September 2009

Pearl McIver

In the fall of 1918 the University of Minnesota Hospital was closed to all patients except those ill with influenza. This included the pediatric ward. At the time, Pearl McIver was a student nurse earning her practice hours during the pediatrics night shift.

According to McIver, the regulations of the unit required all personnel to wear a cap, mask and gown and restricted holding the children. The children were frightened and sick. Left alone on her first night, McIver removed her mask and cap and began wrapping each child and rocking them in her arms until they calmed down and took fluids. She would spend her night working her way through the ward of approximately 30 patients. One night, she was interrupted by an intern whom she thought would expose her. Instead, he offered to help. McIver kept her method of care during the influenza outbreak a secret for years until a chance meeting with the intern who was now a pediatrician.

McIver graduated from the School of Nursing in 1919 and continued to work at the University Hospital until taking a position with the United States Public Health Service in 1922. She retired in 1957 after serving as chief of the Division of Public Health Nursing.

Since then, her story has been told and re-told numerous times including by James Gray in his book Education for Nursing and Katherine Densford in her tribute piece to Pearl McIver in the April 1962 volume of the American Journal of Nursing. However, these two accounts are the re-telling of McIver’s story, paraphrased and embellished.

Below is a particularly poor mimeographed copy of the story that Pearl McIver dictated on July 3, 1958. It is the source used by both Gray and Densford, but it is her first-person account. The story as she told it.


Iron lung

So where do you keep your Iron Lung?

img0122.jpgA common question among archivists and museum curators in the health sciences, the answer usually involves an off site location that can handle the nearly half-ton piece of equipment. This model belongs to the University of Minnesota and sits idle in warehouse off campus.

I haven’t been able to determine its date of manufacture. The Emerson Co. ceased production in 1970. Its model no. is R, serial no. W. A repair tag indicates the last service date was in 1978.

img0121.jpgThis model is likely from the 1950s. The early Emerson Iron Lungs from the 1930s were a baby blue color. The Smithsonian has the first Emerson model. The Minnesota Historical Society reportedly has a baby-blue Emerson in storage. J. H. Emerson became synonymous with the respirator after his less expensive model usurped the market from the Drinker Respirator developed at Harvard in 1929.

For most of us, looking at an Iron Lung stirs up a sense of claustrophobic restlessness. For those whose lives were saved by the device, a much more complicated set of feelings must be invoked. As of 2004, an estimated 40 people still relied on the respirators to survive.

The people who benefited from the Iron Lung did so with the help of others. They were not just placed inside and parked. The respirator was designed to be as portable as possible despite its weight and reliance on electricity.

A 1953 article in the Minnesotan, a publication for faculty & staff, details the behind the scenes work with the respirators at the University Hospitals. The article describes the care and upkeep of the machines, the planning and process to always have enough on hand at the height of polio outbreaks, and the ways in which patients and their respirators were moved and transported including the use of 50 foot extension cords to go from electrical outlet to outlet and police escorts. Learn more in the article below.


Dr. John W. LaBree

img0118.jpgDr. John W. LaBree, former Dean of the School of Medicine at Duluth and Assistant Vice President for Health Sciences, passed away on August 1, 2009.

His published obituaries (U of M; Startribune) have documented his outstanding achievements including his pioneering work in heart catheterization and his 70-plus-year relationship with the University of Minnesota’s health sciences from med student to assistant vice president.

Yet, archives can help us look back and see Dr. LaBree’s early career before the lifetime achievements and accolades.

The photo above is from 1950 while serving as an Instructor of Medicine at the University, a year before founding the St Louis Park Medical Clinic.

The notice below is from the February 15, 1946 Board of Regents minutes announcing his appointment as a Medical Fellow.