When Service is Tradition

When Service is Tradition

This winter, when I. Wistar Morris III joined the Institute’s board of trustees, he became the latest part of a proud tradition that began with the birth of The Wistar Institute in 1892.

When the Institute’s founder, General Issac J. Wistar, drew up the Deeds of Trust that dictated the Institute’s terms of management, he required that a male heir directly descended from his grand-uncle, Caspar Wistar, M.D., must always be a member of Wistar’s board of trustees. Issac J. Wistar at age 55, painted in 1882 by Bernard Uhle.Since that time, the Wistar family has done more than just lend its name to the Institute: they have given service.

In florid Victorian style, the Deeds of Trust state: “Such descendant of Caspar Wistar, M.D., the father of this Donor, who was born A.D. 1801 and died A.D. 1867, as would at this time be the oldest of his nearest lineal heirs in the same degree, provided such descendant shall be a male of not less than twenty-one years of age, and if not, then the next oldest of his nearest lineal heirs in the same degree possessing these qualifications, or such other person in his stead as such heir shall from time to time indicate…”

And so, The Wistar Institute has been favored with the leadership of many generations of Wistars, some acting in the role of the official family representative, and others, simply serving to further the Institute’s mission. In fact, I. Wistar Morris III is not the family representative. Samuel Rhoads currently holds that distinction; more on him later. Instead, Morris serves as a representative of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, which was also a relationship established in the Deeds of Trust.

Although the terms of the Deeds of Trust specifically state that the family representative on the board must be a male descended from the male line, these terms became challenging to fulfill. Sometimes, direct descendants didn’t have sons, or they chose not to serve. In such circumstances, the language in the Deeds of Trust that state “such other person in his stead as such heir shall from time to time indicate” opened the doors to allow the male heirs descended from the female line to fill the family representative role. Issac J. Wistar’s sister Margaret had married Robert Haines, who lived in Germantown. Their son, Caspar Wistar Haines, in 1915 became the first family representative on the board who was descended from the female line, and was then followed as family representative by his son, Caspar Wistar Haines, Jr.

The sisters of Issac J. Wistar in November 1861. Top row, L to R: Lydia Kendall, Kate Wistar, Hannah Hacker, Sarah Rhoads. Bottom row, L to R: Margaret Haines, Mary Brown.

In this same period, Effingham B. Morris, who was descended directly from the first Caspar Wistar (founder of the first glassworks in the American colonies, Wistarburgh Glass), was president of the board from 1915 to 1937.

Samuel Rhoads, the current family representative, took over from his father Donald Vail Rhoads, M.D., in 2004, and is descended from Issac J. Wistar’s sister Sarah. Rhoads has played an active role on the board, including providing testimony to the Pennsylvania Orphans’ Court in a proceeding to gain approval for the Institute’s new research tower, currently under construction.

In over a century since The Wistar Institute has begun its evolution from anatomical museum to a world-renowned destination for cancer and vaccine research, it is nice to consider that, in many ways, Wistar remains a family organization.

Wistar Family Members Who have served on the Board of Trustees with dates of service

*Gen. Isaac Jones Wistar
1892–1905; Secretary 1892–1905

Edward D. Toland
(related to Sarah Toland Wistar, Isaac Wistar’s wife)
1893–1903; Treasurer 1898-1903; Co-Trustee 1893–1913.

William Wynne Wister, Jr.
1893–1900

Dr. Arthur E. Brown
1901–1910

*Dr. Thomas Wistar
(brother of Isaac J. Wistar)
1905 –1913

*Caspar Wistar Haines
1913–1935

George Vaux, Jr.  
(Isaac Wistar’s aunt, Margaret,
married Roberts Vaux, 1814.)
1910 –1928         

Effingham B. Morris
(President of the Board of Managers)
1915 –1937

Effingham B. Morris, Jr.
1937–1952

*Diederick Jansen Haines
1937–1943; Secretary 1937

*William Gibbons Rhoads
1943–1958

*Caspar Wistar Haines, Jr.
1958–1973

Owen Jones Toland, Jr.
(related to Sarah Toland Wistar,
Isaac Wistar’s wife)
1964–1999; Treasurer 1968–1987

Margaret Leonard Brown
(Mrs. T. Wistar Brown)
1968–1998

*Dr. Donald Vail Rhoads
1974–2003; Secretary 1983–1991

Samuel Rhoads
2004–present

Israel Wistar Morris III
2012–present

* Denotes served as designated Wistar family representative.


Our information is drawn from our historical archives, and may be incomplete. We welcome any additions or information you may have to share!