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.
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.”
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 in 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.
Construction 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.
Forty years ago there was a new College of Pharmacy building (see architect’s rendering).
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.
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.
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.”
The Alberts collection contains over 130 rare and historic infant feeding devices, baby bottles, and other associated items. The infant feeders date from an ancient Persian clay feeding pot circa 100-200 B.C., to mid-to-late twentieth century glass and plastic baby bottles. The collection includes various types of feeders, such as nursing flasks, pap boats and bubby pots.
The collection was assembled by M. E. Alberts, M.D. (born 1923), during his career as a pediatrician in Des Moines, Iowa. Dr. Alberts is originally from Hastings, Nebraska, and is a 1948 graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Medicine. Many of the artifacts in the library’s special collections were gifts from UNMC alumni.
One of the oldest and most interesting items in the collection is a Roman era baby bottle, made of pale translucent green blown glass. The bottle is 3½ inches tall with an open flare top and a spout starting near the base. The artifact was obtained from archeological excavations in Germany, probably from Nidda, a 5th century Roman settlement (near Frankfurt), and is dated circa 500 C.E.