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Nathan Smith Davis, A Medical School Founder

In recognition of the start of the new academic year at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, which officially launches with the celebration of Founders’ Day in mid-August, we share a series of biographies of our school’s founders.   Believing that more rigorous education and training, with exacting standards and a longer course of study, was needed for those aspiring to become physicians, Dr. Nathan Smith Davis and five like-minded colleagues developed a more challenging curriculum in the new medical department at Lind University in Chicago. Although Lind was short-lived, the medical department survived as Chicago Medical College and today is called Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.   Nathan Smith Davis was born in Chenango County, New York, in 1817, where he lived and worked on a farm until he was 16 years old. At the age of 17 he began the study of medicine under Dr. Daniel Clark. Soon after he graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District of New York with a thesis on animal temperament. He later began practicing medicine in New York City.   In 1841 he was awarded the prize from the Medical Society of the State of New York for his analyses of then-recent discoveries of the physiology of the nervous system. He was later awarded a prize from the State Agricultural Society of New York for his textbook on agricultural chemistry. He was an active member...

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Northwestern’s First Four Female Medical School Graduates

In honor of National Women’s History Month in March, the Galter Health Sciences Library recognized the first four female Northwestern MD graduates following the initiation of co-education at the medical school in 1926. From the founding of the medical school in 1859, a debate concerning the admission of women had been questioned and tabled multiple times by the medical school faculty. A brief experiment allowing admittance for women occurred in the fall of 1869. The “Campaign for a Greater Northwestern” began in 1919, at which time the University purchased nine acres of land along Lake Michigan in the near north side Streeterville neighborhood. With the energies of then University President, Walter Dill Scott and a league of alumni, friends and faculty, plus major gifts from Mrs. A. Montgomery Ward and Miss Marjorie Montgomery Ward, a new medical center housing the dental and medical schools became a reality. The Medical Council was requested to state its policy on co-education by the University administration. With a slight majority vote, the announcement that women would be admitted was made on May 31, 1924, and the first women students registered in the fall of 1926. A quota of four women students was set for admission–four being the number needed for an anatomical dissecting team. Verna Anne Christophel, Elizabeth Adrienne Sirmay, Edna Mae Ward, and Frances Catherine Wynekoop began their medical studies. All except...

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Northwestern Med School Comedies Allow Students to Showcase their Creativity

Story telling on a stage, with or without songs, dates to the beginning of Western civilization.The ancient Greeks included music and dance in many of their stage comedies and tragedies as early as the 5th Century B.C.The Romans copied and expanded the forms and traditions of Greek theater. During the Middle Ages, Europe’s cultural mainstays included traveling minstrels and roving troupes of performers that offered popular songs, slapstick comedy and drama. In the Renaissance, an Italian tradition evolved where raucous clowns improvised their way through familiar stories, known as the commedia dell’arte. These clown characters, such as Harlequin and Pulcinella, set the way for future Western stage comedy. Just because a few years are interrupted by studying medicine, dentistry or pharmacy, these traditions have not been lost at Northwestern. In fact, these Western cultural traditions have been an integral part of student life since the 1890s. At Northwestern’s schools, the annual ritual began as a gathering with alumni in 1895, including an evening dinner. These events fostered loyalty to the alma mater, influenced philanthropy, linked generations of graduates and formed alumni associations for the schools. Drama, revues, musical comedy and parody have long been the mainstay of these events. Over the years, interest waxed and waned; however, at the medical school a major change took place in 1938, with a “gridiron” imitation of members of the faculty, politics within...

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Nursing Education at Northwestern University

In 1905 the medical school administration recommended to the University trustees that the training schools for the nurses of Mercy and Wesley hospitals become affiliated with Northwestern. The curricula were placed under the general supervision of the medical school, with laboratory instruction provided by medical school faculty. A high school diploma was required for admission. Although the courses for nurses were separate from the medical students, the laboratories and other medical school facilities were freely available. Elementary laboratory instruction included anatomy, chemistry, dietetics, and bacteriology. The practical instruction for nurses was provided in each hospital. Diplomas were presented to the nursing graduates at the University’s Annual Commencement beginning in 1906. In 1911, the nursing school at Evanston Hospital was added to the affiliated program. Instruction was given in the laboratories of the College of Liberal Arts on the Evanston campus and at the hospital. The course of study, methods of instruction, and requirements for graduation was determined by a joint committee of the hospital and university. The coursework was practically the same as that required at Mercy and Wesley Memorial hospitals. By 1920, the University’s affiliation with Mercy Hospital had ceased. In 1926 the medical school moved to the new campus on Chicago Avenue, continuing the affiliation with Wesley Memorial Hospital and its nursing school, still located on the former Dearborn Street campus. Passavant Memorial Hospital, which opened in...

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