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Mildred Trotter – Oral History Transcription (Cont.)

Brodman: Did you know Dr. Major J. Seelig, who taught a course here in the history of medicine?

Trotter: Yes.

Brodman: He wrote a book about it. What was he like?

Trotter: He was a surgeon, a short, wiry man, extremely pleasant, helpful, and I think universally liked. A scholar, especially a Latin scholar.

Brodman: Really? I’m surprised at that. He apparently was also a Hebrew scholar.

Trotter: I can’t tell this story very well, maybe you have heard it: A nun was discovered to have an inoperable abdominal cancer, a biopsy was taken and the slides kept, but she lived for ten years or more and then died from something else with no evidence of cancer at autopsy. She was made a saint, and Dr. Seelig was the physician who was called in to present the evidence in Latin. I believe “the trial” occurred in New Orleans.

Brodman: Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t know that. To get back to the history of anatomy and Dr. Terry – did he give courses in the subject?

Trotter: Yes.

Brodman: I have some of his lantern slides which I sometimes use in my classes. In 1925 and 1926, you were a student at Somerville College at Oxford University in England. How did you get there, what did you do, who sent you?

Trotter: I was awarded a National Research Council Fellowship. The question was, where should I go? Our laboratory at Washington University was largely oriented towards physical anthropology. Therefore, Dr. Terry steered me to Oxford although at that time Cambridge and University College, London were better known in the biological sciences.

Brodman: Under whom did you work when you were at Oxford?

Trotter: Arthur Thompson, a professor of Anatomy at Oxford. He was a kindly man who had done important work on the structure of the eye. But he was in his later years when I was there. [By then he] was more interested in art than science, [indeed,] had written a book on anatomy for artists. He didn’t think very much of American education and said to me one day, “Tell me frankly, don’t you think that American students when they are through college are at about the same level of education that ours are when they come to Oxford?”

Brodman: Many Americans, I am afraid, agree with him. What did you study at Oxford?

Trotter: I had a fellowship to study racial differences in hair. But that didn’t please Professor Thompson, so he assigned me to study vertebral columns from the Thebaid, in Egypt, which had been collected years before. They were in a frightful state. They had to be scrubbed and sized with a thin glue so they wouldn’t crumble. I said to Mr. Chesterman, who was Professor Thompson’s right hand man, “Who is going to do this?” and he said, “I’m afraid you are.”

Brodman: Do you think they would have done that to a man?

Trotter: No. Henry Field was there studying at the same time. He had things on silver platter.

Brodman: I don’t know Mr. Field.

Trotter: He is related to Marshall Field of Chicago, of [department store fame]. Henry was the instigator of Malvina Hoffman’s famous series of sculptures of people from all over the world, which made up the “Hall of Man” in the Chicago Museum [of Natural History].

Brodman: Again, you were forced into research that was not your main interest.

Trotter: That’s right.

Brodman: Is that generally because you are a woman? I keep coming back to this because I know your interest in “women’s lib.”

Trotter: Perhaps these turns of events developed my interest in “women’s lib.” I don’t really suppose I started out with that point of view, even though I went to a woman’s college.

Brodman: Do you feel that the hopes that women had at the time of World War I for better positions in science and in the world in general were higher than what women aspired to later? I have heard others say they have felt that way: that they felt that there was greater optimism then than even in the present day.

Trotter: [I was and I remain] optimistic. But it’s a great struggle that we must keep on with.

Brodman: I notice that in the Public Health Service and in the Children’s Bureau, and also in librarianship, there were more women at the higher positions around World War I than there are now or have been in the last ten years.

Trotter: I really think it hasn’t changed very much. Next year we’re [admitting] twenty-five women students in the freshman class, which is a larger number and percentage than we have had so far. And there is pressure to take [even] more women and blacks.

Brodman: Were there other women in Oxford with you, or were you the only woman?

Trotter: There was one woman on the staff of the anatomy department who was very helpful and very able. She was in charge of the laboratory of gross anatomy for women students, a laboratory on the second floor. The men dissected in a laboratory on the first floor. There was also a number of American students in Oxford at the time. I recall one, Genevieve Cope, who was in mathematics. She was from Pittsburgh, and had the most beautiful red coat you ever saw. When I left she gave me that steel engraving of the towers of Oxford which you may have noticed in my apartments.

Brodman: Was this your first time abroad?

Trotter: Yes. I [left the United States] early in June [of 1925]. I didn’t have to report to Oxford until the middle of October [but arrived a month earlier]. I rented a bed-sitting room with a landlady, Mrs. Devine, whom I called the divine lady. I was terribly homesick, not really homesick to be home. [But because what] seemed [to me] to be a strange situation. One day I went to lunch to the cinema cafe, which was near my lodgings. The cafe was in the front part of the movie house, and it was rather crowded, so the head waiter put me at a table with [a woman], who turned out to be Lady Osler. She said to me after a minute or two, “You are an American?” I [replied] “Yes, how did you know?” and she said, “From your clothes.” Well, my clothes were nothing to write home about; she was just a very observant person.

Brodman: Well, of course, she was an American, too.

Trotter: Yes, she was. Then she invited me to her house, which was open house every Sunday afternoon. But I never went. Wasn’t that foolish?

Brodman: Then, I take it you didn’t meet Sir William Osler?

Trotter: No, I didn’t. He had died in 1919.

Brodman: Who are the people that Dr. Terry brought into the department besides yourself?

Trotter: Oh goodness! [Dr. Terry] brought C. H. Danforth, of course, as a very young man. [He recruited] Edgar Allen from Brown in 1919, K. S. Chouke joined us, as did George D. Williams. Beatrice Whiteside taught histology in those early years. George Seib [taught gross anatomy] in the department for ten years. [I also wish to mention Cecil Charles and Forest H. Staley]. Dr. Staley, who was a leading authority in St. Louis on snake bites, [taught part-time].

Brodman: Were most of them M.D.’s, or Ph.D.’s, or were they half and half?

Trotter: Drs. Danforth and Allen were Ph.D.’s and Dr. Charles was both.

Brodman: They were mostly full-time people, I take it, because one of the great complaints of the Flexner Report concerned staffing by part-timers.

Trotter: Yes. Dr. Staley was not full time and Dr. Mastin was here part-time as a demonstrator in gross anatomy.

Brodman: Did these people go from here to better positions? I remember that Dr. Dempsey once counted up the number of department heads that had gone from here.

Trotter: This has always interested me. I sat beside Dr. Allen once at a meeting, after he had been at Yale for a time. He went through the program and [found many whom he had trained here]. I suppose [this] brings pleasure to [a professor]. Dr. Danforth went to Stanford, and was head of anatomy there for a long time, and was much loved. He later became a member of the National Academy. Dr. Allen went from here to the University of Missouri where he was not only head of anatomy, but also dean. From there he went to Yale, and took [Dr. William] Gardner with him. Dr. Gardner succeeded him at Yale as head. He has also been elected president of the American Association of Anatomists.

Brodman: I don’t know about anatomists or medical people, but I think librarians are always pleased when members of their staff go off to be heads of libraries somewhere else.

Trotter: You hate to lose them, but you’re proud.

Brodman: After Dr. Terry retired, Dr. Edmund Vincent Cowdry became head of the department. He had been at the Peking Union Medical College. Did he come directly from there?

Trotter: Oh, no. He went to Peking from Johns Hopkins [University]. He came back to the United States to be at the Rockefeller Institute. Later, [in 1928] he came here to be head of microscopic anatomy, although I think at that time it was called the Department of Cytology. Before Dr. Cowdry came, Dr. [Stephen Walter] Ranson headed the Department of Histology [and Neuroanatomy].

Brodman: Dr. Ranson, the neurologist?

Trotter: Yes, from Northwestern [University]. He stayed only two years, and then went back to Northwestern. He had brought [Drs. Joseph C.] Hinsey, and Sam L. Clark, Sr., who was then a young man. [Clark’s] son, Sam, Jr., who was acting head of our department not so long ago, was born in St. Louis when his father was here under Ranson. When Dr. Cowdry succeeded Dr. Ranson he took the post on condition that, when Dr. Terry retired, [cytology and anatomy] would be re-united [as one department].

Brodman: So, Dr. Cowdry came in 1928, thinking he was going to be the head of the department when Dr. Terry left?

Trotter: Oh, yes. The dean, Dr. [W. McKim] Marriott, promised this. I gather there was nothing in writing about it, but Dr. Cowdry was able to pull it off anyway. [This was] even though the Executive Faculty and the [administration] were quite different, when Dr. Terry retired in 1941, from what they were in 1928, when Dr. Cowdry first came to the school.

Brodman: Dr. Cowdry is on record to the effect that the Washington University system was very poor during his early years here and that no less than Dr. Erlanger had difficulties because of that. Do you agree with him and, if so, how was the problem taken care of?

Trotter: If [Dr. Cowdry] thought it was bad for [Dr. Erlanger], I wonder how he thought it was for me?


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