The Academic Health Center History Project documents and preserves the institutional memory and historical events that chronicle the development of health sciences education and research at the University of Minnesota.

University Hospitals: Free For Service

In 1909, when the University Hospitals first opened their doors in an old fraternity house,FratHospital.jpg patients were offered care for free. In the Report of the Medical School to the President of 1912-1913, Dr. Richard Olding Beard expressed concern pertaining to the growth of both the inpatient and outpatient services. The hospital had a waiting list that ranged between 20 and 30, while the clinic was congested. Dr. Beard stated that it was not possible to treat all of the patients who presented at the clinic or hospital. In the 1913-1914 Report of the Medical School to the President, the Outpatient Department cited 13,575 new patients and 47,347 visits, averaging around 155 visits per day.

ElliotHospital.jpgThis congestion led to a $0.10 per patient per ambulatory visit charge to be instated beginning July 1, 1915. There was also a prescription fee for patients requiring prescriptions. The inpatient wards were not far behind in leaving the “free for service” model, with approval from the Board of Regents coming in the 1918-1919 school year for 50 beds in Elliot Memorial Hospital to be used by patients who would pay a per diem charge.

In 1921, the County-State plan for caring for indigent patients who were residents of Minnesota was passed into law, requiring that patients be referred by their family physicians and be certified for care by the Judge of Probate of the county of residence prior to visiting the clinic. In 1923, this was amended to designate the county commissioner as the official authorized to certify eligibility for care, which meant that the University Hospitals could now bill the county for half of the patient’s bill. The balance was billable to the state because of state appropriations.

Whether the cost was free, $0.10 per patient per visit, or a small per diem, visiting the University Hospitals was a pretty good deal.

Primary source of information was Masters of Medicine by J. Arthur Myers.

Elliot Memorial Hospital

This September marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of Elliot Memorial Hospital at the University of Minnesota. Elliot was the first building on campus built as a hospital facility and designed to be closely tied to medical education on campus.

After its opening in 1911, Elliot became the focal point for all new health sciences construction. Additions on the east side included the Frank Todd Memorial Hospital in 1924 with specialty clinics for ophthalmology and otolaryngology and the George Chase Christian Memorial Cancer Hospital in 1925. Additions on its west side included the Minnesota Hospital and Home for Crippled Children (later known as the Eustis Children’s Hospital) in 1928 and the Student Health Services building in 1929.

Across the courtyard from Elliot and its additions, Jackson (1912), Millard (1912), and Owre (1932) halls opened to expand the research and clinical facilities.

In 1951 the Variety Club Heart Hospital opened on the south side of Elliot with a skyway bridge connecting the two facilities.

In 1954 the Mayo Memorial Hospital, built in the courtyard area in front of Elliot, became the new face of the University Hospitals and forever obscured the front entrance of Elliot by using it as a connector to a new wing of the Mayo building and tower.

Today Elliot can only be seen in its original form from the south on a service road next to Variety Club Research Center.

Below are a few photographs depicting Elliot, the original additions, and the final view of its entrance prior to the construction of Mayo.

Elliot Memorial Hospital.



Elliot Hospital with the Todd and Christian additions.


Hospital complex including (left-right) Christian, Todd, Elliot, Eustis, and Health Services viewed from the intersection of Harvard and Delaware.


Final view of Elliot entrance prior to the construction of Mayo Memorial.



Serendipity is always a welcome feeling when working with archival materials, although it highlights the enormity of information available and the reality that one can never know everything they have.

Take this example that happened to me this week.

The photograph below is of a house on Washington Ave that was used as the University Hospital prior to the opening of Elliot Memorial Hospital in 1911. This is the only known photograph of the building in the archives. The photograph was taken shortly before the building was demolished in 1929.


The second item is a photograph scrapbook created by Mercedes Grace Berrisford, a 1910 graduate of the College of Science, Literature, and the Arts.


Little is known about Ms. Berrisford. She was married to Paul Berrisford, a 1912 graduate of the Medical School, and is believed to be the photographer of the pictures taken in the scrapbook. The first part of the scrapbook has pictures taken in 1910 around the time of her graduation. They are mostly campus scenes with occasional self-portraits. While looking through the photos I discovered this picture of the then still open University Hospital at 303 Washington Ave. The sign is still hanging over the entrance.


It is difficult to know whether anyone else had ever come across this photograph and recognized it as the house on Washington Ave. It is also difficult to imagine a world where all of these millions of pages of material might one day be so interconnected that serendipity will no longer play a part. Until then, enjoy the feeling.

Digging deeper

The University Archives collects the personal and professional papers of senior administrators, long-term faculty, selected alumni, and others whose primary institutional affiliation has been with the University of Minnesota.

Generally, these collections complement departmental holdings and reflect the teaching, research, and service missions of the University of Minnesota by capturing the personal perspectives of those tasked with implementing theses missions.

Unfortunately, these collections are not always robust. They have been unceremoniously weeded by their creators during office moves or retirement, picked over by colleagues and family after a person’s passing, or stored in multiple locations hindering attempts to reconcile the documents.

These are generally the conditions archives consider normal. The personal papers of individuals that we do collect are done so with an acknowledgment that it is usually an incomplete set and likely the best means to document their work.

Lately, however, a new approach to digging deeper into the professional lives of those individuals that make up the university has become evident. As the University Archives digitizes portions of its holdings, there is now the ability to keyword search across hundreds of thousands of pages of press releases, minutes, annual reports, and alumni and university newsletters in the University Digital Conservancy. Trolling through this much information simply would not have been possible before.

img0175.jpgOne recent example that I came across was information about Ray M. Amberg, who administered the University Hospitals from the 1930s until his retirement in 1964. The Archives does have a small set of his papers, mostly consisting of personal correspondence and various accolades received for his performance. Yet, by searching the digital archives, a much richer depiction of his involvement with the university becomes clearer.

The first mention of Mr. Amberg is as a student singled out in the 1918 President’s Report as one of eight students leaving their studies to take part in the war effort.


As Director of the University Hospitals, the defining moment of his career was likely the opening of the Mayo Memorial Hospital in 1954.


Finally, in December 1968, the Regents’ minutes note that their regularly scheduled start time was delayed so that they could attend the funeral service of Mr. Amberg.


Ye shall know the truth

“Upon the brains of our men in medical research depend the lives of our people.”

The brochure “And Ye Shall Know the Truth” was a post-war media campaign to emphasize the work done at the University of Minnesota Medical School. At the time the University was involved in a major development push to fund and build what would become the Mayo Memorial Building.

The brochure highlights what was then current and past research at the Medical School and names its most notable faculty. Ironically, Ancel Keys and the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene are featured on the cover; yet, the lab did not move into the completed Mayo complex and instead remained in space underneath Memorial Stadium.

The Mayo Memorial opened in 1954. Thirty-two years later it was replaced as the primary hospital. Today it still provides some research and clinical space amid administrative offices.

See the full brochure below.


Rosemount polio hospital

In 1946, an outbreak of polio spread across the United States and Minnesota was not isolated from this epidemic.

At the University, the Minnesota Poliomyelitis Research Committee, a team of medical researchers from a variety of disciplines under the direction of Maurice Visscher, created sophisticated surveys and data sets based on this epidemic to better understand the disease.

As part of this effort, the University Hospitals provided care to polio patients, both acute and chronic, as a public health service and a means to collect research data. Many of these patients were cared for off-site at the Fort Snelling army station hospital. Activities at the fort quickly came to a close in 1946 after the drawdown of troops after World War II. This drawdown, however, created a new opportunity for the University that proved to be a timely resource.

In December 1946 the University entered an agreement with the War Assets Department to “enter upon, occupy, and use” the facilities and grounds of the Gopher Ordnance Works, a war-time munitions plant and barracks, in Rosemount, MN for the cost of $1.

On January 3, 1947 the University moved non-acute polio patients to the new location and opened the Rosemount Hospital. The Rosemount location served as a hospital until June 30, 1948. During that time, it saw 269 patients for a total of 33,014 patient days.

Much of the above information and more on the University’s response to the 1946 polio epidemic can be found in the “Biennial Report of the President of the University of Minnesota to the Board of Regents 1946-1948.” Read the full report below.


Seeing through you

November 8th marked the 115th anniversary of the German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen’s detection of x-rays while conducting an experiment in his laboratory. The medical application of Röntgen’s x-rays as a diagnostic tool was immediately apparent.

Within a few months of the publication of his findings, a physics professor and football coach at the University of Minnesota, Frederick “Fred” Jones, acquired the equipment to duplicate Röntgen’s results. By March of 1896, Prof. Jones began providing campus lectures on the properties of x-rays and demonstrating the ability to determine densities of liquids and minerals, to see a pair of glasses within a leather purse, and to show the skeleton structure of frogs and fishes with use of the newly discovered rays. That April, Jones lectured medical students on the the use of x-rays to take pictures of tuberculosis patients.

In October 1896, Dean Millard of the Department of Medicine requested Prof. Jones assist in locating bullets in two patients at the City Hospital of St. Paul. Both were located successfully allowing for more precise surgical operations.

A decade later, the construction of the Elliot Memorial Hospital on campus highlighted the need for an on-site x-ray service. In 1912 Dr. Frank Bissell became the first radiographer for the University Hospitals. In 1923 the hospitals established a Division of Roentgenology with a focus of diagnostic and x-ray therapy.

To learn more about the history of radiology at the University of Minnesota, see the 1967 “A Brief History of the Department of Radiology” by Drs. Stephen Kieffer, Eugene Gedgaudas, and Harold Peterson.


Base Hospital No. 26

Every war requires that doctors and nurses become soldiers. The University of Minnesota Medical School first became involved with such an effort as World War I spread across Europe.

img0158.jpgIn October 1916, half a year before the United States declared war with Germany, the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic began preparations for establishing a base hospital at the request of the Surgeon General. The unit, known as Base Hospital No. 26, organized itself over the summer of 1917 under the auspices of the American Expeditionary Forces and waited for the call to active duty. In December 1917, the War Department mobilized the unit. It was not until June 20, 1918 that the unit reached its destination of Allerey, France. In sum, the unit’s equipment and staff were designed to support a 1,000 bed hospital. It cared for nearly 6,000 patients through 1919.

Historical information about Base Hospital 26 is available from a variety of sources. The Minnesota Alumni Weekly chronicled the activities of the Base Hospital through regular articles and published letters from the unit’s staff. Also, several archival collections have material related to the unit including the papers of Dr. Moses Barron, a University of Minnesota pathologist who served as an officer in the unit. Included are photographs, correspondence, diaries, and related information all pertaining to Base Hospital No. 26.

See a short typewritten history below of Base Hospital No. 26 as an example of the materials available in the Barron papers at the University Archives.


Above the fold

This last week marked the 99th anniversary of the dedication of Elliot Memorial Hospital. The September 5, 1911 afternoon edition of the Minneapolis Journal announced the dedication taking place that day “rain or shine.”

img0156.jpgErected at a cost of $155,000 dollars, the Elliot family provided approximately $115,000 to honor Dr. Adolphus Elliot, a former Minnesota physician who passed away in 1902. The legislature provided the remaining $40,000 plus another $44,000 for equipment.

The site of the new hospital anchored the proposed new campus south of Washington Ave. Elliot Hospital spanned the southern edge of the new campus along the Mississippi River and the new anatomy building (now Jackson Hall) marked the northwestern corner. University President George Vincent ceremoniously laid the anatomy building’s cornerstone on the way to the hospital dedication.

In tandem with the gift from the Elliot family, 38 prominent individuals of Minneapolis provided the $42,000 to purchase the land for the new hospital as a gift to the University. Many of the family names are familiar today including Pillsbury, Dunwoody, Shevlin, McKnight, Gillette, Donaldson, and many others.

The 115 bed Elliot Memorial Hospital served two key functions. First, it was a modern clinical teaching facility for medical students integrated into the campus environment. Second, it provided free health care services for charitable cases from across the state. Initially all hospital services were offered free of charge.

Elliot Memorial Hospital is now the Elliot Wing of the Mayo Memorial Building.

Read more about the dedication and construction of the hospital from the Minneapolis Journal. Articles from below the fold or on subsequent pages are available at the University Archives. Also note the articles related to the State Fair.

Cancer center prospectus

In 1971, President Nixon famously began the “war on cancer” by signing the National Cancer Act. The Act, however, was not the beginning of the NIH’s attempt to promote cancer research and treatment but instead was a reinforcement of the goals of the National Cancer Institute founded in 1937. The 1971 Act expanded the budgetary and programmatic functions controlled from within the National Cancer Program and gave the director a direct line to the Office of the President outside of the NIH.

By the time of the 1971 National Cancer Act the University of Minnesota had spent 50 years of establishing cancer treatment and research through charitable giving.

img0133.jpgCancer treatment and care as a focus formally began in 1923 when the Citizens Aid Society led by Mrs. Carolyn McKnight Christian donated $250,000 to the University to open a 50-bed hospital for the treatment of cancer in honor of her husband, Mr. George Chase Christian. The gift also included money for the purchase of equipment and cobalt for radiation therapy. The Christian Wing was appended onto Elliot Memorial Hospital and is still structurally a part of the Mayo Memorial complex.

In the 1950s the Minnesota Masons followed suit with a campaign to establish an 80-bed facility with research space. Shortly after is successful completion in 1958 the Masons went on to raise the funds to add two additional floors to the facility and 50 more beds. The Masonic gifts to the University also included the establishment of an endowed Masonic Professorship in Cancer.

In 1958 the Veterans of Foreign Wars donated $300,000 for cancer research space at the University. The research facilities were built adjacent to the Masonic Memorial Cancer Hospital.

By the mid 1980s, the Medical School and those involved in cancer research in other disciplines began a push to establish a formal cancer center on campus. The University of Minnesota’s Cancer Center opened in 1991.

Read the 1988 prospectus for the Cancer Center below and note the emphasis on interdisciplinary programming.

“It is vital to marshal knowledge of fundamental biology to resolve issues of cause, prevention, diagnosis and treatment.”