History of the Department

Foundation and Early Growth

In 1939, Dorothy Hixon Clendening provided financing to build a new laboratory building on the campus of the University of Kansas School of Medicine.  The building was named after her father, Frank Pennell Hixon, a Wisconsin lumber baron, who died October 24, 1931.  Upon his death, Hixon left a bequest to the University of Kansas School of Medicine to be expended for scientific research, naming his daughter as trustee.  On the third floor of the new Hixon Building an elegant, paneled library was built to house the History of Medicine Department, established in 1940, with Logan Clendening, M.D., as chair.

The recently developed academic program drew both local and national interest, with guest appearances at seminars led by distinguished medical scholars from across the country.  Lectures were held in the classroom adjacent to the History of Medicine Library and Medical Museum.   Distinguished lecturers in 1940 included doctors Sanford V. Larkey of Johns Hopkins, John F. Fulton of Yale, Henry E. Sigerist of Johns Hopkins, and Chauncey D. Leake of the University of California.

Clendening’s national status as a medical historian, author and collector grew, and in 1942 he became vice-president of the American Association of the History of Medicine, and then president when Jabez Elliot M.D. died.  He founded the Quivira Medical Society, whose membership included Kansas City area physicians interested in the history of medicine, and published a weekly syndicated newspaper column on medicine and health.  Sadly, Dr. Clendening died by his own hand in 1945, leaving his astonishing personal collection of rare medical books, monographs, work of art and artifacts to the University of Kansas.  This became the History of Medicine Library and Museum, the core of the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine.

The creation of the library owed much to the care and foresight of his wife Dorothy Hixon Clendening (later Dorothy Clark), who presided over its establishment. The department evolved alongside the collection through the efforts and devotion of a series of physician-bibliophiles on the model of Clendening himself. The first and most influential leader was Dr. Ralph Major, a close colleague of Clendening’s, who served as the department’s second chair, following his retirement as Chair of the Department of Medicine.

Twentieth-Century Development

Dr. Major was an ideal choice to direct the young department.  An ardent bibliophile, he was motivated in his collecting by his superb scholarship.  Major’s Classic Descriptions of Disease documents the original publications that defined paradigmatic diseases, taking the texts in many instances from the shelves of the Clendening Library.  Major developed the library and museum collections systematically during his chairmanship from 1950-1955, and stayed as an emeritus professor, steward and contributor to the collection until his death in 1970.

Following Major’s retirement in 1957, a new Library Building became the home for the History of Medicine Department library, museum, classroom, administrative offices, and the general medical library.  Housed on the first floor was the Clendening Reading Room, the original wood paneled library reconstructed from its original site in the Hixon Building. That year, English-born L.R.C. Agnew, M.D. was appointed chairman of the History of Medicine Department.  After receiving his medical degree from the University of Glasgow in 1950, Agnew came to the medical center from Harvard, where he served as a resident tutor in pre-medical studies.

While at Harvard, he received a Master in Arts degree in the History of Medicine. With his primary interests in traveling and developing his personal book collections in Scotland and the United States, Agnew fell afoul with Medical Center administration and resigned in 1965.

After receiving a Master of Arts in History of Medicine from Johns Hopkins University, Robert P. Hudson, M.D., was appointed as chair of the department in 1966.  A 1952 graduate of the KU School of Medicine, long-time dean of medical students, and founder and leader of the Lunar Society, Hudson enthusiastically embraced the humanities, causing a younger generation of medical students to migrate towards the department.  Courses and seminars developed during his tenure including the popular “Death and Dying,” and “Religion and Medicine” among others.  Various lecture series were also established such as the Hixon Hour and other endowed colloquia.

Dykes Library, built in 1983, finally separated the History of Medicine Department and the general medical library.  The History of Medicine Department, its library and museum, remained in the older structure, renamed Robinson Hall, while the student and faculty library moved into the new building on 39th Street. The department then underwent a major renovation, with exhibit cases, climate control and a state-of-the-art fire suppression system added.

Under Dr. Hudson’s leadership, the department expanded to include an ethics component spearheaded by Bill Bartholome, M.D., who, in 1986, was hired as Professor of Pediatrics in the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine.  Committed to children’s ethical rights, Bartholome helped develop a range of programs for the Medical Center and was pivotal in the development of the hospital’s ethics handbook.  He also played an instrumental role in moving the elective courses taught by the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine to required classes for first and second year medical students. With Dr. Bartholome’s untimely death in 1999, leadership in ethics in the department passed to a succession of academically trained ethicists recruited to the department, including Jerry Menikoff, M.D., J.D., Martha Montello, Ph.D., and Tarris Rosell, Ph.D., M.Div.

Another innovation under Hudson was, in 1988, the development of a comprehensive archival program that ensured the permanent preservation of the historical materials reflecting the history of the University of Kansas Medical Center.  Coincidental with the creation of the archives was a new renovation, leaving the administrative offices, library and museum on the first floor, and the KUMC Archives, a new auditorium and housing for the Harrington Archives on the second.

Into the Next Millennium

Robert P. Hudson, M.D. retired from the chairmanship of the History of Medicine Department in 1994, after nearly 30 years of service.  In 1996, physician, medical historian and bioethicist Robert Martensen, M.D., Ph.D., replaced Hudson as chair.  Martensen, a 1974 graduate of Dartmouth Medical School, received his Ph.D. in the history of medicine from the University of California-San Francisco in 1993. Under Martensen’s guidance the department embarked on an expanded academic mission during a period of curricular reform in the medical school. The department took responsibility for required course work in medical ethics and in the social dimensions of medicine illustrated through history. Yet another remodeling occurred, moving the administrative and academic offices to the second floor of Robinson Hall, enlarging the library space on the first floor, building museum storage cabinets and making the existing exhibit space more functional.

With Martensen’s departure for Tulane University in 2002, Christopher Crenner, M.D., Ph.D. was appointed as interim chair and then chair of the department.  Crenner arrived in Kansas City in 1998 to take responsibility for the department’s required medical history course. He followed Martensen from the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, where Crenner received his medical training and residency in internal medicine, simultaneously completing a Ph.D. from the Harvard University in the history of science. In the transition, supporters drew together to create the endowed Robert Hudson and Ralph Major Chair in the History and Philosophy of Medicine. In 2005, the department lent a hand in planning the celebrations for the centennial of the Medical Center. During this time Kirby Randolph, Ph.D. joined the department for three years as an assistant professor of history, arriving from the University of Pennsylvania where she studied American history and history of medicine. Randolph worked concurrently in the Dean’s Office of Diversity and Cultural Enhancement before moving across town to become a director of mental health services at the Truman Medical Center.

In 2008, Menikoff went on leave to the NIH and subsequently assumed a permanent position directing the national Office of Human Research Protection in the Department of Health and Human Services. With the departure, Crenner became co-chair of the KU Hospital Ethics Committee, serving for two years, before the recruitment of Terry Rosell.  Rosell moved into a shared position as associate professor in ethics in the department and as the Flanagan Chair at Kansas City’s independent think-tank, the Center for Practical Bioethics. In the first two years under the joint leadership of Montello and Rosell, the Ethics Committee doubled its ethics consults with a greatly expanded presence among hospital staff and residents.

Meanwhile the Department continued to reach out to new partners and new audiences. Initiatives to bring in visiting scholars included the endowment of the Friesen Lecture in the History of Surgery and the creation of the Pearce Fellowship for visiting researchers in the library and archives. The establishment of the grant-supported Writing Consult Center under the direction of Montello provided new support for writing skills among faculty and medical students.  Alliance with the Kansas City Public Library resulted in an ongoing series of collaborative public lectures in the history of medicine. A substantial internal renovation of the Clendening Library added new compact, mobile shelving, permitting a large expansion of texts relevant to a newly established Spine and Orthopedic Historical Collection, consisting of books and archival materials accreted in the Harrington Archives and enhanced by new acquisitions pertaining to spinal surgery.  Crenner’s joint appointment in the Department of History at K.U. Lawrence brought graduate students in history to the medical campus. The department also expanded the support of museum exhibits sustaining the Medical Center’s diversity initiative, new community outreach activities, and alliances with area historical museums and agencies.

Still drawing on the inspiration and support of Logan and Dorothy Clendening, the Department continues to pursue its mission to extend and deepen the humane, ethical and historical dimensions of life and work at the KU Medical Center.

Last modified: Jul 25, 2013
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