McGoogan News

From the archives: early obstetrical work from the rare book collection

By John Schleicher

Eucharius Rösslin (c.1470-1526), was elected as the city physician of Frankfurt on Main in 1506. He also served as physician to the city of Worms, in the service of Katherine, wife of Henry IV, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. While examining and supervising the city’s midwives, he found the prrbr-27-fall-2012actice of their trade to be careless and substandard, leading to high infant mortality rates.

To better educate midwives and improve the infant mortality rate, Rösslin wrote a book on child birth, which was published in 1513, Der swangern Frawen und Hebamme Rosegarten, which included engravings of a birth chair, the lying-in chamber, and positions of the fetus in utero.  These were some of the earliest known published images in obstetrics.  The book was written in German, instead of Latin (the scientific language of the time), so that more people would be able to read and understand it. The work was an immediate success, and it was published in English in 1540 as The Birth of Mankind.  By the mid-16th century, it had been translated into all the major European languages and had gone through many editions. Rösslin dedicated Rosegarten to his patroness the Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg.

Despite his direct observation of midwives working in the city of Worms, Rösslin incorporated obstetrical information gleaned from writers of antiquity, such as Soranus of Ephesus, a Greek physician who lived in the 1st and 2nd C.E. In the introductory prologue in verse to his text, Rösslin emphasized the importance of the role of men in reproduction, and blames midwives who “through neglect and oversight . . . destroy children far and wide.” He threatens midwives with the warning that they will be held to account for their work: “And since no midwife that I’ve asked/Could tell me anything of her task/I’m left to my medical education.”

From the archives: second lady visits UNMC campus

 By John Schleicher

The year was 1967; Lyndon B. Johnson was the President of the United States.  His Vice-President was Humbert H. Humphrey.  The President’s Committee on Mental Retardation had recently been established.

Mrs. Humphrey and Dr. Kugel at the meeting on the UNMC campus
Mrs. Humphrey and Dr. Kugel at the meeting on the UNMC campus

Among the members of the committee were Muriel Humphrey, wife of the Vice-President, and Robert Kugel, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at UNMC.  Dr. Kugel would become Dean of the College of Medicine in 1969, a position he would serve in until 1974.

A subcommittee chaired by Dr. Kugel met on the UNMC campus in February 1967.  They heard testimony about the state of mental retardation programs throughout a five-state area.  Nearly 150 people from around the five-state region attended the meeting.

The committee heard recommendations from members of the public one day, and then toured facilities in the region the following day.  Mrs. Humphrey’s itinerary included the mental retardation research center at the former Nebraska Psychiatric Institute (NPI).  The NPI was located in a building which is now the site of the Durham Research Centers.

The report issued by the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation in the summer of 1967 was titled “A first report to the President on the nation’s progress and remaining great needs in the campaign to combat mental retardation.”

From the archives: Who was Wittson? The man behind the building

By John Schleicher

Cecil L. Wittson, M.D. (1907-1989) was born in Camden, South Carolina.  He received his BS degree from the University of South Carolina in 1927, and his MD degree in 1931.  Wittson interned at Roper Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, from 1931-1932, then held various posts at Central Islip State Hospital iwittson_cecil_a_196xn New York.  He received post graduate training at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in psychiatry and neurology from 1935-1938.  In 1948, Wittson received certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.  During World War II, Wittson rose to the rank of Commander in the Medical Corps of the U.S. Navy Reserve, serving from 1940-1946.

After World War II, he came to Nebraska where he became director of the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute in 1950, a position he held until 1964.  That year, Wittson was named Dean of the University of Nebraska College of Medicine.  He became President of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1969, and in 1971 this title was changed to Chancellor.  He retired in 1972 and became Chancellor Emeritus.  After his tenure at UNMC, he served as Director of Medical Programs with Henningson, Durham, & Richardson Consulting Architects and Engineers, in Omaha.  In 1981, he retired to his native South Carolina and in 1985, he moved to Lakeland, Florida, where he died at the age of 82 in 1989.

wittson-hall-arch-drawConstruction on the Basic Science building began in 1967, and upon his retirement in 1972 the building was named after Wittson, the first Chancellor of UNMC.  A new medical library was added to the top of the building and opened in 1970, now the McGoogan Library of Medicine.

For more information on Dr. Wittson, see the new exhibit located in the 3rd floor passageway between Wittson Hall and University Tower.

“New” College of Pharmacy building 1976

By John Schleicher

Forty years ago there was a new College of Pharmacy building (see architect’s rendering).COP new rendering 1970s

Pharmacy Hall on the Lincoln campus opened in 1918. It was replaced in 1958 by Lyman Hall, a new building for the college, named in honor of the college’s founding dean. As this building became outdated, in 1972 the NU Board of Regents approved incorporating the COP as a unit of UNMC, and authorized a new building for the college in Omaha. Classes and other functions of the COP gradually shifted to Omaha from 1972 until 1976, temporarily occupying other buildings on the UNMC campus. The new COP building was dedicated in October 1976. It contained 58,580 square feet, and was built at a cost of $3.2 million. In 2014 this building was renamed the Williams Science Hall.

From the archives: 19th century “patent medicines”

By John Schleicher

The term “patent medicine” was used to describe medicinal compounds in the 19th century, which were sold with creative names and even more outrageous claims.  Also sometimes known as proprietary medicines, these remedies, for the most part, were indeed not patented but only trademarked.Pinkham label

The term “patent” denoted medications whose compounds had been granted government protection for exclusive recipes. Most makers of these “cures,” often small family-run businesses, used ingredients quite similar to their competitors—vegetable extracts laced with ample doses of alcohol, sugar, and various herbals.  In some cases, these “quack medicines” as they were often called, could be deadly, since there was no regulation of their ingredients. Their effectiveness was questionable and their contents were usually kept secret.

The number of patent medicines diminished greatly after 1906, when Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, implementing public health action against unlabeled or unsafe ingredients, misleading advertising, quackery, and similar questionable practices.

Lydia E. Pinkham (1819-1883), who’s slogan was “yours for health,” was a producer of patent medicines.  Her “Vegetable Compound” (see image from package in the library collection) was recommended “for relieving hot flashes and certain other symptoms associated with “Change of Life” and other [female] distress—not due to organic disease.”  Ingredients in this compound included:  Jamaica dogwood, pleurisy root, black cohosh, life root, licorice, dandelion and gentian.  It also contained 13 ½ % ethyl alcohol—as the label notes, “used solely as a solvent and preservative.” Recommended dosage, “take one tablespoonful four times a day, before meals and at bedtime.”