Friday, May 29, 2009

Magnolia mysteries: one down

The weather here in Portland has been picture perfect the past week, just in time for the annual celebration of Rose Festival. As if on cue, most of the rose bushes on Marquam Hill have burst into bloom, and the campus is aglow with rhododendrons, azaleas, lupine, and all manner of other flora.

For this beauteous bounty, we are indebted to John G. Bacher, the Swiss florist and horticulturist who designed the landscaping around the campus core, starting in 1950. A 1954 issue of the university publication What's Going On? opined that "there are probably few men in Portland with the love and knowledge of plant life and the imagination to have created the color, beauty, and variety that Mr. Bacher has achieved on campus."

The grounds certainly contribute in part to the strange allure of OHSU (often inexplicable to those who have never visited campus), and serve as proof of the corporate philosophy of Bacher's Swiss Floral Company, that "the world of flowers is life's greatest consolation, for it serves all who care, appeals to the soul in grief and joy, and sweetens our hardest days of toil."

Bacher was also responsible for the epic move of the magnolia tree onto campus from--as we learn in a caption to photos in the Charles Norris Scrapbook (2000-007)--Lincoln High School. Below, we see the expert at work documenting the event.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oregon v. Women

On first looking into The Oregon Medical and Surgical Reporter index (vol. 1, 1869-70) I was initially struck by the listing for "Effect of the sewing machine on health" but then more forcibly by "Oregon versus Women"--surely, I thought, this must be the reasoned explanation for why the medical men of Willamette University were contemplating the exclusion of women from classes, a move which was effected in June of 1871 (see our earlier post on Mary Sawtelle for a bit more on that.)

Well, the brief editorial isn't about that at all. But it is too good not to share, so here it is, in part:
How often we hear the expression in regard to our climate that 'it is very hard on women.' This we believe to be an unjust aspersion, arising from ignorance of the true cause of female weakness in a climate which is noted for its salubrity. The fault lies not so much in the climate as in the failure to appreciate, and rightly appropriate the wealth of vitality and healing which has been poured out on these Western shores in such bounteous measure. The fact seems to be lost sight of, if ever known, that ours is one of those peculiar climates which require for its full enjoyment, so far as bodily vigor is concerned, a personal appreciation of its stores of life, where only they can be found in the open air....

Unfortunately for suffering womanhood in our days, fashion, custom, or propriety--as you please--that hideous monster, which, like the car of the Juggernaut, goes crushing on over quivering nerves and aching hearts, has extracised [sic] that one, who in defiance of its fiat persists in seeking full bounding life 'in the long fields of light,' and points the finger of scorn at the cheek embrowned by the sun's frequent caresses in its pursuit. Confinement to the house, too much indoor labor can but work mischief to the one practising it too assiduously in a climate as mild as ours....

It is a remarkable fact, and one well authenticated too, that ladies in Oregon 'bear their age' better than in any other State of the Union--California perhaps excepted--notwithstanding their neglect of these gifts so priceless and so free....
As if we needed more inducement to play out of doors. Go to it, ladies! (and gentlemen!)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New donation: The Story of Sidney R. Garfield

Today's mail brought us a copy of the latest book on the history of Kaiser Permanente and the development of prepaid health care, Tom Debley's The Story of Sidney R. Garfield: the visionary who turned sick care into health care (Permanente Press, 2009).

Debley, Director of Heritage Resources for KP, visited OHSU back in January of 2006 to give a talk on the history of Kaiser for the History of Medicine Society Lecture Series (streaming video available on our lectures page). This new book "represents the first time that Garfield's story has been told in a form that puts him in the foreground and Henry Kaiser in the background," and while Debley demurs that the work is "not, however, a definitive biography," it is nonetheless a very informative and very readable narrative of Garfield's life and accomplishments.

A 1928 graduate of the University of Iowa College of Medicine, Garfield was at first a reluctant physician: he reportedly cried in disappointment when his parents insisted he attend medical school. Internships at Michael Reese and the Los Angeles County General Hospital, plus a three-year surgical residency, dropped him out into the medical workforce in 1933, the height of the Great Depression. Nevertheless, the plucky young man decided to open a 12-bed hospital in the Mojave Desert east of L.A., betting that the workers brought to the area by construction projects would need medical care. His bet finally paid off when the largest insurer of the workmen, the Industrial Indemnity Exchange, offered to prepay for health care. The rest, as they say, was history.

No history of KP would be complete without mention of Portland and the Kaiser shipyards--and the Portland medical community's NIMBY attitude to the ideas of prepayment and group medical insurance. Debley quotes one unnamed "leader of the [Portland] community physicians" who told Garfield and Kaiser "to go across the Columbia River to the small town of Vancouver, Washington: 'Do what you want over there. Nobody cares what you do.'" Ah, the good old days.

The book is amply illustrated with photographs from the KP archives, and really is a page-turner. After cataloging, the OHSU copy will be headed for the PNW Archives Collection. You can check for a copy in a library near you, or buy a copy online.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Welcoming Willis

A very welcome new addition to the History of Medicine Collection here at OHSU is a copy of Thomas Willis' Pharmaceutice rationalis, or, An exercitation of the operations of medicines in humane bodies, shewing the signs, causes, and cures of most distempers incident thereunto. In two parts. As also A treatise of the scurvy, and the several sorts thereof, with their symptoms, causes, and cure (I love a proper title!), printed in London in 1679.

A landmark of 17th-century English medicine, this was one of the first scientific works on pharmacology, in which Willis attempted to establish pharmacology as a science based on anatomy and chemical experimentation. Here, Willis describes the sweetish flavour of urine in diabetes mellitus, (possibly) differentiating between it and diabetes insipidus--the first Westerner to do so. The text also contains numerous anatomical illustrations of the organs of the abdominal and thoracic cavities, including some very early images of the fine structure of the lungs (such as the one shown here, Tab. V., which "sets forth the pulmonary nerve more accurately described by the aid of a Microscope").

The OHSU copy bears the bookplate of the avid book collector Dr. Oren Otto Fisher. A contemporary signature on the title page is very intriguing: it appears to read "Kath. Wright, 1684." By chance, I happened across a mention of a Katharin Wright, wife of William Lee, burgess and five-time mayor of Abingdon, who happened to be Governor of Christ's Hospital in Abingdon during the second half of the 17th century (cf. Diary of Samuel Sewall, 1674-1729, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1878, p. 301-2). We can't yet say for certain that these two Kath Wrights are one and the same, but it's certainly an intriguing possibility!