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Mildred Trotter – Oral History Transcription (Cont.)

Brodman: What was Dr. Terry’s particular interest in anatomy? I assume bones was one of them or he wouldn’t have collected the skeletons.

Trotter: His chief interest [besides skeletal anatomy] was to be a good teacher. Also, he was interested in the subject of fluid in the lung in connection with the evolutionary transition of animals from living in water to land. He did experiments on that subject for fifty or more years, and only after he retired did he do an all-covering report.

Brodman: That seems funny for an anatomist. I would think that such an interest would be considered physiology.

Trotter: Yes, but Dr. Terry’s training was broad, and anatomy and physiology haven’t always been [considered] separate fields. Besides, there is no limit to the research that can be called anatomical because anatomy is the mother of the whole of medicine. This was one of the things that I came to realize at the first meeting of the American Association of Anatomists that I attended, which I think may have been in 1922. Then there were several sections and less than one hundred papers presented. [Since then] a new section has been introduced every few years and the number of papers has increased five-fold or more. An anatomist can turn his attention to anything.

Brodman: Could you tell me about Dr. Terry’s collection of human skeletons? Why did he collect bones in the first place?

Trotter: Dr. Terry had studied in Edinburgh. Skeletal collections were popular in Europe in those days. This must have influenced him to start a collection here. He was not the first, however, to begin a well-documented skeletal collection in this country. The first was T. Wingate Todd at Western Reserve University, but Dr. Todd wasn’t very far along with his when Dr. Terry started. Dr. Todd’s collection exceeded Dr. Terry’s in numbers but it, I think, was not as well done. Certainly, it has not been cared for as well.

Brodman: What did Dr. Terry want to find out from his collection of bones?

Trotter: He wanted to make it available for all kinds of research on the skeleton. I regret, from the standpoint of history and your records now, that I didn’t keep a record of all the people who came and worked on it.

Brodman: That would have been very interesting. The anatomy department had some very interesting people here, particularly from South Africa.

Trotter: Raymond Dart was here for six months in 1920-21 as one of the first two traveling Rockefeller Fellows. He was originally from Australia, but had gone to University College, London, to study anatomy under Sir Grafton Elliot Smith. Elliot Smith recommended that he come to work with Dr. Terry. So, in that slight way, Dr. Terry and this laboratory deserve some credit for Dart’s [identification of] Taung’s fossil as a form heretofore undiscovered and possibly the “missing link”. [This was in 1924. Soon afterward he became] head of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Brodman: I remember that he revisited St. Louis since I have been at Washington University.

Trotter: He has visited us several times, and he gave the Terry Lecture in 1971. Also, he was Dr. Cowan’s professor of anatomy, recognized his potential, and was responsible for his going to Oxford to work under Sir Wilfrid E. Le Gros Clark.

Brodman: Why is the Terry collection of human skeletons now in the Smithsonian? What is being done with it there?

Trotter: It is in the Smithsonian because the Division of Physical Anthropology was willing to have it housed there. When Dr. T. Dale Stewart was curator he spent a year in our department, studied the collection, knew it well and recognized its value. Our medical school always needs more room. A collection of 1,728 disarticulated skeletons, [including] documentation, requires considerable responsibility. The Todd collection has gone through a long period of neglect, but is now assembled in The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. When I visited [Western Reserve University] not too many years ago I found the skulls in a house on the edge of the campus and the post-cranial remains in the Department of Anatomy.

Brodman: What was the purpose of physical anthropology, as far as you were concerned? Why did you go into that?

Trotter: That was circumstantial. Physical anthropology hadn’t been pursued in this country much before this century, and the two leaders were Ales Hrdlicka of the Smithsonian, and [Franz] Boas of Columbia [University]. Drs. Terry and Hrdlicka were very good friends. [Dr. Terry’s skeleton collection was a focus of their common interest.] It was easily accessible for my research as well. But, unfortunately, I had very little time for research in those days. This is one of the things that I had a rough time with. My research might have had quite a different turn if there had been the kind of laboratory help we have now.

Brodman: What research were you able to do instead?

Trotter: I did a little transplanting of areas of skin and rotating them on backs of guinea pigs to see how and when the hair slope developed, and things like that.

Brodman: What is the purpose of that kind of study? Is it just for the desire to learn how things grow, or is there some secondary reason?

Trotter: [In a general way,] I think all of my interests in research have come from the desire to find out how things grow. [My skin transplant experiments related specifically to Dr. Danforth’s interests and were also of general] interest to plastic surgeons.

Brodman: Jumping ahead in time, because this question also concerns your interest in anthropology, I remember your telling me something about being the first woman to be in the Philippines and Japan after World War II.

Trotter: We were still in occupation in Japan and I was the first woman tourist after the war.

Brodman: But you were connected with the War Crimes Commission?

Trotter: No. My reason for going to Japan was that I had been working with our army as a consultant anthropologist stationed in Hawaii, and I had accumulated enough time for a holiday before coming home.

Brodman: What were you doing with the army as an anthropologist?

Trotter: I was involved in the identification of skeletal remains of World War II dead from the Pacific area.

Brodman: Returning now to the period when you were first at Washington University, tell me what St. Louis was like then.

Trotter: First of all, I should say that I wasn’t accustomed to a large city because I had lived in the country and I went to a country college. I knew Pittsburgh a little, and the two things that struck me when I came to St. Louis were the absence of “keep off the grass” signs and the number of artificial limb stores located on Olive Street.

Brodman: Why do you think they had artificial limb stores?

Trotter: I have no idea.

Brodman: Was this the center of rehabilitation?

Trotter: I don’t know that it was a center. We had something going on under the name of physical therapeutics, directed by Dr. Frank Ewerhardt.

Brodman: Well, I must look this up, it could he. It could possibly be that among the many German immigrants here were workmen who were particularly good in designing or the making of artificial limbs.

Trotter: [St. Louis] seemed also to be very slow-moving. Pittsburgh had been fast-moving by comparison. I think St. Louis is still slower moving than Eastern cities. Don’t you notice that?

Brodman: Very much so.

Trotter: This is very pleasant, and, I’m sure, is a reflection of the city’s southern associations. I don’t think [that] any other particular thing struck me. Of course, everybody used streetcars.

Brodman: Public transportation, I take it, was much better than it is now.

Trotter: Streetcars were everywhere.

Brodman: They used to be so in my time in New York City.

Trotter: I don’t remember New York with streetcars, but then I can’t remember when I was first there. I know I was there in 1918 but didn’t they have buses then? Wasn’t a ride on top of a double decker bus one of the things to do when one was in New York?

Brodman: The Fifth Avenue bus, yes. I guess they started bringing in double decker buses around 1906, but except for the Fifth Avenue bus, where it was a specialty imported from London, I don’t think they had any. I’m old enough to remember going on a horse-drawn streetcar in New York City with my mother and I was so young she didn’t have to pay for me if I sat on her lap, so that shows how many years I’ve been around.

Trotter: Well, I’m very much older than you are, and I never saw a horse-drawn streetcar. I’ve seen and driven a lot of horse-drawn vehicles, but never a streetcar, but I’ve heard about them.

Brodman: Yes, well they were nice, interesting, old slow-moving things and you could see things. Could you also tell us a little bit about what the Washington University School of Medicine Library was like in the twenties?

Trotter: It’s always been marvelous. It was very important in the medical school and had a very high rating. It occupied the space on the first floor and in the basement. The west end of the second floor was given to the library somewhat later. Ella B. Lawrence was the chief librarian. Maude Hennessey and Ruth Drake were on the staff in the beginning. It was a good [library] because Miss Lawrence followed the directions of the [faculty advisory] committee for acquiring the right books, old acquisitions as well as new books.

Brodman: They did a marvelous job. Our collection is really outstanding.

Trotter: I know that Dr. Joseph Erlanger was on that committee.

Brodman: Yes, he was chairman for a while.

Trotter: Who else was on it? I think Dr. Terry was on it, too. At least he made lots of recommendations. I don’t know whether Miss Lawrence had library training.

Brodman: No, but very few librarians did at that time. She was alive and going to meetings when I first started in the medical library profession, but somehow I never met her. Certainly the library seems to have been the length and shadow of Ella B. Lawrence.

Trotter: I don’t know how long she was here.

Brodman: She was here about twenty-five years. She died while still holding the position in 1942.

Trotter: She lived in a little apartment south on Euclid, and walked to work.

Brodman: For some years I lectured to medical students in the history of medicine. To my recollection, who in the past was interested in the history of anatomy? Dr. Terry?

Trotter: Yes.


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