Welcome to the medical school’s new blog (currently unnamed). I’m Ron Sims, Special Collections librarian, and I hope to share some of the wonderful history of the medical school and the Galter Health Sciences Library’s archival treasures, many of which have been donated by generous faculty and alumni.

This blog is for you and the topics I research and write about will come from some of your suggestions. Want to find out what became of a former professor or when a department was launched? This is the place to ask. We hope you’ll add to my posts with your own comments and recollections to make for a richer exchange.

To kick off my first post, I’ll share some history about the flagship Ward Building (and the benefactor who made it all possible), a place where many medical school graduates have spent countless hours. Please join me for this little history lesson and let me know what you think.

Also, we need a name for our history blog, so please send me your suggestions.

Montgomery Ward & Company

The world’s first great mail-order retail company was founded in Chicago in 1872 by Aaron Montgomery Ward. A New Jersey native, Ward arrived in Chicago in 1866 and found a job with Field, Palmer & Leiter, a large dry-goods business that would become Marshall Field & Co.

After selling Field’s products in hard-to-reach rural areas for several years, Ward decided to create an easier means to market merchandise. In 1872, Ward and brother-in-law George R. Thorne invested $2,400 in a new mail-order business. Boosted by orders from members of the Patrons of Husbandry (or “Grange”), the Midwestern farmers’ association for which it served as an official supply house, the business grew rapidly.

The first catalog was an eight-page booklet, with no illustrations; by 1876, a 152-page Ward catalog listed 3,000 items. The slogan adopted in 1875, “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back,” proved to be appealing to consumers, who used Ward’s catalogs to order all sorts of goods, including clothing, barbed wire, saddles, windmills, and even steam engines. By 1910, annual sales totaled nearly $19 million, with Ward employing more than 7,000 Chicago-area residents at its huge new facility on Chicago Avenue.

Ward Memorial excavation site 1925

Ward Memorial excavation site 1925

Mr. Ward’s Campaign to Maintain Lake Front Park

For most of the nineteenth century, the city neglected Lake Front Park (now Grant Park) even though it stood as the lone exception to private development along the lake shore.

Varied private interests repeatedly attempted to encroach on the land, however, through a steadfast campaign, led primarily by Montgomery Ward, the Illinois Supreme Court consistently prohibited the city and private interests from developing the dedicated space for purposes other than public use, according to documents from 1836.

Ward described the land in the 1880s as a dumping ground for garbage and rubbish. After the 1871 fire, the city used the area as a landfill for the debris from the great disaster; the Illinois Central Railroad Company stored railcars, and the American Express Company had built a shed to house equipment.

Ward Memorial construction

Ward Memorial construction

In 1897 the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the city had accepted the land with the dedication and therefore held the land in trust as public grounds and was bound to enforce its restrictions. The ICRR tracks and the Art Institute were the only exceptions and were allowed to remain.

Mr. Ward’s legacy is as “Watchdog of the Lake Front.” Today the citizens of Chicago and visitors from all over the world enjoy the open space and beauty that he preserved for future generations.

“I fought for the poor people of Chicago, not the millionaires,” Mr. Ward would recall. “Here is a park frontage on the lake comparing favorably with the Bay of Naples, which the city officials would crowd with buildings, transforming the breathing spot for the poor into a show ground for the educated rich.”

Ward’s Gifts to Northwestern

Mr. Ward died December 7, 1913, leaving the bulk of his estate to his wife, Elizabeth J. Ward, and his daughter, Marjorie Montgomery Ward. He did not specify charitable bequests in his will; instead, he left these decisions to his wife.

Ten years later, in a letter dated December 13, 1923, Mrs. Ward conveyed her wishes to Northwestern University Trustees of her “desire to create a worthy and appropriate memorial” to her late husband. She stipulated that the memorial should contain the following elements:

  • It must be a visible thing which adds something to the values of the City.
  • It must be enduring.
  • It must be useful to the community.

She noted that Northwestern was the first university founded within the City and was aware of the plans for construction of a new urban campus and offered a gift of $3 million for the erection and endowment of a Medical Center, as her husband’s memorial.

This Medical Center shall conduct approximately the following activities:

  1. Individual – To impart available medical and related knowledge to students, interns, post-graduates, nurses, hygienists and social services workers.
  2. Humanitarian – To advance the frontiers of medical and related knowledge through research “¦ to acquire knowledge of the natural history of disease… to improve existing methods of treating disease.
  3. Civic – To render community health service by promoting periodic medical examination, by efforts to readjust the occupational and social life of those in the incipient stages of disease, and by the treatment of disease.”
Ward Memorial construction

Ward Memorial construction

On the same day another letter stated her “Deed of Gift” for $1 million as an Endowment for the Medical Center.

Significant as this gift was, it was not the last. In March 1926, another $4 million was given to the University “for the improvement of the teaching of Medicine and Dentistry in the Medical and Dental Schools…”

Tragically, Mrs. Ward died on July 26, 1926, before the completion of the Memorial which she had only seen from the outside. At her private funeral, Walter Dill Scott, University president, described her as a “genuine…human, imbued with the highest ideals of service to humanity.”

In a public statement Dr. Scott stated: “All who had had the privilege of knowing her had come to love her, and hoped that she would have many years to enjoy the fruition of the projects which were so dear to her…Mrs. Montgomery Ward has been the greatest of all our friends…”

New Campus Plans

Plans for a new “professional schools” campus began in 1919, with the selection of James Gamble Rogers in 1922 as the University architect. Rogers’ style is “Collegiate Gothic.” The original plans included a higher tower and an adjoining hospital, with Superior St. as a dead end at Fairbanks Ct., giving two full blocks to the new structures. As Daniel Burnham reminds us: Make no small plans!

The vision was to have low buildings rising from Lake Shore Dr., with the pinnacle as the Medical Center building. Mrs. Ward’s gift made the Center possible.

The construction of the building is concrete on a steel framework. The exterior is grey Bedford stone with Gothic decorations. The complex was the first “skyscraper” medical center in the world, housing the Dental and Medical schools, clinics and laboratories.