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Transcript: Eugene J. Bribach, 1975

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This is Oral History interview number 19. We are talking today with Dr. Eugene J. Bribach, Washington University School of Medicine, Class of 1905.  Dr. Bribach, you were speaking a few minutes ago about the origin of your name.

Well, it was supposed to be “Bribac” and when the Protestants were run out of France, they were invited by Frederick the Great to come to Germany.  Evidently, they went to Germany and they added the final “h” to the name: Bribach.  I don’t know where they started out in France; I always thought it was probably in Southern France.  There were two Bribachs in St. Louis: my father, Eugene, and his brother, Benno, both of them physicians.

So you come from a line of physicians.  When did the Bribachs come to the United States?

My father and his brother came to the United States when they were youngsters – my father may have been about twelve or thirteen or fourteen years old – and they settled in Kansas, out near Ft. Harker.  That’s about the middle of Kansas.  They ran into two years of grasshoppers and they [the grasshoppers] cleaned them.  My dad came down to the Missouri River and got a job as cook on a steamboat.

How old was he then?

This was 1870.  The reason he remembered the date was that they got the news that Chicago was burning, so that dates the thing pretty accurately. [ed note: The Chicago fire occurred in 1871]  He got this job and landed in St. Louis and finally got to be a druggist.  He and his brother had a drug store in South St. Louis, in Carondelet.

At that time people sometimes learned their medicine by being apprenticed to a doctor.  Do you know how he—?

I don’t know.  My father was a graduate of the Beaumont Hospital Medical College.  From there, he was one of three physicians who started St. Mary’s Infirmary, down on 1536 Papin.  I think they started there because the Sisters had been given the old Coste residence, and pretty soon after that they built this hospital.  It wasn’t long after that they enlarged it.  Then they founded Mount St. Rose later on and started branches in Wisconsin and Missouri and elsewhere.

Did your father practice medicine in St. Louis for most of his life?

Yes, always.  He was a gynecologist.

So he did have a specialty?

Well, it was mostly gynecology.  He was with St. Mary’s for many years; I don’t know how many.

Was he affiliated with any other hospitals?

The City Hospital was down in our area, but he was not busy in the City Hospital.

How did you decide to go into medicine?

Well, my father was a physician and my mother rather urged me.  I wanted to go into the navy but my mother kind of talked me out of that and I went into medicine and went to Washington [University].  You mentioned Dr. Sidney Budgett’s name.  There was a statement in the catalog that you should pay your dues [tuition] when you entered the school.  But I was looking for a bill from the office, so I let it run along for a while and then I went to his office one day and asked him about it.  He said, “Well, you should have paid this.  The book says—”, and he read, “[Tuition] is due when you enter.”  I think he added interest for the time I was overdue.  I was so damn mad I thought I’d quit the school; there was nothing said about actually paying it on the spot.  But I stayed with it and graduated with that same class.

In 1905.  What was the official name of the medical school then?

I think it was the Medical Department of Washington University.  It had been the St. Louis Medical College up to that time.  It was down on Locust Street – at Eighteenth and Locust.

I was looking at the history this morning.  I believe it was 1891 when St. Louis Medical College affiliated with Washington University as the Medical Department.

And also the Missouri Medical College.

Yes, they came in in 1899 so that the two branches were joined then.

When I was going to medical school that building up on Jefferson Avenue that had been the Missouri Medical College was now one of our clinical buildings.  I worked in the GU clinic there with Dr. Robinson.

What type of curriculum did you have in those days?

The first year was anatomy, physiology; that’s all I remember.  Maybe we had some pharmacology the first year.

It might list the courses in here [ed. note: interviewer apparently refers to catalog from era of Dr. Bribach’s enrollment].  Do you remember how large your class was?

About 100.

That doesn’t include the whole school?

Oh, no.  That’s just the medical school.

That’s interesting, because the state had about 100 for quite some time, before its recent expansion.

With more facilities now we are importing doctors from Egypt, the Near East, and Europe.  I don’t know why we shouldn’t have enough doctors produced in this country.  Out there in the country, these foreigners are not capable of delivering real medical service, in my opinion.  How can they talk to a patient and get symptomatology when they don’t know the customs of the country and food habits and so forth?  Of course, they’ll learn them after a while.

Were you the only doctor for some distance there [in Atchison, Kansas]?

This town is sort of a railroad center, you see, and it’s always been a rather important town.  In fact, it’s been getting smaller since I’ve been there.  That’s one reason why I love it.  There isn’t the rat race that there is in bigger cities.

At the same time, you’re able to specialize, too, in the areas that interest you.

Oh, yes.  It’s a very prosperous area – mostly farmland.

Did you have a specialty?

No.  I was going to be a surgeon.  When I was an intern at City Hospital my roommate was Harry Lincoln.  Harry Lincoln had talked to [John] Green, [M. Hayward] Post and [Arthur E.] Ewing and he was going to go there and do eye work.

In Leavenworth?

No, to do eye work in St. Louis at the Green, Post and Ewing office.  He said he was going to throw it up.  I kind of had a hankering for eye work so I said, “I’ll take it.”  So I went there and talked to Dr. Ewing about it and Dr. Ewing said, “All right, come on.”  So I was with Green, Post and Ewing for three years in St. Louis.

What made you decide to move?

From the Green, Post and Ewing office I went to Germany for two years, doing eye work.  I went to England and put in some time there at the biggest eye hospital in the world, in London.  I put in some time in Paris, watching the eye work there – a lot of things about it I didn’t like.  I went to Strasbourg and knew that was the place I wanted to study.  I was the only American there in the eye department.

Did you have facility in the language?

I had trouble in the language, of course.  I’d had some school instruction and I’d heard some German spoken in South St. Louis, which was more German then than it is now.  I had a system – I had an English-German dictionary and I’d get hold of the daily paper and start in the upper, left-hand corner.  Every word I came to that I didn’t know, I put on a list.  In a very short time I was able to get along pretty well.

You decided, then, to study in Strasbourg.  Were they ahead of the United States then in eye work?

Well, Professor [Karl] Stargardt was the chief there and he was a powerhouse – a wonderful teacher and a real scientist.  He had a very good setup.  I worked with Stargardt there for about seven or eight months.  From there I went to Freiberg to Oxenfeld’s (?) clinic.  Oxenfeld, who was the editor of the _________ was the head, and he was a whiz.  I stayed there about a year, and from there I went to Heidelberg and put in some more time.  Then my money ran out and I had to come home.

It certainly was an opportunity, to study with these people in Europe.

I went to Europe with the idea of getting some instruction in physiological optics.  I didn’t know where I could get it in the United States, and I didn’t have very much mathematics.  At the Sorbonne, where I applied, the man that was teaching that did not speak English and he didn’t speak German.  He spoke French and Norwegian.  So I never got physiological optics.  I watched the work there in Paris and saw some very good work and some very poor work.  Then I went on to Strasbourg and just loved Strasbourg.

Did you come back to St. Louis after your time in Germany?

Yes, but before I went to Germany and before I went into eye work, I was an intern at City Hospital.  The interesting thing about that was that the old City Hospital had been destroyed by the tornado of May 27 or 28, 1892, I think it was – or maybe it was 1896 [ed. note: the tornado destroyed the St. Louis City Hospital on May 27, 1896].  And all of those buildings were torn down, so the City Hospital took the abandoned convent on Eighteenth and Pine [from] the Sisters of St. Anthony.  That’s where I was an intern.  Later on we moved over to the new building that had been put up, so we were the first group in the new City Hospital.

Were the responsibilities of an intern about the same as today?

Things have changed a lot.  We interns were lodged in one of the buildings there and we got our food and our laundry [free], and that was it.  Nothing else; no compensation other than that.  But it was a very good system because the medical schools of St. Louis used the clinical material in the hospitals.  These men would come to lecture.  They would come and ask us what interesting cases we had and of course we referred them.  We had the privilege of listening in on their talks on our patients.  Not only that, the same patient was presented to the men of the different schools, so we listened to the varying opinions, you see.  That was interesting.  I don’t know whether any student today has a comparable privilege.

In your time as a medical student, how many years was the program?

I was a junior one year and then a senior.  There were about 23 or 24 junior interns.  Then there were about four senior interns, and the seniors were selected from the juniors.  Of course, most of us only stayed one year.  Then there were the Assistant Superintendent and the Superintendent, who was John Young Brown in my day.

Could you tell us something about him?

Well, he knew good whiskey when he saw it, I think.  He was a well-trained man; he’d been trained in Philadelphia by Price.

How much undergraduate training did you have?  Did you have to graduate from college at that time?

No.  I went from high school to medical school.  I was only 24 years old when I graduated.

You mentioned that you spent one year as an intern.  How many years did you spend in medical school previous to that?  I don’t think the program was four years then.

Oh, yes.  It was four years.

You did go from high school right into medical school, but then you spent four years in medical school and one year as an intern?

Yes.  I didn’t do so bad – I was in the upper 10 in the class, so it wasn’t too much of a handicap.  I was a high school boy.

Did everyone come from high school or did some go to college first?

Oh, some of them were superintendents of schools and so forth.  We had some graduates from Harvard there.  They had all varieties.

So it was more flexible then than it is now.

Oh, yes.  Jerome Cook, who practiced here in St. Louis as an internist, was also a high school graduate.  We came from the same part of town.  Jerome Cook and I were good friends – both high school boys that went to medical school right out of high school.

Was he in your class?

Yes.  We were parallel.  He was not only in my class, but we were interns at City Hospital together.  There were 150 applicants for those jobs at the City Hospital.  That was considered a very good internship. There were 150 applicants and only 25 jobs.

So there was competition in those times, too, for the positions.

We started this examination; we wrote our essays under nom de plume and we started in, as I remember, at 9 o’clock in the morning and we closed at either 5 or 6 in the afternoon.  There was no time out for lunch.  That was the first time that I lost my accommodation.  I really hit that as hard as I could [and] I believe I ranked fourth or fifth in [the examination], so I got a job out of that all right.  I was just a high school boy and a lot of these boys were university men, of course, applying for this job.  Washington University did very well on that competition as against the other schools here.

You mentioned earlier that you had Vilray P. Blair as one of your instructors.  Could you tell us something about him or about his classes?

Vilray Blair was of French extraction.  The old French people in town – he belonged to that category.  He was an erratic sort of a guy, you know, but he had no bad habits as far as I know.  He was a good instructor in anatomy – he knew anatomy.  Of course, later on he became an expert in plastic surgery, so he had to know anatomy there, too.  That was his foundation, right there.

That’s an important point: that he did have a foundation in anatomy and he was an instructor in that [subject].

During the first World War— I was in the First World War as a first lieutenant.

Were you in the unit affiliated with Washington University?

No, I was not.  I was out in Kansas by that time.  I didn’t go in with any group, so I just took it as it came.  I fitted shoes and did general work for quite a while before I got into ophthalmology in the army.  It took quite a while to get into it.

Were you in France during the war?

No, I didn’t get to France.  Georgia was as far as I got.

But finally they did give you work in your field?

Yes.  But it was lousy.

What was bad about it?

Well, there wasn’t very much organization and the people there were not well-informed.  I, as a young student, didn’t learn anything from it.  We had the hardships of being in the field, which was something we weren’t accustomed to.  We were assigned tents down in an area where there was a lot of drainage of water and it happened to be a wet season, so we had wet clothes because there was no floor in our tent.  Half a block away there were hundreds of vacant tents with good floors that were not being used.  That is just one example of how an army is run.  It wasn’t only true in the American army – it was true in the German army.  Later on, when I was over there at Strasbourg I talked to a lot of these boys who were in the war [and] they told me there was a lot of misplacement in the German army, too.  That is, men who had the ability to do special work were not placed in that kind of work.

Did you stay in tents the whole time you were in Georgia?  Didn’t they give you permanent housing after a time?

I think the army was going to pieces at that time.  I think the prospect of peace was already in the air and discipline was out the window.  It was a slipshod setup.

When did you enter the army?

In 1918, and I got out in 1919.  [I served] about a year.

Did you volunteer or was there a draft?

I volunteered.  But the draft was coming.

To talk a little more about your teachers at the medical school, which others did you have that you considered outstanding?

Well, [Robert J.] Terry, of course, was the one I was most fond of.  And Dr. [Ernst Friedrich] Tiedemann in Pathology.

I’ve heard a lot about Dr. Terry because we have his papers in the Medical Library archives.  I was going to show them to you later.

Terry was a powerhouse – really a man – and a hard worker, of course.  He had a definite course and he stuck to it and you had to do your stuff or get out of there.  So, quite a number of the boys quit after they dissected a while.  It was pretty hard going.

Could you tell us anything else about Dr. Terry?

He was very intelligent, very definite, very strict.

Was he kind, also?  I guess I mean to ask, “Why did you like him?”

I just loved the man because he was bound up in his work.  He did his work and he was never unkind, as far as I know.  I was very fond of him.  Now, our professor of physiology was lackadaisical and easygoing.  During all the time that we were there I can remember [just] one animal experiment – the whole year – on the action of epinephrine.

So it turned out to be an easy course, but it doesn’t sound as if you learned very much.

No, we didn’t learn very much.  We didn’t get any laboratory work to amount to anything.

Would you like to tell me his name or would you prefer not to?

Oh, it doesn’t make any difference – Sidney P. Budgett.  I haven’t thought of him for a long time.  He was an Englishman and he talked like the English do.  When I went to Europe I stopped at Oxford and one of the men there at Oxford showed me around and told me things about Oxford University.  They don’t have the system of examinations at intervals to see whether you’re keeping up.  At the end of the year they have an examination and then you decide whether you’re going to stay there or whether you’re going on.  In other words, they left it to the individual.  Our system here was more like the Germans’ – that is, “if you don’t do one and two you can’t take three and four.”  That was the idea.  He told me another thing about the English system.  I was over there in November, 1909, and he said that the teaching of the humanities had been the business of Oxford and Cambridge.  They had no scientific department until about 1908 – it’s that recent.  Those dates may not be exactly right, but that’s what I recall.

Were there courses in medical school in chemistry or biochemistry?

Well, we had very little biochemistry.  We had chemistry in high school and the course in chemistry just about duplicated what we had in high school.

I don’t believe Dr. Shaffer was head of biochemistry at that time.

Dr. [William H.] Warren [was head].

We have Dr. Shaffer’s papers, but he’s from a slightly later time.  Evarts Graham was at a later time, too, wasn’t he?

Oh, yes.  Graham was the man who started the lung surgery.

Yes.  He had a long, distinguished career here.  We have his papers; I’ll show them to you.  You did mention Sherwood Moore – we have his papers, too.

Sherwood Moore was a classmate.  We were interns at the City Hospital together.  When he left there he went with a group of some kind, with the Guggenheim Foundation, and they went to the Congo.  He was in the Congo for a while.  I have a nephew who was down there in the Congo and just came back because they were getting too rough, beginning to fight, to shoot.  I think the reason that Sherwood went there was to develop the copper in the Congo.  And the reason my nephew was there was to build a transmission line 400 miles up into the copper area.  That’s quite a stretch of time, probably 75 years.  Another of the things I remember when we were going to school, Dr. [Washington Emil] Fischel had been in Germany and he pulled out of his vest pocket a little vial and said, “There is a wonderful drug.  The name is aspirin.”  This was in about 1904, or something like that.

You were a student then, and Dr. Fischel was—

He was lecturing in medicine.  His son was in our class – Walter Fischel was in the same class.  Walter Fischel also interned at the City Hospital.

Do you remember any other teachers you found were outstanding, or not so outstanding, in medical school?

Henry Schwarz was our teacher in obstetrics.  He gave a party once a year at his home for the medical school.  It was a beer party, and you had to tell a story as you went around the table where the boys were drinking beer.  I wish I could remember some of those stories but they would hardly be proper material for a conference of any kind.  They were medical stories.

What did Sherwood Moore start out in?  What was his field at the beginning?

Just general.  His brother was a practicing physician here; I don’t know what he did.

Do you know how he got into radiology?

No, I don’t know how he got into it.  I always told Sherwood he was kind of snooty.  He didn’t talk very much, you know, he didn’t reveal very much of his— We were northerners and he was a southerner, you know, and there was a little difference in how we thought about things.

We were talking about medical school and your internship and your study in Germany.  How long did you stay in St. Louis before going off to Kansas?

I didn’t stop in St. Louis.  I went right out there when I came back from Germany.  The reason was, I had built up some cash-due notes.  Although they weren’t very big as looked at by modern eyes, they looked pretty big to me then.  I knew that starting in St. Louis would be a little bit slow.  It’s a medical school center and a lot of the boys stay here.  So I thought I could do better, quicker, in a small place, although I always thought I was too good to go to a country town.  I found out later that a country town is a pretty nice place to be.  In the first place, we had good duck shooting out there.  And in the course of a year and a half I had some friends out there and it was really a very pleasant place to live, as against a not-so-pleasant place in the big city.  I got my notes paid off in a hurry, that’s all I can tell you.  I didn’t have any trouble paying off my notes; it would have been very different here, I think.

This was Atchison?

[Yes].  And I’ve been there ever since.  I never thought I’d be there— I went there with the idea of staying about a year and a half or two years.  That’s what I thought, but I’ve been there now for 64 years.  That’s practicing longer than most people practice.

Has your practice been general medicine?

No, no.  Ophthalmology.  Eye, ear, nose and throat, but mostly ophthalmology.

So you have been able to specialize there just as you would have done had you stayed in St. Louis?

Well, I got into nose and throat when I was going to school at Freiberg in Germany.  The greatest teacher in nose and throat in the world, probably, was Gustav K______, and he was teaching there.  He was a marvelous teacher.  I was interested in the diseases of the sinuses.  There’s this one – sphenoidal empyema, that causes blindness at times, and I wanted to know more about it.  And here was this authority on sinuses, so I went over there to Gustav K______.  I enjoyed his work.  He was a good teacher and a very easy man to get along with.  A good teacher has to have a combination of [things].  You’ve got to have a certain warmth and you’ve got to be an authority at the same time.  Some authorities don’t have that warmth.

The teacher that I was very fond of at the medical school here was Dr. Tiedemann, the teacher of pathology.  We called him “Papa Tiedemann” and he was beloved generally.  I think he learned his pathology in Germany.

Was it his personality that made you like him?

Well, he was a good teacher.  He knew his stuff and you could get it from him.  I think that was generally true; everybody liked Dr. Tiedemann.

I suppose at that time Germany was considered to be more advanced in medicine than the United States.

Undoubtedly – better than the English and better than the French, I thought.

When you went to Germany did you feel that you had the background you needed to study there?  By that time you had been an intern.

I’d had three years of eye work here.  But I see these interns [now] doing major operations; we weren’t allowed to do any operating – nothing.  We just watched the professor.  Although, we saw a good practitioner do good work and being an assistant to him for several years, you learned something.  I worked with Dr. Ewing and then went with Dr. Green.

Both at the medical school here?

At their office.  I was their assistant, you see.  That’s where I got $58 a month, after having been an intern at the City Hospital.  Those boys get $1,000 a month now.

So, you had your M.D., you’d graduated from the medical school, you’d been an intern at City Hospital for a year, and then—

Three years of assisting at Green, Post and Ewing.

What did you do as an assistant?

We did refractions.  And, of course, local medication.  We didn’t harp on surgery like some of them did.  We used to go up to Mullanphy Hospital for instruction in surgery as part of the curriculum.  One day, Dr. [Norman B.] Carson was operating and we were sitting in the circle in the amphitheater looking down on the operating table.  Arthur Mitchell Gregg, who had a sense of the peculiar, looked down there and the doctor hit the renal artery and the blood just came out in volumes.  He [Gregg] looked down and said, “My God, send for a plumber.”  That was one thing I remember about Gregg.  He died some time ago.

We have several lists here.  One is of faculty members, and I’m looking through that and see that you did mention Dr. [Robert] Terry.  I think he’s only person whose papers we have that date from that time.  We do have in the archives the papers of William Beaumont and that is one of our prized possessions.  The other list we have here is the graduates of the Washington University Medical Department in 1905.  Perhaps you’d like to look at this list and tell us a little bit about some of your classmates.

[Robert D.] Alexander.  He went down and got the job at the Missouri Pacific Hospital.  He worked there for years.  [Joseph C.] Ambrister, [Joseph C.] Anderson, [John P.] Beeson – I remember these fellows.  [Clarence E.] Betts, [Bert M.] Brewster, Bribach.  Brewster was from over in Illinois somewhere [ed. note: hometown as listed in the Department Bulletin for that year was Macedonia, Mo.].  Pierre Brossard – he’s French, a likeable person.  He worked alongside me [and] used to bawl me out once in a while.  [A. Judson] Chalkley, [Harry X.] Cline, Jerome Cook – what does [the list] say about Jerome?  He was a very dear friend of mine.  (Reads from list) “Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology,” I didn’t know that.  Oh, in the dental department at the Jewish Hospital.  “Physician at St. Louis City Hospital, St. Louis Maternity; St. Louis Medical and American Medical Societies; Metropolitan Building.”  (Finishes reading Dr. Cook’s biography).  “Walter Fischel, M.D., 1905, A.B. 1902 Harvard.”  You see?

Yes.  He did have that training behind him [and] you were in a very competitive situation then.

Yes.  We didn’t do so bad.  (Continues to read Dr. Fischel’s biography)  [Dan C.] Goodman.  Goodman quit when he was in his first year.

He’s listed there as a graduate.

No, he didn’t graduate.  Arthur Mitchell Gregg.  He’s the boy I told you about – “Kappa Sigma, Phi Beta Pi, manager of the class baseball team, City Hospital, physician and surgeon on the staff at City Hospital” – he was a junior [intern] with me – “St. Louis Alms House, Santa Fe Railroad, Health Commissioner, City of Joplin.”  He was down in Joplin.  I occasionally had somebody come up from Joplin and they used to talk with me about him.  He did very well down there.  [Harry M.] Griffith, Louis Guggenheim, cum laude!  I didn’t know that – I didn’t know that Guggenheim got a cum laude in 1905.  Where did he get a cum laude?  I remember him.

It’s possible the record is not completely accurate.

I don’t know (continues to read Guggenheim biography) “Phi Beta Pi, surgeon, outpatient _______ Department, Washington University, lecturer upon disturbances of speech and voice.”

[It may] refer to his undergraduate degree.

This is his graduate school.  [Buford G.] Hamilton came to Kansas City – Jackson County Medical Society – he’s an obstetrician; he did all right.  [James B.] Hastings went up to Alton.  I was in Alton not so terribly long ago and couldn’t find any trace of him, [but] I knew he was there.  So he’s gone on, too.  [George G.] Hawkins, Bert Chamberlain Kern, [Leo C.] Huelesmann.  Huelesmann was probably the best doctor in the whole bunch, just naturally.  (Refers to list) It doesn’t say anything about him here (reads Dr. Huelesmann’s address).

Did he specialize?

He was an internist; I’ll tell you about him.  We had a rule at the City Hospital that if a patient came to autopsy and you had treated him, you were supposed to be there at the autopsy.  That autopsy revealed whose diagnosis was closest, and Huelesmann hit them on the head every time.  He just had it.  Later on, he went out to Denver.  He was a good man – brilliant.  We had a rotating system at City Hospital.  Every month you went to another department, and then you had to write up the history of every case in the new department so that you could [either] differ with these guys or agree with them, you see.  Then, when they came to autopsy, there was the place to see who made a [correct] diagnosis.  Huelesmann was good, that’s all – he had anybody else on the bunch skinned.  He got his training up at Mullanphy Hospital under Professor [Elsworth] Smith, who was on the staff at Mullanphy.

(Continuing list of 1905 graduates): [Leon C.] McAmis, [Charles E.] McKnelly, [Paul D.] McMilllan, [William W.] McMurdo, [James C.] McNutt, [William H.] Minton – [he] went to St. Joseph, Missouri.  Sherwood Moore, Richmond, Virginia.  According to that, he practiced down there in Virginia.  George M. Park.

I think that’s the Dr. Park that’s still here in St. Louis.

I heard he’d lost his vision; I heard he was blind with glaucoma.

Well, he’s still able to read.  He borrowed one of our books on Oliver Wendell Holmes: The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.  He was in the archives a month or two ago – I think it’s the same man.

I know George Park – we worked at the same dissection table.

I’ll look up his address.  You should give him a telephone call when you’re here.

(Reading Dr. Park’s address) 5898 Cabanne Avenue.

I should be able to find his telephone number for you.

(Continuing to read): [Robert C.] Strode, [Earl] Thomas, [Henry H.] Thompson, A.M. – Master of Arts from Hanover College.  I think he was alcoholic; I don’t remember much about him.  I don’t know whatever became of him.  [Conrad B.] Vonnahme, East St. Louis, [Reinhard E.] Wobus – Curtman Prize in Chemistry.  He was a good worker, that boy.  (Reads): “Assistant in Gynecology at Washington University Hospital, Gynecology at Barnard Skin and Cancer Hospital; Lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corps; Assistant in Surgery at Jewish Hospital; Orthopedic Surgery at St. Louis City Hospital; contributor to Missouri State Medical Journal; member of Washington University and City clubs; Metropolitan Building.”  Where does the University Club have its [facility] now?  They used to be down on Washington.

Until about this past year it was downtown and now they’ve built a new building in Clayton, way out there [ed. note: the location is on South Brentwood Boulevard in Richmond Heights].  It’s a multi-story building that looms over everything else there.  It’s a brand-new facility, very nice.

Do they own it?

Yes, I believe the University Club does own it and rents out to other tenants.  At least that’s the name of the building, “The University Club Building.”

They used to be down on Grand Avenue and Washington.

Yes.  They were there until [about] a year ago.

I’m a member of the University Club in Kansas City and they reciprocate, so I thought I would use the University Club while I was here in town, but I didn’t know where they had moved so I was afraid to try them out.  It wouldn’t have helped me much to be out in Clayton, would it?

That would have been some way from the medical school, yes.  You mentioned before we started the interview that you knew Dr. [Mildred] Trotter.  She wasn’t teaching here when you were here, was she?

No.  Terry was teaching.

Did you have later associations with Dr. Trotter?

No, I came down here just to visit occasionally.  I met her on one of those visits.  She didn’t follow Dr. Terry straight out, did she?

Well, she hasn’t been the head of the department, but she has worked in the department.  Dr. Terry was head of the department until 1941.  I have the name of the man who replaced him in the records.  I think Dr. Trotter said that she served under four or five different department heads, so there have been some changes and she has stayed.  We were talking about the role of women as doctors and you had some comments about that.

Well, I have always been prejudiced, but with women like that you know there are no grounds for prejudice.  I discussed that once with a friend of mine.  I asked him, “Why is it that we don’t have confidence in women doctors?”  It’s probably just a prejudice, but there’s usually some reason for a prejudice.  His idea was that women don’t take responsibility like men.  I think that’s true.

Were there any women medical students in your class?

No.  It was kind of unthinkable, you know.  But the women kept coming and now they’re going into ophthalmology and they’re getting to be competitive.  But I don’t know of any outstanding ophthalmologist who’s a woman.  Do you?

Not off hand.  Of course, it could be argued that they haven’t been given the opportunity.

Haven’t been given the opportunity!  A man makes his opportunity.  That isn’t something that comes from heaven, it’s something you have to hammer out yourself.  The fact that the circumstances are difficult is a spur rather than a deterrent.  I use that argument against the blacks.  I don’t know any reason why the middle class of Americans should be taxed to make it easy for blacks to live on food stamps today.  Do you?  Because your great-great grandfather had a slave that was black – is that a reason why you should toil now and be taxed so that his great-great-great grandchildren should live in ease, without working?

Speaking of these subjects reminds me that we really haven’t talked about one area.  Have you been active in politics at all?

No, sir.  I’ve been active in my work, and I’m worked to death, just like almost any doctor – worked to death.  I’ve been watching them; they’re slaves.  They don’t have time for anything else.  Medicine calls on you 24 hours a day, if you’re a practitioner.

Do you feel that you’ve had to work harder than you should have?

No!  I haven’t worked as hard as I should.

How do you account for that?  You said what I believe to be true, also, that doctors are slaves to their work.  Earlier you mentioned that there aren’t enough American doctors being trained.  How can you say that you haven’t worked hard enough?

I ought to know more; I don’t know enough.  I haven’t accomplished anything, so I haven’t worked hard enough.

I don’t believe that’s true, but it’s certainly true that a person can always do more.

When you’re a student you read about the man that discovered vaccinations.  Well, you’d like to do something like that, too, wouldn’t you?  Something that’s really useful.  How many men have done something that is really useful?  You don’t meet many of them today.

Yes.  I think that explains [it] more.  How many doctors were there [in earlier years] in Atchison?

About ten – and I was better-trained than most of them, so I was accepted right away.

How many are there now?

About the same.  The population has come down a little bit.  When I went there, there were a lot of really high-class people there – lawyers and businessmen and wealthy men.  It’s getting leveled out more.  It’s harder to make money nowadays; it’s harder to be decent and make money.

Harder to keep it, too.

And harder to keep it, too.  Of course, we’re living now in a postwar period, which is a period of moral and technical disorder.  We’re going through that and it will take 10 or 20 years to get over it.

Do you see any hope for the future?  Do you think things will get better?

Oh, yes.  I think the United States is not done.  But I see a lot of evidence of degeneracy.  Just try to imagine – I do this to keep myself on an even keel – just imagine what the people went through just anterior to the Civil War, when they were discussing at the dinner table the pros and cons; when one went North and the other one went South, and fought.  We haven’t gone through anything as strenuous as that.  But we have fought a botched-up war in East Asia and we have wasted money unconscionably.

Whose fault do you think that is?

I think largely Mr. [Lyndon B.] Johnson’s.  He was a politician, but not a man of insight or historical ability, [and] surrounded by sycophants of all kinds.  I think the position of the presidency is a very difficult position.  It takes a very strong man to hold that chair down.

What do you think of [John F.] Kennedy as a president?

Well, I never liked the Kennedys.  He was a saloon keeper’s son to start with, on a big scale.  His father went abroad and got the whiskey monopoly and got rich.  Then, he was Catholic and that Catholic vote helped him a lot, which is not a proper foundation for becoming President of the United States.

Going back into history a little bit further, what about Franklin D. Roosevelt?  What was your attitude towards him.

I didn’t like him.  I didn’t like his tone of voice when he said “My friends.”  That’s all I had to hear and I didn’t like him.  Prejudice.  I never met the man, don’t know him.

What about [Harry S] Truman?

Truman.  Kansas City ward heeler.  And now he’s getting to be a very good man; everybody thinks he’s all right.  I visited his exhibit in Kansas City.

It is interesting to see how reputations become revised 20 years after a person is dead.

How difficult it is for a man to be understood.  A physician knows that.  Every day you tell somebody something and then you hear the echo from that and there’s no relationship to what you said.  That’s a daily occurrence.  So, the ability to put it into words is one of the requirements of  a practicing physician.  How many textbooks are written that really, really bring it home to a student?  I think the best textbook I ever read was a German textbook.

Do you remember what the name of it was?

There are a lot of German works that are very good.  Heifetz— I can’t think of it right now.  I have this ability to not remember the name when I want it.  It’s terrible.

Your attitude, then, is that you did work very hard as a physician but you wish you’d accomplished even more.  Would that be a fair statement?

I think so, yes.  When you get be 90 years old you can look back quite a ways and you don’t see very much [and] you wonder why.  But that’s true of almost any man.  I was reading Napoleon’s story in the Britannica the other day.  I have an old Britannica and I just bought a new one.  The new one isn’t as good as the old one in many ways.

I think they’ve had to shorten things.

They’ve shortened things and they use smaller print so they can get more stuff [in].  It’s harder to read, but not nearly as complete.  I read that story of Napoleon.  When I went to high school we used to have what they called “study hours” when you had no particular assignment.  One of the privileges was to go to the library.  I put in a lot of library hours reading the Britannica’s account of Napoleon – it was quite a bunch of stuff.  I read it this time just to compare it.  But how much has Napoleon done?  When you think of a guy like that, how many marks has he left on civilization that you and I can point to?  Not very many.

Are you still practicing now?

Yes.  I’ve been thinking of retiring for a long time but I never quite have the courage to quit.

Are you doing part-time practice yet?

Half days.  When you don’t do surgery, it gets you out of a lot of time-consuming things.

Did you do surgery at one point in the past?

Oh, yes.  I’ve done whatever came along.

In eye, nose and throat, also?

Yes, but mostly eye.  I’ve done a lot of cataracts and have had good results – some misfortunes, of course.  I had rather good instruction, I think, in that.  Of course, when I see the way they do them now— They take two or three hours and have nine people in the operating room.  The costs, the investment cost in the operating room!  I’d like to know what it costs to furnish that operating room and what it costs to keep it going.  We couldn’t do that; we couldn’t exist on that kind of basis.  But it’s everywhere.  I’ve just come back from a visit to Yale and Harvard and it’s the same thing there.  They’re doing it just like you’re doing it – lots of money, and wasteful procedures.  At our hospital you could get a room for $5 a day up until recent years.  Now it’s about $58 a day and we’re the lowest in our whole area.  Kansas City is about $100.  What is it here?

I don’t have the figures.

Down in Houston it’s $200 [a day].

Do you think that the things they’re doing could be done in a less expensive way?

Yes, I think so.  Everybody gets to be an opera singer after a while.  They’re too good to touch things if it isn’t highly remunerative.  I think that attitude exists pretty much from the lowest to the highest.  The President of General Motors – what is his salary, do you know?  $592,000?  And not only that, he gets a pension [and] his wife gets a pension when he dies.  All that kind of stuff – you pay for it when you buy your car.  I don’t think that’s necessary.  Pensions!  I wonder whether pensions are ever justifiable.  I don’t know.  They grow out of the feeling that it’s very difficult to remunerate a man for his services.  How are you going to figure services?  Do you know anything about that?


I had a rectal operation at the Mayo’s [the Mayo Clinic] about 46 years ago.  In a year it had to be done over, so one of my friends in Kansas City did it 45 years ago.  I haven’t had any trouble for 45 years.  Now, how are you going to remunerate that kind of a job?  Evidently it was difficult or it wouldn’t have been a failure the first time.  [It was] a hemorroidal operation.  How are you going to [decide remuneration]?  When you do a cataract operation, you give a person vision to continue work or not to continue work.  How are you going to put a price on that?  Are you going to make it an absolute mathematical thing?  Are you going to eliminate everything but just the plain economics of it?  How are you going to do it?  The life of the physician is going to depend on that.  We are now the tail end of politics – rapidly becoming so.  And if you do that, medicine is going to be just like the rest of the government – incompetent.  All you have [to do] to learn about government incompetence is to be in the army a little while.  They proved it in East Asia; they did a magnificent job of proving it there.  I’m convinced, as I’ve heard lots of people who should know say, that if that had been turned over to the army it would have been cleaned up in a very short time.

Speaking of politics and government, we were talking about various presidents and I think we’ve covered most of the recent ones except President [Richard M.] Nixon and now President [Gerald] Ford.  What was your reaction to the events that surrounded these two men?

I always thought Nixon was all right.  I don’t know whether 50 years from now they’ll decide that he was wrong.  He evidently was doing what too many politicians are doing all the time: profiting by the position in some way or other.  That makes him very vulnerable, and he’s got plenty of enemies, of course [since] he’s in politics.

I think the present man has had good training.  I think he’s got a terrible job and I think he’s all right.  I can’t go along with this criticism that says everything that’s wrong is wrong because of the President.  I can’t believe that.

We were talking also about cataract operations.  When did you perform your first operation in this field?

My first operation was on a private patient in Atchison.  With all this training that I’d gone through, I’d never done a cataract.  And now these boys are doing them right now and they’re only third-year men.

You were an assistant to a doctor, too.

He did all the surgery.  Dr. Ewing did all the surgery at the Green, Post and Ewing office, practically all of it.

What did Dr. Green specialize in?

He was an ophthalmologist but he was getting old and wasn’t doing surgery any more.  Dr. Post had a terrible tremor and he [passed it off].  I saw a lot of surgery.

But you didn’t do it yourself at that point?

No.  Really, I had no actual practice in surgery.  My knowledge of surgery came from assisting and observing.

So it was in Atchison that you did your first cataract operation?

That’s right.

When was that?

Well, I got there in 1911.  I imagine this was a couple of years later.

Were they performing these kinds of operations in St. Louis so that you could observe?

Oh, yes.  Dr. Ewing was an excellent operator and I was with him for two years.  He had beautiful results.  But the equipment – my goodness, you’ve got thousands of dollars invested in something that cost us one dollar.  No comparison, but we got good results.  I’ve never seen nicer results than Dr. Ewing got, although I’ve seen a lot of things done that he couldn’t have done.

What other types of operations did you perform in the course of your practice?  [Was it] mainly cataracts?

Cataracts, very few glaucoma operations.  We do what comes along.  Most of them are injuries, corneal injuries.

Did you get into the corneal transplant field at all?

No, I didn’t get into that.  That’s an institutional procedure; you’ve got to get the material, it’s got to be preserved, you’ve got to have assistance.  I send those to institutions when I get them.  They don’t come very often.  You see, in a hospital like this which is a center, you get a wrong statistical idea of frequencies.  Because it’s a concentration point for the heavy stuff.

I think that’s a very good point.  I was reading something about that just today, that the average physician sees a relatively few types of diseases during his practice.

Sure.  I’m not a busy practitioner; I now see 20 people a day.  I used to see twice that many.  Of course, a lot of that is just in and out stuff.  But, I do a good refraction [practice].  I haven’t seen good refraction work in any of these institutions; I haven’t seen it.  And, of course, in a teaching institution, when they get hold of something they want to teach with, use it as material, that isn’t always to the greatest benefit of the patient.  You can understand that.

In ophthalmology, what do you consider a typical case, or what types of cases did you see often and which ones rarely?

The ones I see are people getting older.  Of course, I’ve had a lot of chances to see people getting older; I’ve been there for 60 years.  A person comes in with a clear cornea and after a while they have a cataract.  And it’s my privilege to see them through those terrible years when they still see enough but don’t see enough.  That’s a terrible thing for a person to go through.  My method has always been to avoid a cataract operation until the result would be psychically helpful as well as visually helpful.  If you operate on a patient that still sees fairly well with one eye and you operate on the other eye, he’ll prefer this [unoperated] eye, even though the actual chart vision is better with the operated eye.  And he’s a dissatisfied patient.  He’ll say, “You operated on this eye and I don’t see as well now as I used to.  I’m troubled with this thing here.  When it was blind it didn’t trouble me.”  So you’ve got that to fight.

Now, in the big hospital they do it anyway and they explain to them that it’s going to be this way and [that] it’s a good thing.  Because they’re younger they’re a better operative risk and so forth.  But they operate on everything that comes down the pike.  When you’ve lived with your patients you don’t do that – you’re a little more careful.  You consider this psychic side a little more.  That makes less surgery and less income.

There’s one thing that our hospitals are going to do to us.  You’re not going to have general practitioners.  Everywhere now you see they’re having trouble in smaller towns getting somebody to come there.  You don’t see that [here], do you?  You’re in the big city and you’re immersed in it.  You don’t see that at all.  But I see it.  Here’s a town that used to have two doctors and now they haven’t had a doctor for ten years.  Well, the roads are better [and patients] can travel easier.  The airplane will take them 500 miles in what used to take a couple of days.

And, the institutions haven’t treated the doctor in the country quite right – they steal his patients.  Naturally, [if] a patient comes to a well-ordered place and he sees the elegance of it and the elegance of the people that are doing the work, he compares that with the home folks and it doesn’t help the home folks very much.  I think one of the things the big institutions are going to have to do is to take care of that country boy, which they haven’t been doing.  They’ve been stealing his patients.  Do you realize that?

How do they do that?

You refer a patient to a hospital where there’s a good man.  If he’s not a friend of yours, you’ve probably lost a patient.  It’s so apparent to everybody that they’re in a position to do – maybe better work, or what looks like better work.  Or something that’s dressed up to look like better work – there’s a lot of dressing up.  That’s one feature.  You know, one of the nice things about medicine [is that I can] travel around to different places.  I’ve been in Rome; I didn’t know a soul in Rome.  Pretty soon I was standing at the side of the chief in the eye department doing an operation [and] talking to him.  [It was] the same in Athens, the same in Munich, the same in Paris, the same in Boston and in New York and wherever you go.  And at Washington University in St. Louis, it’s a little more cold-blooded than any of them.  Did you know that?


Yes, and this is my home town and where I went to school.  It told Sherwood Moore that.  Sherwood was a fine example of a cold exterior.  I told him that because I wanted him to hear it.  I could talk to him.  He’s a Nu Sigma Nu, you and know, and I’m a Nu Sigma Nu.  I could get him told.

So you feel this is not a recent thing?

This goes back all the way.  The only rebuff that I ever got in visiting was in the nose and throat department in this hospital.  [It was from] the man from Iowa, what was his name?  He was the chief at that time.  He was a good man, but he didn’t want me to go in there and see these things.  I was a country boy – I was wanting to see what was going on.  Well, to hell with him if he doesn’t want [a visitor].  After all, we’re all taxpayers.

I don’t mean to cut you off at this point, but you mentioned Nu Sigma Nu and that reminded me of something that I wanted to talk to you about.

I was in Nu Sigma Nu and Alpha Omega Alpha when I came to school here.

We have the papers of Nu Sigma Nu and I believe we have one notebook from Alpha Omega Alpha.

Have you got pictures?

I don’t think we’ve got many photographs.

My picture is in one of those books.

We’ve got the books.  Yes, we have the directories.  We’ll have to look at that.

I don’t remember what year I joined.

This [Nu Sigma Nu Fraternity] has ceased to exist at Washington University as of a couple of years ago, but the money they raised by selling their chapter house was put into a scholarship fund and the fund still exists.



A scholarship for one student?

I can look up the information for you about that.  I was reading that this morning.

You don’t have fraternities anymore?

I don’t believe there are any active ones.

They’ve been ruled out, I guess; it’s a sort of a classification.  I was a member of Nu Sigma Nu in the early days and I know there was feeling that they were kind of snooty.  Pretty soon after that the other boys organized one (fraternity) so there was competition.  They were just as snooty as we were.

How did you get elected to membership?

Some friend put you in.  Of course, they took the better students as a rule, or the family background, or friendship, really.  It boils down to friendship.

What kinds of things did the fraternity do?

Well, it’s a forum where you can spill the beans and tell what you think, and know that you’re among friends.  You can’t do that ordinarily to a class.  There’s always somebody there that doesn’t like you, you know, and so forth— In a fraternity there’s more homogeneity and it’s a good clearing house.  I’ve always been glad that I had that opportunity of being a member of that.  There wasn’t much alcohol in those days.  There was some alcohol but nobody ever overstepped that I know of.  And I suppose there was a certain snootiness about it, but I suppose life is full of that anyway, isn’t it?  Say, I’ve talked more here than I have for years, I guess.

We thank you very much for coming today.  The only thing I didn’t get to ask you about was your family.  Are you married?

I never was married.  I had several escapes but I never got married.

Thank you very much for stopping by today.

I hope you won’t give it any notoriety.


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