Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Finding Horace Carpenter

More reading on--or really "around" rather than "on"--l'affaire Sawtelle, the expulsion of a female student from Willamette University Medical Department in 1871, has inspired us to take a closer look at Horace Carpenter, M.D., a member of the faculty at WUMD during the crisis.

The bulk of the extant material pertaining to Carpenter in OHSU's historical collections was donated by his descendant, University of Oregon Medical School alumnus and medical historian G. Horace Coshow, M.D. Coshow deposited several original photographs from a family scrapbook, including the one shown here, with Carpenter, his wife Sarah, and their three daughters, Mae, Georgia, and Lilly. Original correspondence from Alfred Kinney, MD, and George H. Brodie, recounting their recollections of Carpenter, was collected by Coshow during his research into Carpenter's life and career (later published as a short biography in Northwest Medicine 1931; 30(8):378).

While we still find no smoking gun implicating Carpenter in Sawtelle's dismissal from WUMD, we find additional evidence--as if more were needed!--that the early faculty were often at one another's throats. Describing the early development of the school, Coshow writes:
Rivalries and jealousies developed the first year over the signatures which should appear on the diplomas of the graduating class. It appears that Dr. Carpenter objected to Dr. [Joseph Henry] Wythe's signature appearing on the diplomas, but whether as a professor in the school or as president of the University is not clear. Relations became strained and Dr. Wythe submitted his resignation as president, but the matter was adjusted and he remained for another year. Regardless of the fact that disagreements developed from time to time within the faculty and between the faculty and the Board of Trustees regarding Dr. Carpenter's ability, he must have been competent, for he was always retained or reinstated after the fires of battle died out...
In fact, an obituary for Carpenter (source unknown, the clipping coming from Coshow's scrapbook) discussed his surgical expertise, noting that he "successfully ligated a femoral artery an inch and a half below Powpart's ligament", and performed three successful trepanations--this all before 1893.

An article on Mary Sawtelle's experience at WUMD, written by Lavola Bakken for the Oregon Journal in 1971, concluded that since Carpenter had written Sawtelle a "warm letter of congratulation" years later, "'Flunking' Mary from Willamette could not have been his idea." However, Bakken also notes that when Carpenter did finally leave WUMD in 1875, "he took the department records with him." Alas, my archives for a records retention program!

1 comment:

Kimberly Jensen said...

Thanks for continuing to post on this important topic.