is in the making.

The achievements of it's first half-century established the ENYB as a major regional forum for clinical and research microbiologists-ready to meet to challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

(This information was excerpted from the 50th Anniversary Celebration Program, 1985)