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Mildred Trotter – Oral History Transcription (Cont.)

Brodman: Why, what was the difference?

Trotter: Well, of course, he was responsible for my salary over so many years. [My salary] was very bad, which made my pension very bad.

Brodman: Was this because you are a woman? Did other people in the department get paid more?

Trotter: Of course, Estelle, they were paid a lot more. For example, I had a leave of absence without salary in 1948-1949 to work for the Army in Hawaii. I recommended a woman to take my place, but that wasn’t acceptable. [Instead,] they took a man for six months and paid him my full salary.

Brodman: I am a little surprised to hear that about Dr. Cowdry. He appears to support “women’s lib” and yet, you say, he went along with the ethics of the time, by which a woman was paid less than a man. I have been the victim of sex discrimination many times in my life, too, though I must say that now we women seem to be doing better than before.

Trotter: Don’t you feel for the most part now that that’s an individual thing, or do you think it’s quite universal?

Brodman: I think it is more universal. Places that still discriminate do it with embarrassment, when before they just took the practice for granted.

Trotter: Yes, I agree. For example, Dr. Margaret Smith had a period when she served as acting head of the Department of Pathology. That was when [Dr. Philip] A. Shaffer was dean. And, I may say, Dr. Shaffer was the limit about women. He had a woman in his department whose name was Margherita Cotonio. She later married Dr. Geoffrey Bourne, who was a heart specialist in London. When she was struggling for her degree and needed a little more monetary help in the way of tuition or something of the sort, Dr. Shaffer [advised her] , “Well, what you do is just dig down in the family sock.”

Brodman: And would he have said that to a man?

Trotter: I doubt it very much.

Brodman: Do you think these people didn’t really want women in the school? Or did they think women should be married and have a husband supporting them?

Trotter: I don’t know. I can [cite] only one [example, a] surgeon who was here in the early days. He used to pace up and down my room because of the women who were [applying for positions]. I [asked him], “What’s the matter with [these women]?” [He replied], “Nothing. Frankly, I don’t want the competition.”

Brodman: That surgeon was more honest than many.

Trotter: It was to Dr. Cowdry that I went and [asked] “Why can’t I be promoted to full professor?” He thought hard and [replied], “Well, you could.” [But earlier], at the time that he became my chief, [I learned of] a move to take the gross anatomy course [from me and to] have one of his men run it.

Brodman: Why did they want to do that?

Trotter: Because a man under him, who was a year or two younger than I, wanted that responsibility.

Brodman: It wasn’t that the students objected to having a woman in charge?

Trotter: I don’t think they ever objected. But I was [incensed] about this [plan]. I finally woke up one morning and said [to myself], “I have nothing to lose.” So I asked Dr. Cowdry to come to my office and he did. I put my cards on the table. He [responded], “All right, we won’t do it.” I think the man who [had asked to teach the course] never knew [why] Dr. Cowdry changed his mind.

Brodman: Do you think Dr. Cowdry had never even thought about the injustice of such a move, and when you showed how unhappy you were with the idea he was surprised?

Trotter: I really don’t know, Estelle.

Brodman: What was Dr. Cowdry’s particular interest in anatomy? You mentioned microscopic anatomy.

Trotter: I can’t remember quite what his [exact scientific research] interest was when he came. He [was on leave for] a year in Africa soon afterwards, and another year somewhere [else] a bit later. [I remember ] Dr. Terry [remarking], “Part of his equipment is packing cases.” [Dr. Cowdry’s] general interest was cytology and, possibly, one of the leaves was to study leprosy.

Brodman: There was some disease of cattle for which he found the vector, as I remember.

Trotter: But he had many avenues of interest – one after another.

Brodman: Returning to the pension problem, Dr. Cowdry claimed that he brought about a solution. Was this really true?

Trotter: He worked on [the problem] terribly long and hard. It was embarrassing many times. I don’t know whether the present system would have been accomplished without his [efforts]. But he made himself very unpopular with a succession of deans at this medical school, and also with the chancellors [of the central university administration].

Brodman: Was that because he was bringing home truths to them and they didn’t like it?

Trotter: It could have been. I don’t know. [His investigations on the matter extended far beyond the university.] This [I learned] when I was [attending] a luncheon in New Hampshire one summer [during] a week of conferences on bone. The wife of a “bone man” from the University of Chicago, who was important at this conference, [told me] that they [received] a letter from Dr. Cowdry about pension arrangements.

Brodman: He still talks about it. He comes down occasionally and tells me how badly off he is. This is embarrassing, too, because there’s really nothing I can do about it. But I think this has become one of his obsessions.

Trotter: I also feel that embarrassment, but I don’t understand the principle [behind] the school in having such a low retirement annuity. It may not be quite as low now as it was a few years ago, when Dr. Dempsey was dean. Once I asked Dr. Dempsey what [provisions were available] to supplement one’s annuity. [From his response], it seemed that if retired [employees who] were in need [came forward], they were helped by the school. It was a [demeaning] situation, because the [remedy] required that one [reveal personal] financial assets.

Brodman: Was this difficulty related to inflation? Washington University now has the pension system to which many universities subscribe, TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association).

Trotter: I think Dr. Cowdry brought this about. We had no pension when I first came, and then we had a pension [plan administered] by an insurance company. [But this] soon came to an end. I [made contributions to my plan] on my own for a while, but soon gave it up.

Brodman: Well, I think now that Washington University’s pension scheme is the same as the one I had at Columbia University. It is common all over the country. How did Dr. Cowdry get interested in aging?

Trotter: Because he was getting older.

Brodman: He made a great deal of money on the book on aging.

Trotter: He rolled with the times, and aging has become an important subject. [However,] I think the new head of the Rockefeller Foundation, Dr. John Knowles, [has said that we should not put] so much money into caring for the old and invest it [instead] in something for [the needy of] a younger age.

Brodman: It’s hard when you have only a certain amount of money to know what to do with it. Especially since it’s older people who vote and children do not.

Trotter: Yes, but more children are voting now.

Brodman: I guess our definition of children changes over the years. Well, Dr. Dempsey was a very, very different person from Dr. Cowdry and, I gather, also from Dr. Terry. He came from Harvard, didn’t he?

Trotter: Yes, his college was Marietta in Ohio, his graduate work was done at Brown [University. But] you know all this.

Brodman: No, I don’t.

Trotter: Then he was on the faculty at Harvard. [He ran the anatomy department there] for some time before he came here because [the official] chief, Dr. [George] Wislocki, was ill. I think he was happy to come here, though, because it was a promotion. Dr. Wislocki continued as head of the department at Harvard for a few years after Dr. Dempsey moved here.

Brodman: I knew Dr. Dempsey mostly as dean and only occasionally as head of the anatomy department. His interest in anatomy was in endocrinology, as I remember.

Trotter: It certainly was when he came. He had been editor of the journal Endocrinology for ten years. [He was interested] also in neurology. Now he is working again on [a still] earlier interest, placentation.

Brodman: He was a very good administrator, I thought, one from the old-fashioned school who liked to keep things in his own hands. Compared to the three heads of the department before him, how would you evaluate him as an administrator and scientist?

Trotter: I couldn’t answer the question, and I wouldn’t if I could. I think he was the [chief] person who was closest to his staff of [all those I’ve known].

Brodman: Was he able to be close to people in general?

Trotter: Yes.

Brodman: Even librarians?

Trotter: Yes.

Brodman: He brought new faculty to the department, too, did he not?

Trotter: Oh, yes. I was the only one who survived his arrival.

Brodman: Oh, really? What happened to the others?

Trotter: Well, they departed, or were encouraged to depart.

Brodman: Why?

Trotter: Well, one, Dr. [Albert I.] Lansing, left because he had expected to be appointed head himself. He moved to the University of Miami in Florida, stayed there for only a year, then went to the University of Pittsburgh, where he has been ever since. The others were younger, and I can’t remember offhand what became of them.

Brodman: And you think that their leaving was no great harm to the department or to the school?

Trotter: Oh, yes, I think it was a good staff, too.

Brodman: You think the ones who left were good?

Trotter: One is a surgeon at the University of Wisconsin; his name is [Dr. George] Rowe. I just can’t remember who the others were.

Brodman: But they left because they thought they weren’t going to get very much further under Dr. Dempsey?

Trotter: Well, I’m sure they conjectured about that.


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