Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Birth of an institution

The birth of the University of Oregon Medical School one hundred and twenty years ago was captured in paper documents, both handwritten and typescript, that have come down through the ages and into our collections.

The Harry J. Sears Papers (Accession 2005-005), donated by Sears' son David in 2005, contains a manuscript draft version of the petition sent to the Board of Regents in June of 1887. The draft is written on letterhead from the Office of the Board of Health where C.H. Wheeler was presiding Health Officer, and Wheeler's name appears in the list of petitioners. A penciled notation at the top of the first sheet, however, indicates that this particular version was a "draft, United States District by Judge Matthew P. Deady." Deady was, at that time, president of the Board of Regents; subsequent to the establishment of the University of Oregon Medical School, he was immediately named emeritus professor of medical jurisprudence. While that might trigger a conflict of interest inquiry these days, it seemed business as usual back in 1887.

The University of Oregon Medical School Faculty Minutes (Accession 1999-003), by contrast, contains a typewritten version of the petition appended to the beginning of the volume containing minutes from the period 1921 to 1943. You have wonder why this was included at that point: was the original petition missing? Were original papers destroyed accidentally? Had some challenge to the school's authority been received? Had enough time elapsed that human memory of the original incorporation was no longer sufficient (or trustworthy)? In any case, the typed petition, while official-looking, definitely lacks charm. The language itself seems more alive in the manuscript ("and we would ever pray --"), and we're gratified that this draft, in all its contingency, now sits beside its formal likeness.

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