Friday, May 11, 2007

Sommer and Saslow

This year marks the 100th presentation of the OHSU School of Medicine's Sommer Memorial Lectures, a continuing education program intended to deal with "the practical problems arising in the general practice of medicine and surgery." The lecture series began in 1941, five years after Dr. E.A. Sommer's death on March 15, 1936. A perpetual trust established by Dr. Sommer continues to fund the program to this day. (Are you noticing that the math doesn't quite add up? In several years, two series of lectures were presented, leading to the attainment of the 100th mark in just over 60 years.)

E.A. Sommer was an 1890 graduate of Willamette University Medical School, and he began his practice as a frontier physician in Oregon City in 1894. The demanding nature of the work caused Sommer to stress the need for broad medical knowledge over specialization. He went on to serve in a variety of posts, from Chief Surgeon of the Portland Railway Light & Power Company to charter member of the American Academy of Surgeons. When he retired from practice in 1931, Sommer donated his entire library to the University of Oregon Medical School and made plans to establish the Sommer Memorial Lecture fund, "to advance medical science, and thereby serve mankind."

This year was also notable for being the first year when the Saslow Lecture was given in memoriam. Named for Dr. George Saslow who died last year at the age of 99, today's Saslow Lecture was given by Fernando Nottebohm, Ph.D., a zoologist and neuroethologist who presented his research on replacement neurons. When asked to speculate on what benefit his research might have on medical science, Dr. Nottebohm said, "Well, it won't benefit anyone in this room" (to general laughter)--making the point that the application of this knowledge will be many, many years in the making. That seemed to be okay with the crowd, who, inspired by the spirit of Dr. Sommer, knew that seeds planted today will continue bear fruit in the coming centuries.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

To process or not to process?

Forgive me, readers, it's been over a month since my last rant about minimally processed archival collections, and I feel the need to unburden my mind again. Here's yet another reason I don't like the Greene-Meissner method of archival "processing":

A patron came in to use one of our more recent archival accessions, the OHSU Hospital Infection Control Records (Accession 2006-003). After looking through the materials, he submitted his copy order. Here in the History of Medicine Room (as in most archives and special collections), we do copying for patrons, and so he had to wait while I went to copy. Before I could even begin copying, however, I had to process the materials! Take out staples, remove paper clips, and then retrieve some archival clips to keep groups of papers together--greatly lengthening the amount of time the patron had to wait for his order.

Is this good service? I tend to think not. One oft-cited advantage of the "more product, less process" mode is the service to users rendered by the reduction of backlogs. I think smaller repositories really need to analyze this claim, however, and decide for themselves what constitutes good service in their particular case. Our case is definitely being made for full processing.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Nisei memoir of World War II

Today, filing a new biographical file folder for Dr. Paul H. Oyamada, D.M.D., I noticed that the file folder right before this new one alphabetically was labeled "Oyamoida, Abe, M.D." I knew immediately that this was a typo, and should read "Oyamada, Abe, M.D.," because Dr. Oyamada is mentioned in one of our oral history interviews. Interestingly, he is mentioned by pathologist and professor emeritus Nelson "Sam" Niles, not one of the Japanese Americans interviewed for the program.

So, I opened up the folder out of curiosity, to see what we had collected. Inside was one document: a handwritten letter from Oyamada to Dr. David W.E. Baird, written May 6, 1943. The letter begins with a note of congratulations to Dr. Baird on his recent appointment to the deanship. The rest is a very personal and very compelling account from this Japanese American physician at the height of World War II:

It was almost a year ago that we left home and said good-bye to our friends, our schoolmates at Oregon Medical School, and all the memories of friendly associations with the things we loved and the people we knew back in Portland, Oregon. During that time I have been very busy in the Center hospitals working up and assisting in the in-patient cases so that the passage of time was hardly noticed.

Now, I'm glad to tell you that at last I'm going to be able to do something--directly and personally--to help win the war for America.

President Roosevelt and Secretary of War Stimson opened up the Army again to us nisei, and I'm one of the several thousand who volunteered to go out and do what we can to whip the Axis. I'm waiting my call for induction now, so that I can go down to Camp Shelby in Mississippi and train with 2600 nisei from Hawaii, and other nisei from all parts of the United States, to form a crack combat unit....

Perhaps you read in the newspaper the other day that three nisei soldiers were awarded a decoration called the Legion of Merit for valorous service. Well, those fellows are just a few of the many now serving in the Southwest Pacific, in Alaska, in North Africa, and in England, and some of them are doing highly specialized work that they are especially suited for.

Uncle Sam stopped drafting us just before evacuation last spring, but now the way is open again. It was hard to be cooped up behind barbed wires with doubts cast on our loyalty while everyone else was given a chance to defend his country. Now we consider it a duty and privilege to serve, so that when peace returns again, we can stand up beside our friends and buddies and say that we too had a share in winning the war.

I think action like this demonstrates more strongly than all the words in the world, that we resent the vicious attack on Pearl Harbor, that we hate the fascist-militarists of Tokyo, and that we want to have a part in making the world safe for the American way of life that we love so well.

In the Relocation Centers we are leaving behind are being conducted from time to time sales of war savings stamps and, when one is able to afford it, war bonds. The Center residents are getting behind these drives as strongly as their $16 or $19/month work salaries will enable them to do. In this way, these aliens and under-age children who cannot enter into the armed services, and also the women folk are doing what they can in winning the war.

Some day I hope to see you again in Portland, Oregon--perhaps I will be in the halls of the Oregon Medical School, for the hand of Destiny sometimes takes some curious turns--but it will be after I take care of some unfinished business overseas. It will be a peaceful world then, and perhaps we can pick up again all that we had to sacrifice a year ago.

Abe Oyamada
24-19-C WRA
Heart Mountain, Wyoming

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


We just got an offer of a donation from a practitioner down in Salem: a "lab kit" which belonged to her mother, who worked at Cook County Hospital in the 1920s. At first, I assumed this was a drug kit similar to many others we have in the Medical Museum Collection, which contain various chemicals and pharmaceutical preparations for lab tests. As it turns out, however, it's a set of pathological slides of things like polio and TB. Perhaps it's too much to hope for, but I've got my fingers crossed for some circa 1918-1919 influenza. The kit is being mailed to us, so we'll have to endure the suspense for a little longer.

We have a few sets of pathological specimens currently in the Medical Museum, including some ticks with Rocky Mountain spotted fever and three sets of slides (here, here, and here). Maybe we can get our next unsuspecting intern to pull these three out and make a comprehensive list of what we already have on hand....

Monday, May 07, 2007

Taking it all off

I guess there aren't too many jobs in which one might get a voice message such as the one I picked up after lunch this afternoon, in which a patron was looking for "the picture of the man holding his own skin." Luckily, I've been here long enough to know exactly what that meant. And I also know that it's already been digitized and placed online by the National Library of Medicine, at their very excellent site Historical Anatomies on the Web.

So, if you aren't eating lunch presently, or you have an equally curious clientele, check out the Valverde print here.