Thursday, December 28, 2006

O, the tangled web!

Several events today have caused me to look back on the history of this place, all the way back to the very beginnings in the 19th century, and wonder (aloud, actually) about the convoluted path that has been taken. While every institution would like to represent its history as an unhindered march toward progress, the historical record keeps alive the memories of those hiccups (or coughs, or tumults) that some would just as soon forget.

I received
an advance copy of a piece being written by one of our researchers, and one of his footnotes led me to read a 1974 article on the history of OHSU: "University of Oregon Medical School," Western Journal of Medicine, 120:255-262, Mar 1974). Written by Thelma Wilson, then Assistant Director of Public Affairs here, it is actually a pretty well-balanced account of the first 86 years. On page 260, we read that Dr. Richard Dillehunt was elected to the deanship of the Medical School "only after an intensive battle between two factions of the faculty. The majority of the older clinical members considered the laboratory sciences as merely a necessary adjunct for training physicians. The younger clinical men and the laboratory staff believed equally strongly that medical education must be primarily a science. Dean Dillehunt was destined to walk a tightrope between the two factions until each recognized the importance of the other's role." I wonder when, exactly, that occurred....

So, since Wilson did not cite a source for this tidbit (she seems to have obtained many of her facts from talking with retired faculty members), I went up to check the original Faculty Minutes (Accession 1999-003). I suppose I should have known better than to expect to see anything truly revelatory in the "official" minutes. But the first volume is a lovely example of just how complex primary sources can be. Minutes were originally taken in longhand at the meeting, whether in pencil or ink. Sometimes, these minutes have been left to stand as written. Other meetings, however, must have remained controversial after the session ended. Typed minutes are pasted over manuscript minutes; whole pages have been glued together around the edges, leaving just enough room for someone to get a tantalizing peek inside.

The minutes for March 30, 1920, have been left in the longhand taken at the time. But it's clear that much was left out. The naming of a new dean is the only agenda item. The minutes begin: "Dr Labbe discusses importance of selection of proper dean because of great public interest in the school and because representations [sic] of Rockefeller Institute are about to arrive in city for purpose of investigating med school."

Then: "Moved Haskins: that faculty proceed to informal ballot for nomination for dean [...] Vote taken resulted: Dillehunt 7, Tucker 5, Labbe 1, Wilson 1."

Dillehunt was a good choice, since he had been acting as assistant dean since 1912. Curiously, on p. 158 of the minutes, there is a manuscript note (later crossed out) that "Assistant dean presents resignation--not accepted by vote." The person who crossed this out points the reader to pp. 152-153, where we find typed minutes of the Nov. 11, 1916, meeting, but no mention of Dillehunt's resignation attempt. Also no mention of the small item I can see between pp. 156-157 (glued together) which reads, in part: "Move Benson and 2nd matter of students alleged to have performed abortion be investigated by committee of 3 [...]"

Definitely some leads to be followed here, for a researcher interested in the side roads on our march to progress!

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