In Her Words
Virginia Minnich – Oral History Transcription
Dr. Estelle Brodman, librarian and professor of Medical History at the Washington University School of Medicine, interviewed Virginia Minnich as part of the School’s Oral History Program. The interview was recorded on March 25, 1981.
Introduction by Estelle Brodman: This is a biographical sketch of Ms. Virginia Minnich of the Department of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. It is dated March 25, 1981. Ms. Minnich was born in Zanesville, Ohio on January 24, 1910. She received her Bachelor of Science in Home Economics degree from Ohio State University in 1937 and her Master of Science in Nutrition degree at Iowa State College in 1938. She came to Washington University School of Medicine immediately upon graduation from Iowa State and has remained here until her retirement and beyond. She retired in 1978 as Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Between 1938 and 1978 she was Research Assistant, Research Associate, Research Assistant Professor, Research Associate Professor and Professor of Medicine as well as Assistant Director of Hematology at Barnes Hospital. She has had much experience in foreign service having served with the University of Havana, the Faculty of Medical Sciences in Bangkok twice in her life and with the University of Ankara in Turkey – the latter under a Fulbright fellowship. She belongs to many societies connected with hematology. Her awards, besides the Fulbright award for research in pediatric hematology already mentioned, are an Honorary Doctor of Science from William Woods College in Fulton, Mo., an honorary service award from the Ohio State University Home Economics Alumni Association and Honorary Member of the Turkish Society of Hematology. In addition, she is a member of Sigma Xi, Iota Sigma Pi, and has two other honorary science citations. She has published many articles and sections of books and has talked frequently on the subject of hematology.
Estelle Brodman: We are particularly pleased to have you here. I am sure this will be of great importance to the knowledge of the history of this School and the history of hematology here, and we look forward to having this in the oral history interview collection which we have here. I wonder if you would just tell us a little bit about your work before you came to Washington University or background at home as to what got you interested in this field and what brought you to St. Louis?
Virginia Minnich: Well this goes back a long way. I wanted to be a nurse and at that time I wrote to Dr. Vilray Blair about being a nurse and he told me that field was crowded and I should do something else.
Brodman: Why did you write to Dr. Blair? How did you know him – was he connected with nursing?
Minnich: Dr. Blair was the plastic surgeon here that I had seen since the age of 13. He and his associates performed about 25 operations for me. So, I was a friend, at least friendly with Dr. Blair as well as he being my surgeon. So finally, I got out of high school and it was four years before I went to college – from 1928 to 1932.
Brodman: That was about the time of the Depression.
Minnich: That was the time of the Depression and I had no money. Finally, my sister took me to Ohio State and I intended to work on my room and board but she decided I had better not do that, so I lived in a university house where I could do my own cooking. It is amazing how much you could do on so little money. I worked on Saturdays and got $2.00 a day, and then when the National Youth Administration started I got $15.00 a month as a nurses’ aide. Well, I found out that you got $20.00 a month as a secretary, as a typist, so the next time I was a typist.
Brodman: What did your family do, and how many siblings did you have?
Minnich: There were six of us in the family; I was the third in line. My oldest sister had a degree in accounting and she was working as a waitress in Philadelphia. The sister just older than I am was a teacher, she was rich, she was making $350 a year. So, she was the one that helped me get started in school.
Brodman: What did your father do?
Minnich: My father was a farmer and we lived about a mile and a half out of Zanesville. I went to a grade school that was all in one room – eight grades in one room. My elementary education was not the best. Then, I went to Zanesville to high school. This was three miles and I usually walked.
Brodman: Every day, three miles? Winter, bad weather and all the rest?
Minnich: Every day. My sister who was just younger than I started the next year, so the first year I went, my oldest sister and I walked together. The second year my younger sister and I walked together. Many times we had rides because people got to know us and picked us up.
Brodman: It was a safer world in those days.
Minnich: A much safer world. So in 1932 I worked as a nurse’s aide. My second year I worked in the Dean of Women’s office as a typist. One year I worked in the archives at Ohio State University, in the stacks, typing the Ohio Tax Report of 1810.
Brodman: If you ever want to go back to it, we would be glad to have you come to work in our archives.
Minnich: I don’t know what they ever did with that typed copy I made. I had to read from script and it was really difficult. Then, my senior year I worked on NYA and got a job with the Home Economics department.
Brodman: Had you majored in Home Economics?
Minnich: I was majoring in Home Economics.
Brodman: Why did you pick that subject?
Minnich: Not being able to be a nurse, I decided to be a dietician, and this is why I went into home economics. In my senior year the home economics department wanted someone to determine the iron in fruits. Dr. Carl Moore was working with Dr. Doan in the hematology laboratory at Ohio State [and] was set up to do iron.
Brodman: He was at Ohio State?
Minnich: He was at Ohio State at that time. So I worked on iron in young women. He wanted to do serum irons in young women so he talked the home economics department into having 18 college girls submit to serum iron determinations every month. I did the serum iron determinations in his laboratory. Chemically. He had worked out the method and this was what he wanted to do. So, the home economics project, the iron in the food, went by the wayside. This is how I got started with Dr. Moore. I worked many, many years with iron. During my senior year I applied for graduate school in biochemistry at Ohio State and for nutrition at Iowa State College. Since I had decided to be a dietician I took the opportunity at Iowa State College.
Brodman: Did you get a fellowship or scholarship with it?
Minnich: I had a fellowship that paid $50.00 a month and my tuition. So I was able to pay my rent. Then, I weighed food for a food balance study on one of the students, and every Saturday I would digest the food and excretions with sulfuric acid and send it to Iowa City where it was analyzed for the different minerals. They were interested in iron and the different minerals. That is how I made my $50.00 a month. Through my whole education, including the master’s, the amount I had to pay was $1,450.00 for five years of schooling. Now this seems impossible. At Iowa State I realized I didn’t want to work with only women so I wrote Dr. Moore and asked him for a job. If he had one, I would like to have it. He wrote back and I just want to read part of this letter that he wrote on May 6, 1938.
Brodman: He was then still at Ohio State but he was planning to come to Washington University?
Minnich: He was planning to come back to Washington University School of Medicine. He said, “I have just returned from Atlantic City where I had the opportunity to talk at great length with Dr. Barr [David Barr, M.D., Head of the Department of Medicine, WUSM], about our plans for the next year. I am very happy, first of all, that he was able to get the money for you to join us beginning September 1 at $75.00 a month.”
Brodman: Well, that was an increase in salary . . .
Minnich: Yes . . . “We shall have to do all our own blood counts, shall have to take care of our animals ourselves, as far as special feeding is concerned at least, shall have to file our own data as we accumulate it and be in general handymen.” Then up on the next page was this one sentence, “The laboratory should be glowing at night as well as during the day. During the spring quarter of each year it will be our job to supervise the giving of a course in clinical laboratory diagnostic methods to the sophomore medical students. I hope that you and Ms. Bierbaum . . .” (who was Dr. Doan’s head technician, and was going to come with Dr. Moore).
Brodman: Dr. Doan was somebody at Ohio State . . .?
Minnich: Dr. Doan was head of hematology at Ohio State. “. . . would be able to assist in preparing material for the laboratory demonstrations. I don’t visualize the job at all as a stopgap and hope that I shall be able to get Dr. Barr to increase your salary to a reasonable level. As I said before, however, it is only fair to warn you that the highest paid technician at the University, to my knowledge, receives only $125.00 a month.”
Brodman: That is amazing when you consider today’s salaries, but I must say that in 1938 I was only making $100.00 a month also so I know that this is what very often occurred. So you came to Washington University knowing Dr. Moore. Are you going to give the letter to the Archives, Ms. Minnich?
Minnich: I intend to give Dr. Moore’s original letter to the Archives.
Brodman: This will be put in the files with Dr. Moore’s other material. Thank you very much for the letter. So you knew him before you came together?
Minnich: That is right. Actually, he went to Europe in the summer of 1938 and when he came back, we started September 1, 1938.
Brodman: Ms. Bierbaum was somebody you knew from Ohio State, also?
Minnich: I knew her at Ohio State.
Brodman: Had you worked with her or you just happened to know her because she was around?
Minnich: I was a shy, little undergraduate and I knew who she was but of course I never talked to anybody but we became very good friends when we got here. Actually, I learned all of my morphology from her. She was an excellent morphologist.
Brodman: She was a technician in hematology?
Minnich: She was the chief technician at Ohio State.
Brodman: How long did she stay here?
Minnich: She was married in 1945 to Dr. Donald Bottom, who was in Radiology.
Minnich: He was doing radiology and left here to go to Alton, Illinois. He died three years ago.
Brodman: When she married she left the field?
Minnich: She left the field. She didn’t do any more after she left.
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