Washington University School of Medicine Oral History Project Washington University School of Medicine Bernard Becker Medical Library
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William H. Danforth

Interviewer: Sondra Schlesinger William H. Danforth
Date: April 24, 2007 and June 18, 2007
Identifier: OH122
Approximate Length: 192 minutes
Biographical Information: William H. Danforth was born in 1926 in St. Louis, MO. His grandfather was the founder of the Ralston Purina Company. A graduate of Princeton University in 1947 and Harvard Medical School in 1951, Danforth returned to St. Louis to do his internship at Barnes Hospital. During the Korean War he served in the US Navy. After his military service he returned to St. Louis for a faculty appointment at the Washington University School of Medicine in 1954.

In 1965 while Associate Professor of Medicine he was chosen to take over the duties of the Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs. As vice chancellor he came to work very closely with University Chancellor Thomas Eliot. When Eliot stepped down, Danforth was elected the thirteenth Chancellor of Washington University, serving from 1971 through 1995. After retiring as Chancellor he became chair of the University's Board of Trustees from 1995 until 1999 when he was named Chancellor Emeritus.
Summary: As one of the longest tenured university chancellors or presidents in the nation Danforth oversaw many changes at Washington University and in private higher education in general. In his oral history he begins with his upbringing and education and his early career as a physician and medical researcher before moving on to relate his experiences as Vice-Chancellor for Medical Affairs and as Chancellor of the University. He talks about the challenges administrating a university during the era of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War protests. He also relates many examples of students, faculty, and staff who have contributed to the growth and development of Washington University during his tenure.
Notes: This oral history consists of two interviews conducted on April 24, 2007 and June 18, 2007. The interviews were transcribed and edited by the interviewer, Sondra Schlesinger, in 2008. The transcription was corrected and annotated for clarification after additional review by William Danforth in 2008.
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