In Her Words
Mildred Trotter – Oral History Transcription (Cont.)
Brodman: Where do most of these graduate students go after they get their doctorate?
Trotter: Oh, goodness, I don’t know.
Brodman: Do they go into teaching or research in anatomy, or do they go into some other field?
Trotter: I think it’s safe to say that most of them go into teaching and research in anatomy, but, just now, of course, jobs are hard to come by.
Brodman: In 1963 you taught at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda. Would you tell me about your experience there?
Trotter: David Allbrook, an Englishman, who was head of the Department of Anatomy at Makerere University College, came here to work for two years while on sabbatical leave. A few years later he came back to St. Louis for a visit and [at that time] asked me to come to Makerere for a term as a visiting professor. [I remember him visiting] me in my office and, after a good look at me, remarking, “Why, you look just the same.”
Brodman: People say the most wonderful things.
Trotter: Yes, they do.
Brodman: I remember that, when you returned, you indicated that it was a very interesting experience.
Trotter: Yes, it was.
Brodman: In what way was it so interesting?
Trotter: In many ways. For example, being so close to the equator, to have no shadow.
Brodman: Was it very hot, too?
Trotter: Makerere has an elevation of 5,000 feet, so we were comfortable. It is situated in Kampala, which is called the pearl of Africa.
Brodman: I remember that you also mentioned that the students there were a little surprised to see you.
Trotter: They were. They were post-graduates . They were young surgeons, who were in what corresponds to our training for specialty boards. It was the custom for them to go back to [Great Britain for] refresher courses and examination. But Dr. Allbrook and others [wanted] to have the training and examination in Africa. [This meant that the] examining board [visited] Africa from England. Such an arrangement pleased the [British], too.
Brodman: Yes, they would like to go visiting.
Trotter: My class in gross anatomy, which ran for three months, consisted of twelve students. They were all men. No one had told them before they met me on the first morning that the teacher was to be an American woman.
Brodman: I take it they were very pleased. You have told me that you shook the hand of one of them, a native black Ugandan, and he was surprised and delighted. I take it that there was substantial feeling of color in Africa.
Trotter: Oh, yes. There was a great deal of color discrimination. I arrived in Uganda less than a year after it had become independent, and every day the front page of the newspaper carried an article about how Africans must take over the administration of this or that. I think David Allbrook felt this too, but he had been trying to train Africans to meet this situation.
Brodman: He, I take it, was British.
Trotter: Yes, he was British. [But] every time he would train an African to a level at which he was a proficient anatomist, [his student] would be taken into the government, so Allbrook felt he had no choice but to stay in Uganda. However, he did leave after a few years, and I don’t know whether the head of the department is now an African or not.
Brodman: Was their background training worse or the same as what you expect in Great Britain or the United States?
Trotter: All twelve of the class had been born in Africa. Five were [ethnic East] Indians who had gone to India for their medical training. They were the least well trained. Five were Africans who had been trained in Makerere, and they were quite good. And there were two British, both of whom had had their medical training in England; one of them was [Louis] Leakey’s nephew.
Brodman: You had some difficulty or surprise from the students when you first arrived?
Trotter: There was no real difficulty. I made one mistake, which I didn’t realize until much later. I called them “boys,” as I would our own students. This was unfortunate, as I later learned the term “boys” is very much resented by Africans – as it is by our own American blacks. But they got over any resentment they may have had, and put on the going-away present they gave me, which was an African drum, “To Mama, from the boys.”
Brodman: You have been so distinguished in the field of physical anthropology, being president of the American Association for Physical Anthropology and all sorts of other things, yet you still are interested in hair. Are you doing anything now concerning the study of hair?
Trotter: Yesterday I was struggling with a manuscript that the editor of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology sent me on hair and the characteristics of curling. He thinks it is all wrong to use the classification of hair form which has been used for probably a century, such as straight, wavy, curly, frizzy or kinky, and woolly. His material consisted of samples from seven different populations. From each sample he studied only one hair, which isn’t nearly enough because of the great range of variation of the characteristics of the hair shaft within a given area of the scalp. I asked [Dr. Oliver] Duggins [of our department] to read the manuscript, too. We agreed that the man may have a point, but didn’t prove it.
Brodman: Why does anybody care whether hairs have twist besides the hairdressers?
Trotter: Well, I suppose, Estelle, this goes back to our being interested in facts for their own sake. I should [also say] that hair form has been one of the important characteristics in determining the race of an individual. Race is very important in physical anthropology.
Brodman: When you transplanted the skin onto the guinea pig, what were you trying to do?
Trotter: We used newborn [animals] and we were trying to see whether the slope of the follicle which determines the direction of the hair shaft was established by the time of birth.
Brodman: So you turned them around to see if they would go the wrong direction.
Trotter: Yes, we rotated them 180 degrees.
Brodman: What did you find?
Trotter: We found that the hair follicles were present considerably before birth, so that, on the skin that was rotated 180 degrees, the hairs pointed toward the head instead of toward the tail.
Brodman: So that they actually had a prenatal bent.
Brodman: Well, finally may I ask you what you plan to do in the future? What is your research going to be? Where are you going to go?
Trotter: I’m continuing my studies on the weight, density, and ash weights of the human skeleton and its various parts, which I hope to complete this calendar year. I then plan to extend this research to a series of monkey skeletons, because there is a period in middle childhood when it is difficult to get enough human skeletons to constitute a good sample.
Brodman: And the monkeys are equivalent skeletons?
Trotter: That remains to be seen. Since monkeys are being used more and more in research, I assume that there will be greater and greater need for information about their skeletons.
Brodman: That means you’ll be in St. Louis for at least several more years?
Trotter: I expect to be here the rest of my life.
Brodman: And are you still growing African violets?
Trotter: I had a recess from that, but I’ve started again.
Brodman: Good, and bird watching?
Trotter: I’m afraid I talk more at the board meetings of the St. Louis Audubon Society than I spend time watching birds.
Brodman: Well, I think it’s unlikely that that is true. At one point I think you were also making ceramic table tops.
Trotter: Yes, I made one.
Brodman: What other hobbies do you have?
Trotter: Oh, Estelle, I don’t have any hobbies. I used to ride horseback. Last week I went out to pick strawberries, to see if I could still do it and I could.
Brodman: Where do you find strawberry patches?
Trotter: A friend took me beyond Pacific, Missouri, where one could pick and pay at the rate of three quarts for a dollar, which was only half the price of what they cost in the store. The reason for doing it was not to save the money, but to see if I still enjoyed doing it. And I did.
Brodman: I remember with great pleasure going out to the country with you several times to see the Terry and other places. I hope if we think of anything else to ask you, that you will allow us to return and speak with you again.
Trotter: Thank you, I will.
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