Oral history project

In 1967, Dr. William Shepard, the former assistant director of the student health service from 1920-1923, wrote to Dr. Gaylord Anderson, then director of the School of Public Health, to encourage him to write a history of the school. Shepard noted:

Now is the time to do it, before everyone who was there at the time is gone and the historian has to depend on dull old documents.

As an archivist, I will refrain from taking umbrage with Dr. Shepard’s particular view of historical documents.

I will, however, agree with Dr. Shepard’s assessment of the imperative of documenting history as it is in process and not waiting for a generation or more to pass in order to collect information.

img0092.jpgAs part of the AHC History Project, we too believe that a full documentation strategy of the health sciences at the University of Minnesota requires not only the systematic collection of departmental records and the recruitment of the personal papers of well-known and accomplished faculty members, but also the recorded personal stories of key individuals who were involved in the formation of the AHC, served in leadership roles, or have specific insights into institution’s history.

Our intent is to bring together a representative group of figures in the AHC’s history whose lived experience encompasses a variety of key topics and conduct interviews that will serve as high quality, well researched oral histories.

To accomplish this task, the AHC History Project is pleased to announce the arrival of Dominique Tobbell, Assistant Professor for the Program in the History of Medicine and Oral Historian for the Academic Health Center History Project. Dominique received her B.Sc. in biochemistry from the University of Manchester in 2001 and her Ph.D. in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008. Her dissertation examined the research and political strategies of pharmaceutical companies, and drug regulation and pharmaceutical policy in the United States after World War II. Her other work has focused on the role of academic and government researchers, biotechnology companies, and disease-based organizations in the development of drugs to treat rare diseases, so-called orphan drugs, and she has a continuing interest in post-war developments in academic medicine and in health policy.

Dominique will take the lead in conducting interviews over the next several years and will work closely with the History Project to make sure the interview recordings and transcripts are made available for research through the archives.

So, if Dominique contacts you and asks you to share your story, please step up to the microphone, for history’s sake.

(Image by Chris Campbell available through a Creative Commons license.)

Dr. N. L. Gault

Dr. N. L. Gault, or Neal to just about everyone he met, passed away on December 11. Dr. Gault was Dean Emeritus of the Medical School and Professor Emeritus of Medicine.

img0081.jpg(Pictured: Dr. Gault with his colleagues at Seoul National University, ca. 1960.)

Dr. Gault’s medical education began in Texas, brought him to Minnesota, and then took him on a world wide tour that included Korea, Okinawa, China, New Delhi, and then landed him for a short time as the Associate Dean for the University of Hawaii School of Medicine. In 1972, Dr. Gault returned to Minnesota and served as dean for the Medical School until 1984.

Dr. Gault served as dean during the expansion of the health sciences in the 1970s and early 1980s. It was once said that he lead a major expansion both physical and functional of the Medical School at a time when every basic resource was in full retreat. After completing his service as dean, Dr. Gault continued to be active at the University as a special staff to the Vice President for Health Sciences and as an advocate for the Minnesota Medical Foundation and Medical School alumni. He also maintained his international interests by serving as the Honorary Consul General of Japan for Minnesota.

I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Gault several times over the past few years. He was well aware of the role of archives and the importance of preserving the historical record. Even during his tenure as dean, Dr. Gault personally and diligently transferred office records from the Medical School to the archives. I told him that his attention to record keeping must have been a result of his early training at Adjutant General School for the Air Force (after serving as Adjutant for a 1,000 bed hospital during the war at the age of 23).

Whenever Dr. Gault was asked what propelled him from rural Texas to an internationally renowned medical education specialist, he consistently answered that it was the opportunity for an education that he found at the University of Minnesota.

History on the walls

The halls of the Mayo Memorial Building seem to have little bits of history scattered throughout. There is a plaque here, a picture there, and even the occasional bronze bust.

img0091.jpgThe other day I walked by a plaque and series of pictures that seem to be lost in a moment of time. The plaque honors those who were selected and served as Chief of Medical Staff. The full text reads:

University Hospitals herewith recognizes and extends its appreciation to each of those who has served the hospitals as Chief of Staff and Chairman of the Medical Staff – Hospital Council.

Chosen by his colleagues to receive this honor, each has represented the Medical Staff and has participated in the development of policies and programs of the Hospitals.

The names inscribed on the plate are

Dr. Harold O. Peterson, 1966-1968
Dr. Lyle A. French, 1968-1970
Dr. John Najarian, 1970-1972
Dr. Donald Hastings, 1972-1974
Dr. Paul Winchell, 1974-1979
Dr. Paul Quie, 1979-1984
Dr. James Moller, 1984-1989
Dr. Robert Maxwell, 1989-

And there the list ends. Somewhere in the middle of Dr. Maxwell’s term with plenty of room left on the brass plate.

Did the administrative offices connected with the plaque move shortly after the 1989 addition of Dr. Maxwell and then leave it behind? Did Dr. Maxwell serve until the transfer of the hospitals to Fairview in 1996? Did Dr. Maxwell finish his tenure but never replaced? Questions I have yet to answer.

Is my prescription ready?

The last time I went to the doctor, I noticed that the prescription pad was quickly becoming a thing of the past. The doctors and pharmacists I interacted with relied primarily on Web based forms, direct faxes, and large pharmaceutical databases to provide the prescriptions and information I needed.

What did we do before this online convenience? One option was to pick up the telephone and call the College of Pharmacy.

The College of Pharmacy provided a public information service for questions related to prescription drugs. Inquiries came in through letters and telephone calls and often sought the composition of pharmaceuticals, translations of foreign prescriptions, and general advice on the interpretation of prescriptions. Most questions came from local pharmacists; however, some were from the general public. At times the information service attracted people passing along employment information and even a solicitation from one pharmacist wanting to sell his business.

From the late 1950s through the early 1960s, Charles Netz, professor of pharmaceutical technology, provided most of the responses. Each answer was usually typed out and given to the pharmacy librarian for filing.

In addition to his duties of teaching and providing pharmaceutical reference information, Netz also served as president of the Minnesota Pharmaceutical Association in 1950, associate dean for the College of Pharmacy beginning in 1960, and acting dean in 1966. He also authored the History of the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, 1892-1970. Netz was a member of the faculty from 1918 until retiring in 1966.

View selected responses to questions for the College’s information service from 1961 below. Topics include questions on mink oil in an ointment, confirming a prescription for Sodium Phenobarbital, an attempt to identify a prescription from Poland, and a pharmacist looking to sell his business.


News round up

The health science research at the U of M’s Academic Health Center is regularly featured in the local and national news. Stem cell research, biomedical construction projects, and cancer rates in American Indians are just a few of the more recent news stories coming out of the AHC.

At other times, a news item may not mention the U of M, however, a primary element of the story will have its origin within the history of the U of M’s health sciences or there is a similar point to be made using information from the U.

The following are three topics from this last week’s news with an AHC historical perspective.

Man Cured of AIDS after Transplant
This news out of Germany received a lot of coverage in the press and even more skepticism from medical experts. However, the basic point of this story is that a man with leukemia received a bone marrow stem cell transplant that also helped to eradicate the presence of HIV in his body. Bone marrow transplants as a means to cure immune disorders and cancers have a forty year history at the U of M since Dr. Robert Good performed the first successful bone marrow transplant in 1968. Although the U of M had no part in the findings coming from Germany, the use of bone marrow transplants as a means to cure blood disorders is a major part of the U’s contribution to medical research.

Fewer than 1 in 5 US Adults Smoke
img0089.jpgThe CDC is reporting that for the first time since the tracking of smoking rates began in the 1960s the US adult average in now below 20%. In 1962, President Kennedy commissioned the Surgeon General and a committee of experts to report on the role of smoking on health. Their report came out in 1964. The ten person committee included Dr. Leonard Schuman who was the head of epidemiology in the U of M’s School of Public Health from 1954 to 1983. The document to the left is Surgeon General Luther Terry’s invitation to Dr. Schuman as well as his acceptance. It also includes a note from the then dean of the College of Medical Sciences, Robert Howard, encouraging Schuman to brace himself for the “slings and arrows of an outraged tobacco industry.”

Google Predicts the Flu
As another example of how Google and our health are becoming more entwined, Google released search data that seemed to predict a spike of reported flu cases in the mid-Atlantic states. An increase in web searches for flu symptoms mirrored a CDC report on confirmed cases two weeks later. As a comparison, I checked the download statistics for the Uof M’s pandemic influenza preparedness document in the AHC’s digital archives. Downloads have remained fairly consistent for the last three months. Hopefully this is an indicator that we will only suffer through a mild to normal flu season this year.

This machine kills

In November, the American Cancer Society sponsors its annual Great American Smokeout and the Lung Cancer Alliance designates November as National Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

The 1956 photograph below highlights early research at the University of Minnesota linking lung cancer with smoking. Dr. Harold S. Diehl, then Dean of the College of Medical Sciences, is showcasing a machine designed to chain smoke cigarettes in order to collect tar samples for research.


A sign on the table explains that these “investigations are being carried out to study this apparent relationship” between smoking and lung cancer. A conical flask on the table collects the smoke pulled from the cigarettes.

Dr. Diehl retired as dean in 1958 after serving in the position since 1935. He then went to work full-time for the American Cancer Society as senior vice president for research and medical affairs and deputy executive vice president, a position he had held since November 1957. For ten years Diehl oversaw the ACS’s scientific research programs that bolstered policy positions aimed at reducing illnesses attributed to smoking.

Dr. Walter Mackey

Dr. Walter Mackey passed away on Sunday, October 19th. Dr. Mackey was a strong proponent of history and using historical materials to support education and professional development.

I first met Dr. Mackey in the spring of 2006 at the Minnesota Veterinary Historical Museum. After discussing the work that I was doing, Dr. Mackey gave me a personalized, detailed tour of the museum’s exhibits and holdings. Through Dr. Mackey I met many faculty members of the College of Veterinary Medicine and attended a board meeting for the museum.

Dr. Mackey was a member of the first class of the newly established School of Veterinary Medicine in 1947. His enrollment was a direct result of his own effort to convince the state to provide funds to start the school. In the spring of 1947 he participated in a legislative hearing with a group of veterans that pressed for the funding of a veterinary school in Minnesota.

Dr. Mackey had a private practice and also worked at the University of Minnesota as the Director of the Research Animal Division and as an instructor of anatomy for the College of Veterinary Medicine. He helped to organize the MVHM and also served as president of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association. For a short time Dr. Mackey also created anatomical models using plastination in order to preserve circulatory and nervous systems for study.

Marie Manthey papers

img0086.jpgOn the third floor in the Mayo Memorial Building’s “C” Corridor there is a small plaque on the wall. This marker is about the only remaining evidence of Station 32 in the old University Hospital.

The plaque recognizes the efforts of the station nurses led by Marie Manthey, then Assistant Director for Nursing, for their work to transform the concept of nursing within the hospital environment. It reads

On this site in 1969 Marie Manthey and a group of pioneering nurses created the system of Primary Nursing. From its beginning on Nursing Station 32 at the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinic the philosophy of Primary Nursing has become the gold standard of nursing care delivery throughout the world.

As part of the History Project’s focus to collect and make available the historical material that documents the development of health care delivery and education at the University of Minnesota, I am happy to announce the recent acquisition of the Marie Manthey papers.

The collection includes correspondence, research notes, writings and clippings related to Manthey’s work in primary nursing and her seminal publication The Practice of Primary Nursing. Manthey, who also served as one of the original Board of Governors for the University Hospitals, later founded the primary nursing consulting firm Creative Health Care Management in 1978.

To learn more about the Station 32 Project and the initial studies conducted, read the Project 32 Preliminary Report from January 1969.


Masonic Cancer Hospital 50th anniversary

The University of Minnesota and the Masonic Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Minnesota celebrated the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Masonic Cancer Hospital at the University of Minnesota on Saturday, October 4th.

Planning for the hospital and fund raising activities began in 1955 with the establishment of the Masonic Cancer Relief Committee of Minnesota. The Grand Lodge of Minnesota originally pledged to provide $500,000 for the construction of the hospital but quickly raised the 1 million dollars to fund the entire project.

Harold Diehl, dean of the College of Medical Sciences, described the effort to build the hospital as “one of the most humanitarian enterprises that has ever come to my attention.

Look through the 1958 dedication booklet below to learn more about the establishment of the Masonic Memorial Cancer Hospital at the University of Minnesota.



In September 30, 1846 William Morton used ether to assist extracting a tooth from a patient in his dental office. Two weeks later he repeated the technique in front of an audience of his peers at Massachusetts General Hospital. The success of the ether demonstration ushered in a new era in surgical anesthesia.

Over forty years later, the use of ether and nitrous oxide were prevalent in surgical operations but still poorly adopted by many for dental procedures. The 1889-1890 Catalogue for the newly created College of Dentistry listed instruction in the administration of ether and nitrous oxide as a part of the curriculum. According to Mellor Holland’s A History of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry: 1888-1988, cocaine was the primary local anesthetic available at the time. The clinical instruction and opportunity to administer the gases to patients at the infirmary offered dental students an opportunity to learn practical skills that exceeded common practice.