Drinking fountains

Before you take a sip, do you ever pause to wonder how clean the drinking fountain is?

In 1917, public health researchers had the same thought about the water fountains all across the University of Minnesota campus.

The 1917 report, “Drinking Fountains: Investigation of Fountains at the University of Minnesota,” by H.A. Whittaker and published by the United States Public Health Service looks into the sanitary conditions of the drinking fountains and offers recommendations on their improvement. The report identifies the source of the contamination as well as documents the occurrences of streptococci and B. coli.

And it names names, meaning, it gives the location of all the offending drinking fountains. Perhaps there is a fountain on the list that you still use every day.

The report found that all 77 fountains were improperly constructed and allowed for contamination by the consumer. Tests found 80% to be contaminated with strep and 11% to have contaminants not found in the supply water line. It concluded that drinking fountains were a source of transmission of communicable diseases that could be remedied.

Take a sip of water and read the report below.


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.

Making plans

In the fall of 1964, University of Minnesota president, O. Meredith Wilson, appointed a long-range planning committee for the planned physical expansion of the health sciences to correspond with a Board of Regents review of the current health workforce sponsored by the Hill Foundation. Often referred to as the “Learn Committee” in reference to its chair, Elmer Learn, the Committee for the Study of Physical Facilities for the Health Sciences completed its work by 1968 after issuing a three-part report titled “Future Planning for the Health Sciences.”

Although these two events are viewed as the beginning of the expansion of health education and facilities on campus, there are clues that the preparation for their work began a few years earlier.

In 1962 a gathering of data about existing facilities used for health science education and research occurred. It is unclear from the documents who gathered the information or to whom it was directed, but they prove to be interesting none the less.

The first document below lists all buildings associated with medical education at the University of Minnesota. The list is divided into two sections; first the “Old Medical Group,” an area on campus situated just south of the Pleasant St. loop and second, the “New Medical Group,” an area south of Washington Ave and still home to a large majority of health sciences facilities. The list also includes building dates and changes to the building names over the years.



The second document is based on the information collection in the first; however, this document provides building valuations for each facility. It lists the total construction cost, the amount of state or federal contributions, and any major gift or endowment associated with the building.



Ecology of cancer

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells within the body. Common forms of treatment include the targeted destruction of the mutated cells through radiation or chemotherapy or the removal of the cells once they have amassed into a tumor. More recently, preventative measures, including the use of vaccines, have become a common focus in the fight against certain types of cancer. The National Cancer Institute describes these cancer vaccines as representing “an emerging type of biological therapy that is still mostly experimental.”

Yet, those researching the cause & prevention of cancer know that the use of vaccines is not a new idea. Evidence of early research into the commonalities between viruses and cancer is found in the University of Minnesota Archives.

img0183.jpgDr. Robert G. Green, M.D. joined the staff of the Department of Bacteriology in 1918. In the 1920s, Dr. Green’s research focused on the evolutionary nature of viruses and how they cause disease. Dr. Green also directed the Minnesota Wildlife Disease Investigation, sponsored by the State of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota, and the United States Biological Survey. During his tenure, he created a vaccine to prevent encephalitis in foxes. Based on this work with viruses, he went on to investigate how cancer cells spread in the body. In 1946 he published an article on “Virus Aspects of Carcinoma” and in 1947 he published “The Species Character of Cancer Cells” in Science.

Green’s papers are also a fascinating study of the early work done in ecology and the crossover between researchers and the fields of medicine, zoology, and conservation. Examples include correspondence with Aldo Leopold and Charles Elton.

img0184.jpgA 1935 letter from Leopold documents the sharing ideas. Leopold writes “I thought you might be interested in the enclosed publication by Allen and Baldwin, indicating a cycle in the effectiveness of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the process of passage through successive host plants. This comes very near the Matamek hypothesis of cyclic virulence in pathogenic bacteria.”

View the finding aid for the Robert G. Green, M.D. papers available at the University of Minnesota Archives.


Old building, new spaces

We are accustomed to thinking that all growth and new facilities are the result of new construction on campus. Occasionally, old spaces are made to serve new purposes. With the construction of the Central Corridor Light Rail on campus, the former Mayo Memorial Building parking garage is in the process of being redesigned to house sensitive laboratory equipment away from the rail line.

Above the garage, the former Mayo Circle is now in the process of being converted into an all-pedestrian space to also mitigate vibration for the laboratories.


Below are a few photographs of the same space during the original construction in 1950 & 1951.

Looking NE toward Harvard St. with Owre & Millard in the background. 1950

Looking SW toward Elliot & Eustis. 1951

Looking SW toward Elliot & Eustis under a layer of snow. 1951

Don’t believe everything you read

Many photographs in the archives are unidentified leaving archivists and researchers the arduous task of determining the who, what, where, and when by using additional materials to establish context.

Occasionally, a photograph will be identified but parts of the label will be so obviously incorrect that the validity of the rest of the information is also questionable.

Such is the case with this photograph.


A handwritten note on the back reads: “Medical Faculty of 1868 and 1869.”

A few initial observations about this seemingly innocuous note are

  1. There is no indication when this note was written on the back of the photograph but it is unlikely to have been recorded at the time the photograph was produced;
  2. There is no attribution to the photographer or previous owner of the photograph that would help indicate if there is any validity to the label;
  3. If these men are medical faculty, there is no indication in the note or in the photograph that they were part of the University of Minnesota or even in the state of Minnesota.

Next, the years given are also suspicious in the context of medical education in Minnesota. First, they predate the College of Medicine at the University by nearly 20 years. Initially organized in 1883 at the University of Minnesota as an examination board, the College of Medicine did not formally begin teaching courses until 1888. Second, the years 1868-1869 precede the establishment of the first preparatory medical school founded in 1870 by Alexander Stone in St. Paul.

Finally, none of the men look familiar. The most common names associated with the establishment of the medical education at the U of M are Drs. Daniel Hand, Charles Hewitt, William Leonard, and Perry Millard. None of these men, in my opinion, are pictured. The only man who looks somewhat familiar is the man standing on the left-hand side. To me, he looks like a young George French. Dr. French moved to Minneapolis from Portland, Maine and joined the St. Paul Medical College at Hamline University in 1880.

It is possible that this photograph has the wrong date. It is possible that this photograph is not related to the University of Minnesota or any other medical school in the state. It is possible it may not be related to medical education. It is even possible that all of the above are true.

Context in archival material is important for accuracy and authority. These nameless men demonstrate what happens when the context is lost.

Making clean water flow

Walking across the Washington Ave Bridge spanning the Mississippi River, you may happen upon the following sidewalk cling:


U of M researchers are committed to making clean water flow freely, from the headwaters of the Mississippi to the slums of Mumbai. Learn more at umn.edu.

It may come of some surprise that this 21st century global public health perspective originated at the University of Minnesota during the nineteenth century as a result of the friendship between the first university president, William Watts Folwell, and Charles Hewitt, Minnesota’s first secretary of the State Board of Health.

Folwell and Hewitt first became acquainted as officers in the Union Army. After the war, both men became involved in the administration at the University. While president, Folwell worked closely with Hewitt and several other men including Perry Millard to propose the establishment of a college of medicine to the Board of Regents in 1882.

It is clear that these two men shared a bond both personally and professionally. Folwell, who was a faculty member of the political science department, showed great interest in not only the politics of urban sewage sanitation but also the public health implications of clean water and the need for sustainable practices. There is little doubt that his friend, Hewitt, had a hand in formulating his opinions on the power of clean water on public health.

Read Folwell’s article “The Disposal of City Cleanings” below. Note in his closing,

The city will not be allowed to discharge its filth into the Mississippi river indefinitely. Might as that stream is, it is not big enough to dilute and deodorize the sewage of a hundred towns and cities seated on its banks… It is none too soon to attend to the problem of caring for [our] own filth.

It is also interesting that with all of Folwell’s forward looking discussion of the ties between water sanitation and public health, his imagery of “brutes” and “savages” is emblematic of nineteenth century chauvinism and of no use today.


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.


Student health

“Five students were hit by autos, six were bitten by squirrels on campus last year” are two highlights from a 1971 report from the Students’ Health Service.

The Health Service opened in 1918 as a response to the need for student medical care on campus. The first director was Dr. John Sundwall from 1918-1921. The next director was Dr. Harold S. Diehl who would lead the Students’ Health Service from 1921 until 1935 when he became dean of the College of Medical Sciences. The Health Service is most known for its third director, Dr. Ruth E. Boynton for whom the service was named in 1975.

A 1924 report on the Students’ Health Service by then director Dr. Diehl highlights the rapid growth and use of the facilities in its first few years. At the time, the service had 25 beds as well as examination and laboratory space in the basement of Pillsbury Hall. The St. Paul campus had its own building devoted to the Health Service that had 40 beds and out-patient dispensary.

Read Dr. Diehl’s full report as reprinted in Minnesota Medicine in April of 1924.