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Transcript: Mildred Trotter, 1972

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.

It is very kind of you and good for the history of science that you have agreed to this interview.  I am also pleased because it gives me the chance to ask you embarrassing questions, none of which are my business, but ones which I have always wanted to ask.  For instance, you were one of the first women in anatomy.  How come you decided to go into this field?

Oh, that’s very easy.  At the end of [my undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke] College, I expected to earn my own living and was spending my summer looking for a good teaching position in the public schools.  I was about to sign on the dotted line when a letter came from Dr. C. H. Danforth asking me to come [to Washington University] as a research assistant.  He went on to say that one of my teachers at Mount Holyoke had suggested that I might be interested in coming to help him, that he had recently had a five thousand dollar grant assigned to him by the dean for the study of hair.  This money had been given to the Medical School, through Dr. Martin F. Engman, Sr.  The husband of one of Engman’s patients, who had been treated for hypertrichosis, had daughters who were also beginning to have hypertrichosis.  The man decided it would be a good idea to have somebody to study hair growth, although he knew that it wouldn’t help his family.

What in your college courses led you to study zoology?

Mount Holyoke has always been strong in that field.  One of the earliest people was Dr. Cornelia Clapp, who was head of the department and who had studied with [Louis] Agassiz.

That is unusual.

However, she wasn’t active when I went to Mount Holyoke in 1916.  She had been succeeded as the head of the department by Dr. Ann Morgan; there were two other academically strong women in the department then, Drs. A. Elizabeth Adams and Christianna Smith.  Of these Dr. Smith is the only one still living.

You have mentioned to me previously that you came from a farm.  I assume that your family still lives there.

I come from a long line of farmers, [including] my grandfather, my father, my brother, and now my nephew.  But the original family farm was bought by the government in the early forties, and another one was acquired before my father died in 1943.

Wasn’t it unusual in the turn of the century for a farm family to send a daughter to college?

I don’t think so.

Well, tell me something about your farm life.

I think it is one of the most wonderful backgrounds anyone can have.  It introduces one to zoology at an early age, and wide open spaces are conducive to a certain openness of character and mind.  Of course, a farm is not a place in which one can make a lot of money, and, I suppose, that too is a good preparation for an academic life.

What crops did your family raise?

We had in a sense a truck garden farm, although my grandfather’s chief crop was potatoes and my father’s was corn.  My brother [specialized in dairy farming] and now my nephew continues in this line.

You have informed me that the farm is near Monaca, Pennsylvania.  I am trying to find Monaca on the map.  I understand that it is located between Pittsburgh and Newcastle.

It may not be on your map.  Can you find Beaver Falls?

Yes, here is Beaver Falls.

I went to high school in Beaver Falls.  I crossed the river at Vanport, and went to Beaver Falls by streetcar.  Here’s Monaca.

Is that pretty hilly country?

Yes, it is.

So, you came to Washington University to work on a specially funded research project?

That is right.  My parents thought I was unwise because the position paid only a thousand dollars, and the high school teaching job I had been offered in Pennsylvania, $1,600.  But I wrote to ask Dr. Danforth if any of the work could be credited towards a master’s degree.  [His reply was that] he didn’t know; I would have to write to the Board of Graduate Studies [at Washington University].  I wrote to the Board of Graduate Studies and their answer was yes.  So, after I got here and knew Dr. Danforth a little, I said, “Why didn’t you tell me that I would get credit for the work?”  He replied, “I wanted to see how much gumption you had.”  That certainly was not unusual in the twenties.

When you joined the Washington University Department of Anatomy, did the medical students object to having a woman in the dissection room?  Or didn’t you teach there for some time?

I taught in the dissection room the third year I was here.  [As for objections, what you asked connotes] a slight exaggeration.  I dissected for demonstrations in my third year, and Dr. Vernon Mastin did the demonstrating.  He was the only one who made it difficult for me.

In what way did he make it difficult?

He raised Cain about the first demonstration, because I hadn’t succeeded in finding four branches of the deep femoral artery which pass to the dorsal region of the thigh – my cadaver had only two.  This taught me a lesson: for the next demonstration I had Dr. Terry [the chief of the department] come in and check my dissection.

Then I take it you had no trouble with the students.  You perhaps had trouble with the faculty as a woman.

There wasn’t much trouble with faculty either.  Dr. Mastin wasn’t a member of the full-time staff; I think he came only on Fridays.  He had come from the Mayo Clinic and was an M.D.  But he had written a master’s thesis on the blood supply of the thyroid, so I guess he had some graduate experience in anatomy.  He was a surgeon and probably wanted to have a toe-hold in anatomy.

You have indicated to me that you have known several chairman of the Department of Anatomy, each of whom was very different.  You used the analogy of hats to explain their differences.

I won’t extend to my present chief, [Dr. W. Maxwell Cowan].  But my first chief, Dr. Robert J. Terry, told us what type and color of hat to buy.  My next chief, Dr. Edmund V. Cowdry, didn’t care about color and style as long as we had a hat.  [My third chief, Dr. Edward W.] Dempsey, didn’t care whether we had a hat or not.  I think that this is a trend of the times.  We’ve gone from a formal sort of academic life to one less formal.

I wonder if you would tell us something about Dr. Terry.

I really couldn’t talk about him.  He seemed to be a very formidable man but he had the kindest feelings for everybody.

It sounds a little bit as if Dr. Terry were, although kind, a little authoritarian in his view.  Is that true?

I think he probably was, a little.  But why not, especially in his own department?  Dr. Terry was chairman of the department from 1900 until his retirement in 1941.  He was the only head of a department who was re-appointed in 1910 after the reorganization [of the medical school] resulting from the Flexner Report.  He had a hard row because of this you see, the other powers in the medical school had been brought here after the reorganization.  How [the new department chiefs] looked on him I don’t know, but, I felt, there wasn’t the same closeness between him and the others.  Dr. Terry had a very good academic background and at one time had had an opportunity to join the anatomy staff at Harvard.  One of his sons, Robert Jr., considered writing about what might have happened if he had gone to Harvard.  I don’t know whether Robert ever did that, but I thought it was a cute thing for him to think about.

Why then do you think the new department chairmen, Joseph Erlanger, Philip Shaffer, and the rest, looked down a little on him?

I don’t know that they looked down on him.  You know, a foreigner often has a little strange feeling in a new environment.  Don’t you think so?

Yes, I suppose, but I would think that they would have thought well of somebody who was as good as Dr. Terry.

They did think well of him.

And yet they didn’t take him to their bosom.

That’s often the case.  One may be respected, but not liked.  [But Dr. Terry] took them to his bosom.  If one of them was in the hospital he always dashed over with a book, or with something.

And yet you say he had a hard row.  What do you mean by that?

Just because he was in the outer circle, not the inner circle.  He was a loner.  He had to be a loner.

Was this because the other chairmen wouldn’t admit him to the inner circle?

I don’t know.

Dr. Terry studied at the University of Edinburgh.  I remember that our Washington University School of Medicine Archives contains a letter, in the Aaron J. Steele papers, I believe, about his life there.  How long was he at Edinburgh?

I don’t know for sure.  I think for a year, but that was before 1900.  Early in this century, 1903 perhaps, he worked [at the University of] Freiburg [in Germany].  He was at the Missouri Medical College from 1895 and continued after it united with the Medical Department of Washington University to form the Washington University School of Medicine in 1899.

What was Dr. Terry’s particular interest in anatomy?  I assume bones was one of them or he wouldn’t have collected the skeletons.

His chief interest [besides skeletal anatomy] was to be a good teacher.  Also, he was interested in the subject of fluid in the lung in connection with the evolutionary transition of animals from living in water to land.  He did experiments on that subject for fifty or more years, and only after he retired did he do an all-covering report.

That seems funny for an anatomist.  I would think that such an interest would be considered physiology.

Yes, but Dr. Terry’s training was broad, and anatomy and physiology haven’t always been [considered] separate fields.  Besides, there is no limit to the research that can be called anatomical because anatomy is the mother of the whole of medicine.  This was one of the things that I came to realize at the first meeting of the American Association of Anatomists that I attended, which I think may have been in 1922.  Then there were several sections and less than one hundred papers presented.  [Since then] a new section has been introduced every few years and the number of papers has increased five-fold or more.  An anatomist can turn his attention to anything.

Could you tell me about Dr. Terry’s collection of human skeletons?  Why did he collect bones in the first place?

Dr. Terry had studied in Edinburgh.  Skeletal collections were popular in Europe in those days.  This must have influenced him to start a collection here.  He was not the first, however, to begin a well-documented skeletal collection in this country.  The first was T. Wingate Todd at Western Reserve University, but Dr. Todd wasn’t very far along with his when Dr. Terry started.  Dr. Todd’s collection exceeded Dr. Terry’s in numbers but it, I think, was not as well done.  Certainly, it has not been cared for as well.

What did Dr. Terry want to find out from his collection of bones?

He wanted to make it available for all kinds of research on the skeleton.  I regret, from the standpoint of history and your records now, that I didn’t keep a record of all the people who came and worked on it.

That would have been very interesting.  The anatomy department had some very interesting people here, particularly from South Africa.

Raymond Dart was here for six months in 1920-21 as one of the first two traveling Rockefeller Fellows.  He was originally from Australia, but had gone to University College, London, to study anatomy under Sir Grafton Elliot Smith.  Elliot Smith recommended that he come to work with Dr. Terry.  So, in that slight way, Dr. Terry and this laboratory deserve some credit for Dart’s [identification of] Taung’s fossil as a form heretofore undiscovered and possibly the “missing link.”  [This was in 1924.  Soon afterward he became] head of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

I remember that he revisited St. Louis since I have been at Washington University.

He has visited us several times, and he gave the Terry Lecture in 1971.  Also, he was Dr. Cowan’s professor of anatomy, recognized his potential, and was responsible for his going to Oxford to work under Sir Wilfrid E. Le Gros Clark.

Why is the Terry collection of human skeletons now in the Smithsonian?  What is being done with it there?

It is in the Smithsonian because the Division of Physical Anthropology was willing to have it housed there.  When Dr. T. Dale Stewart was curator he spent a year in our department, studied the collection, knew it well and recognized its value.  Our medical school always needs more room.  A collection of 1,728 disarticulated skeletons, [including] documentation, requires considerable responsibility.  The Todd collection has gone through a long period of neglect, but is now assembled in The Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  When I visited [Western Reserve University] not too many years ago I found the skulls in a house on the edge of the campus and the post-cranial remains in the Department of Anatomy.

What was the purpose of physical anthropology, as far as you were concerned?  Why did you go into that?

That was circumstantial.  Physical anthropology hadn’t been pursued in this country much before this century, and the two leaders were Ales Hrdlicka of the Smithsonian, and [Franz] Boas of Columbia [University].  Drs. Terry and Hrdlicka were very good friends.  [Dr. Terry’s skeleton collection was a focus of their common interest.]  It was easily accessible for my research as well.  But, unfortunately, I had very little time for research in those days.  This is one of the things that I had a rough time with.  My research might have had quite a different turn if there had been the kind of laboratory help we have now.

What research were you able to do instead?

I did a little transplanting of areas of skin and rotating them on backs of guinea pigs to see how and when the hair slope developed, and things like that.

What is the purpose of that kind of study?  Is it just for the desire to learn how things grow, or is there some secondary reason?

[In a general way,] I think all of my interests in research have come from the desire to find out how things grow.  [My skin transplant experiments related specifically to Dr. Danforth’s interests and were also of general] interest to plastic surgeons.

Jumping ahead in time, because this question also concerns your interest in anthropology, I remember your telling me something about being the first woman to be in the Philippines and Japan after World War II.

We were still in occupation in Japan and I was the first woman tourist after the war.

But you were connected with the War Crimes Commission?

No.  My reason for going to Japan was that I had been working with our army as a consultant anthropologist stationed in Hawaii, and I had accumulated enough time for a holiday before coming home.

What were you doing with the army as an anthropologist?

I was involved in the identification of skeletal remains of World War II dead from the Pacific area.

Returning now to the period when you were first at Washington University, tell me what St. Louis was like then.

First of all, I should say that I wasn’t accustomed to a large city because I had lived in the country and I went to a country college.  I knew Pittsburgh a little, and the two things that struck me when I came to St. Louis were the absence of “keep off the grass” signs and the number of artificial limb stores located on Olive Street.

Why do you think they had artificial limb stores?

I have no idea.

Was this the center of rehabilitation?

I don’t know that it was a center.  We had something going on under the name of physical therapeutics, directed by Dr. Frank Ewerhardt.

Well, I must look this up, it could he.  It could possibly be that among the many German immigrants here were workmen who were particularly good in designing or the making of artificial limbs.

[St. Louis] seemed also to be very slow-moving.  Pittsburgh had been fast-moving by comparison.  I think St. Louis is still slower moving than Eastern cities.  Don’t you notice that?

Very much so.

This is very pleasant, and, I’m sure, is a reflection of the city’s southern associations.  I don’t think [that] any other particular thing struck me.  Of course, everybody used streetcars.

Public transportation, I take it, was much better than it is now.

Streetcars were everywhere.

They used to be so in my time in New York City.

I don’t remember New York with streetcars, but then I can’t remember when I was first there.  I know I was there in 1918 but didn’t they have buses then?  Wasn’t a ride on top of a double decker bus one of the things to do when one was in New York?

The Fifth Avenue bus, yes.  I guess they started bringing in double decker buses around 1906, but except for the Fifth Avenue bus, where it was a specialty imported from London, I don’t think they had any.  I’m old enough to remember going on a horse-drawn streetcar in New York City with my mother and I was so young she didn’t have to pay for me if I sat on her lap, so that shows how many years I’ve been around.

Well, I’m very much older than you are, and I never saw a horse-drawn streetcar.  I’ve seen and driven a lot of horse-drawn vehicles, but never a streetcar, but I’ve heard about them.

Yes, well they were nice, interesting, old slow-moving things and you could see things.  Could you also tell us a little bit about what the Washington University School of Medicine Library was like in the twenties?

It’s always been marvelous.  It was very important in the medical school and had a very high rating.  It occupied the space on the first floor and in the basement.  The west end of the second floor was given to the library somewhat later.  Ella B. Lawrence was the chief librarian.  Maude Hennessey and Ruth Drake were on the staff in the beginning.  It was a good [library] because Miss Lawrence followed the directions of the [faculty advisory] committee for acquiring the right books, old acquisitions as well as new books.

They did a marvelous job.  Our collection is really outstanding.

I know that Dr. Joseph Erlanger was on that committee.

Yes, he was chairman for a while.

Who else was on it?  I think Dr. Terry was on it, too.  At least he made lots of recommendations.  I don’t know whether Miss Lawrence had library training.

No, but very few librarians did at that time.  She was alive and going to meetings when I first started in the medical library profession, but somehow I never met her.  Certainly the library seems to have been the length and shadow of Ella B. Lawrence.

I don’t know how long she was here.

She was here about twenty-five years.  She died while still holding the position in 1942.

She lived in a little apartment south on Euclid, and walked to work.

For some years I lectured to medical students in the history of medicine.  To my recollection, who in the past was interested in the history of anatomy?  Dr. Terry?


Did you know Dr. Major G. Seelig, who taught a course here in the history of medicine?


He wrote a book about it.  What was he like?

He was a surgeon, a short, wiry man, extremely pleasant, helpful, and I think universally liked.  A scholar, especially a Latin scholar.

Really? I’m surprised at that.  He apparently was also a Hebrew scholar.

I can’t tell this story very well, maybe you have heard it:  A nun was discovered to have an inoperable abdominal cancer, a biopsy was taken and the slides kept, but she lived for ten years or more and then died from something else with no evidence of cancer at autopsy.  She was made a saint, and Dr. Seelig  was the physician who was called in to present the evidence in Latin.  I believe “the trial” occurred in New Orleans.

Oh, that’s interesting.  I didn’t know that.  To get back to the history of anatomy and Dr. Terry – did he give courses in the subject?


I have some of his lantern slides which I sometimes use in my classes.  In 1925 and 1926, you were a student at Somerville College at Oxford University in England.  How did you get there, what did you do, who sent you?

I was awarded a National Research Council Fellowship.  The question was, where should I go?  Our laboratory at Washington University was largely oriented towards physical anthropology.  Therefore, Dr. Terry steered me to Oxford although at that time Cambridge and University College, London were better known in the biological sciences.

Under whom did you work when you were at Oxford?

Arthur Thompson, a professor of Anatomy at Oxford.  He was a kindly man who had done important work on the structure of the eye.  But he was in his later years when I was there.  [By then he] was more interested in art than science, [indeed,] had written a book on anatomy for artists.  He didn’t think very much of American education and said to me one day, “Tell me frankly, don’t you think that American students when they are through college are at about the same level of education that ours are when they come to Oxford?”

Many Americans, I am afraid, agree with him.  What did you study at Oxford?

I had a fellowship to study racial differences in hair.  But that didn’t please Professor Thompson, so he assigned me to study vertebral columns from the Thebaid, in Egypt, which had been collected years before.  They were in a frightful state.  They had to be scrubbed and sized with a thin glue so they wouldn’t crumble.  I said to Mr. Chesterman, who was Professor Thompson’s right hand man, “Who is going to do this?” and he said, “I’m afraid you are.”

Do you think they would have done that to a man?

No.  Henry Field was there studying at the same time.  He had things on silver platter.

I don’t know Mr. Field.

He is related to Marshall Field of Chicago, of [department store fame].  Henry was the instigator of Malvina Hoffman’s famous series of sculptures of people from all over the world, which made up the “Hall of Man” in the Chicago Museum [of Natural History].

Again, you were forced into research that was not your main interest.

That’s right.

Is that generally because you are a woman?  I keep coming back to this because I know your interest in “women’s lib.”

Perhaps these turns of events developed my interest in “women’s lib.”  I don’t really suppose I started out with that point of view, even though I went to a woman’s college.

Do you feel that the hopes that women had at the time of World War I for better positions in science and in the world in general were higher than what women aspired to later?  I have heard others say they have felt that way: that they felt that there was greater optimism then than even in the present day.

[I was and I remain] optimistic.  But it’s a great struggle that we must keep on with.

I notice that in the Public Health Service and in the Children’s Bureau, and also in librarianship, there were more women at the higher positions around World War I than there are now or have been in the last ten years.

I really think it hasn’t changed very much.  Next year we’re [admitting] twenty-five women students in the freshman class, which is a larger number and percentage than we have had so far.  And there is pressure to take [even] more women and blacks.

Were there other women in Oxford with you, or were you the only woman?

There was one woman on the staff of the anatomy department who was very helpful and very able.  She was in charge of the laboratory of gross anatomy for women students, a laboratory on the second floor.  The men dissected in a laboratory on the first floor.  There was also a number of American students in Oxford at the time.  I recall one, Genevieve Cope, who was in mathematics.  She was from Pittsburgh, and had the most beautiful red coat you ever saw.  When I left she gave me that steel engraving of the towers of Oxford which you may have noticed in my apartments.

Was this your first time abroad?

Yes.  I [left the United States] early in June [of 1925].  I didn’t have to report to Oxford until the middle of October [but arrived a month earlier].  I rented a bed-sitting room with a landlady, Mrs. Devine, whom I called the divine lady.  I was terribly homesick, not really homesick to be home.  [But because what] seemed [to me] to be a strange situation.  One day I went to lunch to the cinema cafe, which was near my lodgings.  The cafe was in the front part of the movie house, and it was rather crowded, so the head waiter put me at a table with [a woman], who turned out to be Lady Osler.   She said to me after a minute or two, “You are an American?”  I [replied] “Yes, how did you know?” and she said, “From your clothes.”  Well, my clothes were nothing to write home about; she was just a very observant person.

Well, of course, she was an American, too.

Yes, she was.  Then she invited me to her house, which was open house every Sunday afternoon.  But I never went.  Wasn’t that foolish?

Then, I take it you didn’t meet Sir William Osler?

No, I didn’t.  He had died in 1919.

Who are the people that Dr. Terry brought into the department besides yourself?

Oh goodness!  [Dr. Terry] brought C. H. Danforth, of course, as a very young man.  [He recruited] Edgar Allen from Brown in 1919, K. S. Chouké joined us, as did George D. Williams.  Beatrice Whiteside taught histology in those early years.  George Seib [taught gross anatomy] in the department for ten years.  [I also wish to mention Cecil Charles and Forest H. Staley].  Dr. Staley, who was a leading authority in St. Louis on snake bites, [taught part-time].

Were most of them M.D.’s, or Ph.D.’s, or were they half and half?

Drs. Danforth and Allen were Ph.D.’s and Dr. Charles was both.

They were mostly full-time people, I take it, because one of the great complaints of the Flexner Report concerned staffing by part-timers.

Yes.  Dr. Staley was not full time and Dr. Mastin was here part-time as a demonstrator in gross anatomy.

Did these people go from here to better positions?  I remember that Dr. Dempsey once counted up the number of department heads that had gone from here.

This has always interested me.  I sat beside Dr. Allen once at a meeting, after he had been at Yale for a time.  He went through the program and [found many whom he had trained here].  I suppose [this] brings pleasure to [a professor].  Dr. Danforth went to Stanford, and was head of anatomy there for a long time, and was much loved.  He later became a member of the National Academy.  Dr. Allen went from here to the University of Missouri where he was not only head of anatomy, but also dean.  From there he went to Yale, and took [Dr. William] Gardner with him.  Dr. Gardner succeeded him at Yale as head.  He has also been elected president of the American Association of Anatomists.

I don’t know about anatomists or medical people, but I think librarians are always pleased when members of their staff go off to be heads of libraries somewhere else.

You hate to lose them, but you’re proud.

After Dr. Terry retired, Dr. Edmund Vincent Cowdry became head of the department.  He had been at the Peking Union Medical College.  Did he come directly from there?

Oh, no.  He went to Peking from Johns Hopkins [University].  He came back to the United States to be at the Rockefeller Institute.  Later, [in 1928] he came here to be head of microscopic anatomy, although I think at that time it was called the Department of Cytology.  Before Dr. Cowdry came, Dr. [Stephen Walter] Ranson headed the Department of Histology [and Neuroanatomy].

Dr. Ranson, the neurologist?

Yes, from Northwestern [University].  He stayed only two years, and then went back to Northwestern.  He had brought [Drs. Joseph C.] Hinsey, and Sam L. Clark, Sr., who was then a young man.  [Clark’s] son, Sam, Jr., who was acting head of our department not so long ago, was born in St. Louis when his father was here under Ranson.  When Dr. Cowdry succeeded Dr. Ranson he took the post on condition that, when Dr. Terry retired, [cytology and anatomy] would be re-united [as one department].

So, Dr. Cowdry came in 1928, thinking he was going to be the head of the department when Dr. Terry left?

Oh, yes.  The dean, Dr. [W. McKim] Marriott, promised this.  I gather there was nothing in writing about it, but Dr. Cowdry was able to pull it off anyway.  [This was] even though the Executive Faculty and the [administration] were quite different, when Dr. Terry retired in 1941, from what they were in 1928, when Dr. Cowdry first came to the school.

Dr. Cowdry is on record to the effect that the Washington University system was very poor during his early years here and that no less than Dr. Erlanger had difficulties because of that.  Do you agree with him and, if so, how was the problem taken care of?

If [Dr. Cowdry] thought it was bad for [Dr. Erlanger], I wonder how he thought it was for me?

Why, what was the difference?

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.”

And would he have said that to a man?

I doubt it very much.

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?

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.”

That surgeon was more honest than many.

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.

Why did they want to do that?

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

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

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.

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?

I really don’t know, Estelle.

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

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.

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

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

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

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].

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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?

Because he was getting older.

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

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.

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.

Yes, but more children are voting now.

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?

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

No, I don’t.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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].

Was he able to be close to people in general?


Even librarians?


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

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

Oh, really?  What happened to the others?

Well, they departed, or were encouraged to depart.


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.

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

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

You think the ones who left were good?

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

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

Well, I’m sure they conjectured about that.

And whom did Dr. Dempsey bring in place of these people?

He brought Drs. Sam L. Clark, Jr., Sarah Luse, Roy Peterson, Duncan Chiquoine, Allen Enders and others.

The work which they did was very often in the field of neurology.  Sarah Luse’s, at least, was in the field of neurology.  What general, overall changes did you see in the Anatomy Department from the twenties to the present?

[I would name two, above all:] reduction in the number of teaching hours and a great increase in the amount of money available for research.

Was this money available to other medical schools, or was Washington University simply more successful in acquiring it?  Or, perhaps, did we have so little to start with and, therefore, any new funding represented a great increase?

I think that most medical schools [attempted to find new sources of funding.  As for earlier years, I wouldn’t say that] we had so little money.  I think we were well off.  [The medical school was] certainly well off compared to the rest of Washington University.

Then why earlier, did they not give much money to research?

[Research] just wasn’t done to the extent that it is today.

You mean generally people didn’t do research in anatomy?

I didn’t mean just in anatomy.  I meant throughout the whole medical school.

But wasn’t research one of the things that was emphasized as a result of the Flexner Report?

Yes, and also a full-time rather than a part-time staff.  A proportion of each departmental budget was assigned to research.

But a small proportion?

This I don’t know.

I’m just trying to flush out your answer that there was a little money for research and now there is a great deal more.  Is most of the money now from the United States Public Health Service, which means it goes through study sections and councils?

This I can’t answer either.  My own research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, but I don’t know whether this is true of most of the research budget of the anatomy department or of the medical school as a whole.

The reason I ask is because grant funding provides a kind of indication about how high a department or scientist is regarded professionally.

Oh, I think this department has had a high rating among anatomy departments here and abroad.  But I’m sure it had a high rating when Dr. Terry was head, too.  After all, [we spoke of the fact that] it was recommended to [Raymond] Dart in England that he come here to work with Dr. Terry.

With the coming of Drs. Sarah Luse and Paul E. Lacy (who, I understand, started out in anatomy), the whole complexion of the department must have changed.

I think it is unlikely that Dr. Lacy had ever thought that he would be an anatomist.  Paul was an M.D. who had been in the war and was all over Japan, among other places.  He came back to [do research] at the Mayo Clinic.  Sarah came here from Mayo’s and told Dr. Dempsey about him, and so Paul came for one year.  I think he was in the department for only a year.  [That was] to learn electron microscopy, because Dr. Dempsey was one of the leaders in this new technique.  Sarah took it up and became one of the leaders, too.

Interestingly enough, I met an anatomist in New Delhi who worked with Paul Lacy and Sarah Luse at the Mayo Clinic.  He is married to an American woman he met at the clinic.  They now have four children and he is head of the department in the All-India Institute of Medical Science.  Electron microscopy is an interesting subject.  It seems to me that whenever we have new instrumentation, whether light microscopes in the 1600’s or electron microscopes now, there is a tendency at the beginning to re-examine everything, just out of curiosity.  Do you think that was true here?  Is this beginning phase over now?

I definitely think that [it was] true here and all over.  In his presidential address to the American Association of Anatomists two or three years ago [Dr. Don W. Fawcett observed] that the hey-day of electron microscopy was over.

In what field is electron microscopy still a primary research medium?

It still goes on in anatomy, just as there is some very slight research going on in gross anatomy.  Of course, as you know, electron microscopy is [employed in] any area that needs to be studied at the ultrastructural level.  That includes pathology.

You mentioned gross anatomy.  That seems to be a field that is being de-emphasized in medical schools throughout the country.

I think, perhaps, we take it for granted that a beginning student in anatomy already knows what the last generation knew.  Perhaps this is necessary, since there is more to know and no more time in which to learn it.  Maybe it isn’t important to know what bones are in the forearm.

Do you think then that it is a good sign that most medical schools are giving fewer and fewer hours to gross anatomy?

I have no idea.

I remember that Dr. Sarah Luse was very unhappy when the number of hours of anatomy in the first year here was being lowered.

That reaction was probably Sarah’s loyalty to the department.

Well, it is hard sometimes when people have emotional reactions to separate what is emotional from breadth of vision.  I was at the University of Illinois a few weeks ago, where first years of medical school are taught in Champaign-Urbana, as well as in Chicago.  There the students do no dissection whatsoever.  They learn it all by closed circuit television, computer assisted learning, film strips, and models.  What do you think of these means of teaching anatomy?

I think it is sad.

What kind of surgeons do you think we will get if this continues?

 Maybe we won’t need surgeons, except to repair people after automobile accidents.

How has Washington University School of Medicine changed as it has grown larger?

It was more pleasant in the early days when the school was small, [that was] when all the pre-clinical faculty had lunch, along with all the medical students, in a little cafeteria in the middle of a connection between the North and South Buildings.  Now the area is [taken up by] the first floor of the Cancer Research Building.

We have some pictures of this cafeteria in our Archives.

Yes, I recall that [even] most of the [clinical] faculty came to this dining room.  I remember seeing Dr. [Evarts A.] Graham there regularly.

How else has the school changed?

It’s bigger and bustlier and seems to have grown up “like Topsy” – without any plan. It’s very easy to lose your way.

Physically, but how has it changed in the way that it teaches, in the way that it considers medical care?

I don’t know.

I’m on what used to be called the Curriculum Committee, Committee on Medical Education, and it seems to me that the school is now several years behind schools elsewhere in its stance on medical education.  Do you think this was generally true, or do you think that they were so far ahead to start with?

I don’t know enough about what’s going on now to have an opinion.  We [should] define what we mean by being ahead or behind.  If being ahead [means] doing away with an anatomy department, or having no dissection and studying the structure of the body from film strips, I should hope we [are] not ahead.

How about the proposal that is going around medical schools now and, indeed, has been taken up by a number of them, to reduce the required length of study from four years to three years?

We are headed that way certainly, and I’m not sure how much difference it would make to medicine anyway.

A lot of people probably agree with you.  You think, then, that it should be cut down in the clinical years or in the pre-clinical years, or in both?

I don’t know.

Do you think that we have too many physicians and, therefore, should eliminate a few medical schools?

I don’t know about that, either.

What do you mean, then by stating that you don’t think that medicine is really as good as people think?

It really seems to help very little.  The art of it, I think, was, and perhaps still is, better than the science of it.

And you think we’re losing the art?

Yes, I do.

Without gaining anything in science?

I’m sure we’re gaining something in the science, but I’m not sure that what we’re gaining in science is good for the patient.  Prolonging the life of a cancer patient, [for example].

We have more students in the medical curriculum than ever before.  Did we always have, in addition, graduate students who were not studying for an M.D.?

 The number of medical students has increased slowly but steadily from the time I came.  I think there were seventy or less in the entering class in 1920, the laboratory was built for sixty, so [I would gather that] the number had [already] increased a little [since the reorganization].  Changes in the number of graduate students have been up and down, depending to a great extent on the point of view of the head of the department.

Anatomy now has a fair number of them.

Yes; it has, of course, also depended to some extent on how much money was available from grants for the support of graduate students.

Where do most of these graduate students go after they get their doctorate?

Oh, goodness, I don’t know.

Do they go into teaching or research in anatomy, or do they go into some other field?

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.

In 1963 you taught at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda.  Would you tell me about your experience there?

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.”

People say the most wonderful things.

Yes, they do.

I remember that, when you returned, you indicated that it was a very interesting experience.

Yes, it was.

In what way was it so interesting?

In many ways.  For example, being so close to the equator, to have no shadow.

Was it very hot, too?

Makerere has an elevation of 5,000 feet, so we were comfortable.  It is situated in Kampala, which is called the pearl of Africa.

I remember that you also mentioned that the students there were a little surprised to see you.

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.

Yes, they would like to go visiting.

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.

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.

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.

He, I take it, was British.

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.

Was their background training worse or the same as what you expect in Great Britain or the United States?

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.

You had some difficulty or surprise from the students when you first arrived?

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.”

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?

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.

Why does anybody care whether hairs have twist besides the hairdressers?

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.

When you transplanted the skin onto the guinea pig, what were you trying to do?

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.

So you turned them around to see if they would go the wrong direction.

Yes, we rotated them 180 degrees.

What did you find?

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.

So that they actually had a prenatal bent.


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?

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.

And the monkeys are equivalent skeletons?

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.

That means you’ll be in St. Louis for at least several more years?

I expect to be here the rest of my life.

And are you still growing African violets?

I had a recess from that, but I’ve started again.

Good, and bird watching?

I’m afraid I talk more at the board meetings of the St. Louis Audubon Society than I spend time watching birds.

Well, I think it’s unlikely that that is true.  At one point I think you were also making ceramic table tops.

Yes, I made one.

What other hobbies do you have?

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.

Where do you find strawberry patches?

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.

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.

Thank you, I will.


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