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Transcript: William B. Parker, 1976

Please note: The Becker Medical Library presents this oral history interview as part of the record of the past. This primary historical resource may reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times and of the interviewee. The Becker Medical Library does not endorse the views expressed in this interview, which may contain materials offensive to some users.

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Interview #1 – February 17, 1976

Mr. Parker is going to tell us some of the facts about the early history of the medical school and its predecessors.  Mr. Parker?

The Medical Department of Washington University continues the work of the St. Louis Medical College and the Missouri Medical College, the two oldest medical schools west of the Mississippi River.  The Medical Department of Washington University was created by the Corporation in 1891 when the St. Louis Medical College became a part of Washington University.  In 1899, the Missouri Medical College was merged with this department.  In 1909, the Corporation of Washington University changed the name of the Medical Department to the Washington University Medical School.  Again, in 1918, the name was changed to the Washington University School of Medicine, the name which is used today.

When did you come to the medical school?

I came to Washington University on August 1, 1925 as Registrar and Business Manager.

Did you come right out of college to the medical school or had you been employed previously?

I graduated from the University of Missouri in 1921.

What were your majors there?

[I graduated] with a major in history and a minor in geology.  I was employed with the administration of the University of Missouri throughout my college career, spending three years as an assistant in the Registrar’s Office and one year as cashier in the Office of the Business Manager of the University.

So you did have quite a bit of experience before you came here?

Yes.  I taught physical education and hygiene in the Westport Junior High School in Kansas City, Missouri for two years and a half at which time I left to become Assistant Registrar of the University of Missouri.  At the end of a year and a half in the Registrar’s office at Missouri, I was offered the position of Registrar/Business Manager and Secretary to the Executive Faculty at the Washington University School of Medicine.

And you retained these positions until quite recently, did you not?

I retained the position of Registrar and Secretary of the Executive Faculty until my retirement in 1967.  The position of Business Manager was given up when it was decided by the administration of the School of Medicine that the school had gotten so large that it was necessary to separate the business side and the registration side of the administration.

About when was this?  When did this separation take place?

[In] 1945, right after the war.  (See if there’s anything else we want to stick in there before that.)

Well, let’s go back to when you came to the medical school in 1925.  How large was the school at that time in terms of students and buildings, and maybe even faculty?

Well, I’d have to check those figures.  When I came in 1925, there were the three main buildings: the—

The North Building.

The North Building, the South Building, and what was called at that time the Clinic Building, which is now – I don’t know what they call it.

Isn’t that the West Building now?

I guess so.

I think maybe it is; at least it’s still there.  But there were only these three buildings?

There were those three buildings.  All of the administrative offices were where Dr. [Samuel B.] Guze [ed. note: Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs] is now, if you know where [that] is.  And in this administrative office, we had three small offices – one of which was filled with a switchboard for the school.

Was this the old-fashioned plug-in, plug-out switchboard?

Probably.  One [office] of which was the Office of the Registrar, and the outer office which held all the secretaries that we had, about three, and also the mailboxes.

The mailboxes for the faculty and students or just for the faculty?

Everyone.  Not only did we receive it, but we delivered it.

I see.

I have no way of finding out the years.  Within a few years I had, of course with the approval of the dean, at the time they were making switchboard changes, the switchboard moved right out by the front door.

[To] what is now the entrance to the North Building?

No, no.  I mean right by the front door of these offices.

Of the offices themselves.

It remained there for a number of years until one of these new buildings was added and it was switched over to the Barnes plant, thank goodness.  It was a headache.  That gave us a little more room.  The dean really functioned at that time from his office in Children’s Hospital.

I see.  Who was the dean?

[W. McKim] Marriott.

Dean Marriott.

Dean Marriott.  And the room across from us that’s now occupied by Dean [M. Kenton] King, was the faculty room and that’s where they held the faculty meetings.  They had a table over there and if Dr. Marriott conducted any business there, he did it [there].  That little room where Mrs. [Muriel] Koch is at the present time; the dean’s secretary’s, was a toilet room.

So you attended all these meetings of the Executive Faculty, did you not, as the recording secretary?

I missed about two meetings in forty-two years.

That’s really quite a record to establish.

And I acted as secretary.  I prepared the minutes, distributed the minutes, the copies, to the dean and to each member of the faculty to the Chancellor of the University.

As a matter of curiosity, did each department head then retain its own copy of the minutes.


You mentioned you were sent to ten different medical schools.


What was the purpose?

In 1936 I was requested by Dean [Philip A.] Shaffer to visit ten of the leading medical schools in the country to learn what I could about the administrative methods in these institutions and to see if I could find places where Washington University could improve its—

Operations or procedures?

Its operations – that’s a good word – in our offices.  I was received most cordially by the deans of these schools and received many suggestions which were helpful to us.

You’ve mentioned [that] you also were asked questions.

I was asked questions by the deans concerning our methods at Washington University and hope that some of these methods we use were helpful to the other schools.

To go back, you came here as Registrar in 1925 and also as Business Manager; but let’s talk about Registrar first.  What were the types of things you had to do in the office at that time?

The so-called Registrar’s Office was really a general office which handled the business—

The business affairs?

—the business affairs of the medical school, with the exception of the matters handled by the dean.  The dean, of course, was the chief administrative officer who dealt largely with matters of policy and relations with people on the outside of the school, and with the heads of departments concerning important departmental matters.  The Registrar’s Office, in the early days of the school, and the Registrar handled student affairs.  We had a committee which selected the students, which kept the records of the students, which handled the financial matters of the students including loans and scholarships, [and] which prepared reports for the faculty on the accomplishments of the students.  [We] prepared the applications for admission to the school, and with the assistance of a small committee, selected those students who were felt to be the most capable of carrying medical school work.  In the early days, most of these students came from the St. Louis area.  In 1945, the Registrar made a short trip to visit the pre-medical advisors and interview the students who were applying for admission in several schools in the Middle West.

At that time, this was a new thing wasn’t it?

This was a new thing.  This policy was continued in the areas close to St. Louis from that time, but it was enlarged in 1945 when the Registrar took a trip to the Pacific Coast visiting the schools in that part of the country with which we had had contacts.  We had a dual purpose in making this trip.  One, to interview the student and two, to meet the pre-medical advisors in these institutions and to learn something about each school.  We soon learned that the visits with the pre-medical advisors were greatly appreciated and, in my opinion, led to our securing many outstanding students because these advisors knew what Washington University’s aims were and felt that they had a personal contact with the institution.

Did many more students apply than there were positions open?

Yes.  We had about 125 applications when I first came here.  Right after the war we had almost 5,000, and of course now they have over 6,000.

Well, approximately how many students were admitted when you came here?  Were there 100 in the class then?

We had about 80 in the class when I came here and we have 120 now.

That’s interesting.  Now on what basis then did the Admissions Committee select students?  Obviously, you couldn’t take everyone, you had to select students.  Was it on the basis of grades, primarily?

[Interruption in recording]

I have been asked what criteria the various medical schools use in choosing their students.  This is a difficult question because I am sure that there are many different methods used by the various institutions.  For example, I attended a panel discussion of the Association of American Medical Colleges at Lake Placid, New York where a discussion on this subject was held.  Various speakers made the following statements.  Number 1: We select our students on the basis of their grades alone.  Number 2. We look at the student’s grades, but pay more attention to their scores on the Medical College Admissions Test [MCAT].  Number 3: We allow a certain percentage for grades, for the MCAT, for the interview, and a rather high percentage for military service.  Another one of the panel said that he looked at the aptitude scores, the grades, the recommendations, but that his decision was based on a face-to-face meeting with the applicant.

Well, that’s very interesting, and I was wondering what factors you and the Admission Committee used?

At Washington University, I am sure the different members of the committee would allow different weight to the criteria that we have available to us.  The important criteria are: the interview, the Medical College Admissions Test, the student’s grades, and the subjects in which he made these grades.  Did I say interview?

Yes.  You did mention a personal interview.

We also pay a great deal of attention to the letters of recommendation we receive from the schools, because in most cases we know the individuals who are giving us this information.

Yes, you mentioned earlier that you paid personal visits to high school advisors.

Since 1945, it has been the policy of the Admissions Committee of Washington University to visit many pre-medical colleges each year for the purpose of interviewing the applicant and of having time to discuss the situation with a pre-medical advisor.

Interview #2 – February 24, 1976

This is a continuation of the Oral History interview with Mr. William B. Parker, Registrar Emeritus and Consultant to the Dean.  Mr. Parker, you were going to tell us of something about the deans that were at Washington University up to the time that you retired.

I have been requested to list the deans that have headed the medical school during the period beginning in 1910.  I will also indicate the length of the term of each dean.  Dr. George Dock, 1910 to ’12; Dr. Eugene L. Opie, 1912 to 1915; Dr. G. Canby Robinson, 1919 to ’20; Dr. Nathaniel Allison, 1920 to ’23; Dr. Williams McKim Marriott, 1923 to 1936; Dr. Philip A. Shaffer from 1915 to ’18 and from 1937 to ’46; Dr. Robert A. Moore from 1947 to 1954; Dr. Carl V. Moore from 1954 to ’55; Dr. Oliver H. Lowry, 1955 to ’58; Dr. Edward W. Dempsey from 1958 to 1964; and Dr. M. Kenton King from 1964 to the present time.

You also came into contact, I believe, with the Vice Chancellors for Medical Affairs.  Could you tell me their names and their office dates?

Yes.  (I was just trying to think of a little introduction.)  To assist in the administration of the school, particularly in the relations with the hospitals in the group and with important people in the St. Louis area who might be interested in giving aid to the school, the office of Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs of the Washington University was established in 1964.  Dr. C. V. [Carl V.] Moore handled this position in 1964-65; Dr. W. H. Danforth in 1965 to 1971; and Dr. S. B. [Samuel B.] Guze from 1971 to the present time.

Another thing we mentioned the last time we talked was the increase in size of the administrative offices.  I believe you said that the administrative offices all used to be in the same rooms that Dr. Guze and his secretaries now occupy.

That’s right.

Could you tell us how this expanded?

In 1951 the Cancer Research Building was built.  This building gave valuable space for research in the field of cancer in various departments of the medical school.  In addition, the first floor of the building was set aside for administrative offices, a faculty room, and I don’t know whether there were rest room facilities or not, rest room facilities.  The west side of the building was used, on the first floor, for the dean’s office and for various business offices, which were rapidly developing.  The [Conference Room] was set aside for the meetings of the Executive Faculty and for other important meetings which took place at the school.  In the northeast part of the building on the first floor, a new Registrar’s Office was built, which gave considerably more space than the old quarters for the [anticipated] development of this department.  In 1967, the Registrar’s Office, which had also become an assistant dean’s Office, moved into larger quarters in the McDonnell Research Building.  The development of the school is such that these offices are already crowding the space allowed for them.  I think that roughly covers the changes.

Very good.  You mentioned the assistant deans.  Could you tell us something about how this came about?

With the development of the Dean’s Office and Admissions Office of the School of Medicine, it was found necessary in the late 1930s to appoint Dr. Frank [Franklin] Walton as an assistant dean to aid with the administration of the school.  Since that time, it has been the general policy to have three or four assistant deans each year.  It is interesting to note that three of these assistant deans later became deans of medical schools.  One typical example is that of Dr. M. Kenton King, who became dean of the Washington University School of Medicine.

Do you remember the names of some others who became dean?

I’d have to dig them out.  If you want me to, I’ll dig them out because I’d sure miss some.  There were about three each year and they changed.  A fellow would do it for a year or two – I can remember lots of them, but to name say ten or fifteen of them and leave one or two out; that’s the reason I hate to use names.

When was the split between the financial dealings and the Student Affairs Committee?  I believe you said earlier that they split into two parts.

During the deanship of Dr. Robert A. Moore it was decided that the [administrative] office of the school had grown so large in business affairs that it was necessary to split the office, leaving the student affairs under the direction of the Registrar’s Office, and starting a Business Office under the able direction of Miss Helen Kaiser, who moved into this position from the position of Assistant Registrar in the Registrar’s Office.  Is that what you wanted?


This Business Office has continued to develop through the years until, at the present time, [it is now] one of the largest administrative units of the medical school.

How long did Miss Kaiser hold the position of [head of] financial affairs?

Until she retired.

About when was that, approximately?

Let me think.  She’s five years younger than I am.  I retired in ’67, but I should have retired in ’66.

Well, that would be [in] 1970 then or 1971, approximately, that she retired.

(I don’t want to telephone her.)  See, I asked her to help me with this and she has given me some ideas.  I think she had not even a complete high school education – she did go to business school.  But she was a whiz, absolutely a whiz.  Of course, to go from the type of business office that she ran to a computer office is quite a change.

Were there many secretaries to the deans during the time you’ve been here or have there been one or two that have stayed especially long?

Yes.  Mrs. [Louise] Jacoby.  It might be well before we quit to list a few of those people.  I had Miss Kaiser and Mrs. Sullivan and Mrs. Behler, three Assistant Registrars; that’s all I had over the whole time I was here.  Now, I’m going to pat myself on the back, not on this thing.

Interview #3 – March 2, 1976

This is a continuation of an Oral History interview with Dr. William B. Parker, Registrar Emeritus and Consultant to the Dean.  Mr. Parker, in your time here, starting at 1925 and going up to 1967, you must have met and dealt with a great number of people in the administration of the medical school and the main campus.  Could you tell us something about these people and who they were?

At the present time, the Chancellor at the University is Dr. William H. Danforth, who spent many years on the faculty of the School of Medicine before he took his present position.

I believe he was also Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs.

Well, I have that here, you see.  Dr. Danforth served as a vice chancellor for Medical Affairs before accepting the chancellorship.  The present vice chancellor for Medical Affairs is Dr. Samuel B. Guze.  Mr. Robert J. Hickok is serving as assistant vice chancellor for Medical Affairs.  Mr. Hugh Morrison is serving as the vice chancellor of Medical Affairs.  Appointments [to] the staff of the School of Medicine at some time during the period from 1940 to the present time, follow:

Associate deans: Elmer B. Brown, Jr.; Hugh Chaplin, Jr.; John Courtright Herweg; M. Kenton King.

Assistant deans: Samuel Bukantz; Merl J. Carson; Hugh Chaplin, Jr.; Ben Eiseman; Robert J. Glaser; Thomas H. Hunter; Paul E. Lacy; Richard W. Hudgens; Carlyle Jacobsen; Robert Lee; Charles Barber Mueller; Hugh Morrison; Gordon Philpott; John L. Schultz; John D. Vavra; John Walters; and Frank Wald; and Robert Watson.  And this is a different title, Assistant to the Dean: Samuel B. Guze and Oliver H. Lowry.

There have been many non-professional employees in the general offices during the period starting in 1925.  I hesitate to name these individuals because I am sure I will leave some important members of the staff out.  Here goes on the names that I have been able to remember – I guess that is the proper word.

Pauline Briggs, in the Professional Payroll Department; Mrs. Charles Behler, Assistant Registrar; Mrs. Ruth Craft Cole; Miss Emily Coleman, who worked in the office and handled the purchasing at the medical school during the period that it was handled in the general office here.  Mrs. Helene Coleman was secretary to Dean Marriott; Mrs. Jessamine G. Fishnik, who has just left the staff after doing valuable service for Associate Dean Herweg; Mrs. William Harsh; Mrs. JoAnn Hastings; Mrs. Edward G. Jacoby, who served for many years as secretary to [the] deans.  Miss Helen Kaiser served as Assistant Registrar for many years and as Administrative Assistant to the Dean in the Business Office.  Mrs. Owen Miller; Mrs. Stuart Micano; Miss Dorothy Rinderer, who served as secretary to the Vice Chancellor; Miss Florence Novak – she’s married but I don’t know [her name].  Miss Bernice Rishe, who served in the Business Office, and Mrs. Philip A. Sullivan, who served for many years as Assistant Registrar.

I am hoping that we will learn the names of others who have served during this period and be able to add their names to the list later.

Could you tell us a little bit about Mrs. Jacoby?  Do you remember when she first came to the medical school?  Was she in your office first?

No.  Mrs. Helene Coleman was [first].  Did I get her name in there?

I think you did have her name down, yes.

Mrs. Jacoby served for a long, long time as secretary to the Dean.  I don’t know how much I mentioned in there.

I think this is the first time that you mentioned her, but I was aware that she was here for a long time and that’s why I brought up her name.  There’s another interesting thing.  Could you distinguish between an Associate Dean and an Assistant to the Dean?

Well, no, I wouldn’t know why one was named Assistant to the Dean and the other one was Assistant Dean except that probably when the motion was made that’s the way it was made and nobody changed it.  Now an Associate Dean, of course, is a higher rank than Assistant Dean, but these titles are—  In addition to the employees who worked in the general offices, there were many fine employees who worked in the various departments of the School of Medicine whose names have not been included in this list.  Just not to completely ignore them, but this really wasn’t about the departments.

That’s true.  You were going to tell us something about the committees at the medical school.  Could you do this?

Well, I thought I would name the committees.  I really am not exactly sure what many of these committees do.  The officers of the School of Medicine have been named in this report.  I think it wise to list the names of the important committees of the school.  The Executive Faculty, as mentioned before, is the most important committee at the school.  The Faculty Council consists of all full-time members of the faculty with the rank of professor, associate professor, assistant professor, and those instructors who have been on the faculty for at least three years.  The standing committees of the school follow:

Committee on Admissions; Committee on Financial Aid; Committees on Academic Review and Promotions (1, 2, and 3); the Committee on Medical Education, which makes important recommendations concerning the curriculum of the school; Teaching Program Coordination Committee; Medical Science Training Placement Encouragement Committee; Committee for the Beaumont-May Institute of Neurology; Committee on Fellowships and Awards; Committee for Laboratory Animal Care; Committee for the Review of Research on Human Beings.

You mentioned earlier that you were on the Committee on Admissions from 1925 during the time that you were here.  Were you on any other committees besides that very important one?

Well, at times I was on the Committee on Student Financial Aid and I prepared the material for the Committees on Academic Review and Promotion [and] I was on the Committee on Fellowships and Awards.  That’s about it.

How large were these committees?

They varied in size.  Two to three – it was just like the Admissions Committee.  They have sixteen on it now and in my time, it went from about three to seven or eight at the most.

I see.  How often did these committees meet?

That varies greatly.  The Admissions Committee – well, they were having a breakfast meeting this morning.  It depends on the load.  It might meet four times in the week now, and in the summer not meet more than once a month.  The Committee on Fellowships meets when they have applications to consider.  Nothing [is] definitely scheduled.  Of course, the Executive Faculty meets monthly with special meetings in between.  It just really is when there’s something that comes up.

So they meet as needed.

Say, the Executive Faculty is the only one that has a standard schedule.

Do they usually meet on the same day of the month or does that vary too?

They usually meet on the first Wednesday of the month.

Another thing that we haven’t talked about is the students in the medical school.  Did you notice any changes in the way students were when you first came here as compared to now?

That is a very difficult question to answer.  I think the quality of the student body as far as ability to make grades and probably to carry medical work has increased over the years because certainly we ought to be able to get a better class out of 6,000 applications than we did out of 150.  I think that the pre-medical colleges have had better guidance from the people running the medical programs in offering courses and in the contents of the courses that they offer.  And I think that more colleges have made special efforts to have a pre-medical course which covers the fields that the medical committees feel are most necessary.

As far as the personality of the medical students is concerned, it is very difficult to make any student comparisons.  As far as I’m concerned, you can rule out certain students for various reasons.  That’s a very difficult thing to do.

Well, I think that you have answered that question and perhaps in effect told us that there aren’t as many changes in students as we would sometimes be led to believe.

Well, I don’t think the intellect of the present students is necessarily any greater than the intellect of [students who entered] fifty years ago.  I think that they have learned that medical school is a serious proposition and that they shouldn’t go in it unless they really know that they want medicine, and unless they are willing to work hard, because you just aren’t going to slide through a medical course today.

Do you see any changes in the study of medicine?  I realize that you are not in the classrooms and didn’t teach the students, but from your point of view as Registrar, do you see any changes that have occurred?

I really don’t feel qualified to answer that question.  I do think that certainly in the larger schools that we have larger staffs in each department and that we may have better-qualified teachers because they can more or less specialize in a part of their field and not have to cover the whole field in their teaching.

That’s true, and so what you’re talking about now, I think, is specialization.  As fields get larger each person specializes in part of the field instead of the whole field.  Is that true?

Well, I think that’s true more than it used to be and medicine is so complicated that [one person] just can’t cover very much of it.

This is the conclusion of the Oral History Interview with Mr. William B. Parker, Registrar Emeritus and Consultant to the Dean.  Mr. Parker was interviewed on three successive Tuesday mornings, February 17th, February 24th, and March 2nd, 1976.


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