class of students

In the midst of World War II — a war that placed incredible demands upon the individual courage and resourcefulness of nearly every American — Southwestern Medical Foundation announced on May 5, 1943, the founding of a new medical school.

The immediate and overwhelming demands of the task before them swept aside discussions of Baylor’s departure.

The to-do list of the Foundation was daunting.

A sizable endowment campaign needed to be organized and launched. Land needed to be purchased. A formal agreement with Parkland Hospital needed to be made. Existing faculty needed to be paid. Somewhere in Dallas, a building had to be found to house the school. Returning and new student applications needed to be processed. Scarce scientific and medical equipment needed to be found and purchased. A medical library needed to be stocked. Construction of new facilities needed to begin. A means of recognition to help inspire young doctors to excellence was needed. The new school needed accreditation. And in the time that remained, additional faculty of the highest caliber would need to be recruited.

What followed was nothing short of extraordinary.

On June 3, 1943, a drive for a $1.5 million endowment began — $1 million for buildings and $500,000 for operating expenses. Three members of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, accepted the challenge of the fundraising effort: Fred F. Florence of Republic National Bank, Ernest R. Tennant of Dallas National Bank and Robert L. Thornton of Mercantile National Bank. Mayor Woodall Rogers stepped up to advance the cause at a Founder’s Day dinner. “We are standing on the threshold of the greatest period of endeavor Dallas has ever seen,” he said. “This is the greatest investment in human welfare that a forward-looking city could make.”

Many, including some of the city’s most notable civic and business leaders, pledged their financial support. The Chamber of Commerce and the Citizens Council announced their commitment to raise $100,000 annually for ten years to help defray operating expenses until the school had acquired sufficient endowment income. The community pulled together, and the $1.5 million goal was exceeded by $200,000.

With the benefit of such support, the Foundation acquired 26 acres of land on Oak Lawn Avenue adjacent to Parkland Hospital. Proximity was critical as Parkland had established itself as Dallas’ most prestigious hospital. Additionally, a 25-year contract was negotiated with the city and county of Dallas to provide medical services for Parkland Hospital patients in return for using its clinical facilities for teaching.

There was a full-time faculty of 18, including the dean, who needed to be paid. These and other immediate operational needs couldn’t wait for endowment income to materialize, so Hoblitzelle and Dr. Cary each put up $100,000 to fund the Foundation.

A building suitable for laboratories and lectures was desperately needed until a permanent building could be built. The Foundation was given permission to use Alex W. Spence Junior High School, a building the Dallas School District had recently shut down as unsuitable for use.

Nearly $100,000 worth of scarce scientific equipment would be hunted down and purchased from across the country.

The 277 student applications submitted for admission to the college’s first semester were processed, and classes were organized.

In July, Dallas’ alumni of Baylor College of Medicine donated thousands of medical volumes to begin to fill the school’s medical library. Local physicians and the library of the Dallas County Medical Office gave as well. Later during the school year, $15,000
would be spent to expand the necessary reading and teaching materials.

To communicate the highest expectations the Foundation had for its students, an annual award was initiated to recognize those young doctors who best exemplified the special qualities found in the greatest physicians — knowledge, understanding and compassion. It was called the Ho Din award — Ho Din being a Greek acronym representing “the spirit of medical wisdom.” Over the years, many prominent physicians went on to receive the prestigious award, including Drs. Charles Sprague, future Nobel Laureate Joseph Goldstein and Charles James Carrico to name only a few.

On July 1, 1943, Southwestern Medical College began in earnest to make doctors out of bright young men and women. That day Dr. Cary addressed the 277 students telling them, ”This is an historic occasion, the beginning of something truly worthwhile for Dallas and the Southwest. It is the fruition of 40 years of effort by the best and highest- minded medical men in
Dallas. Medicine belongs to all the people. That is the goal of this Foundation.”

At first blush, the possibilities for new construction seemed nonexistent. The country was at war. Building materials were impossible to come by — nearly everything was rationed. 

Skilled labor was scarce. Without receiving priority certificates to secure building materials, moving forward could not occur.

But the reality of wartime meant the armed forces needed doctors. As the war continued, the need increased. There was also an acknowledgment that new doctors would not only care for the sick and wounded on battlefronts halfway around the world, but maintain and protect the health of the home front’s growing population.

It proved serendipitous that Dallas was the base of operations for the military’s Eighth Service Command. The Foundation realized it had a simple case to make. The military needed doctors, and the new medical school was in a position to turn out some of the best.

General Walton H. Walters found the arguments persuasive. Col. Bradley Colley, chief of surgery for the Eighth Service Command, agreed to build prefabricated plywood barracks to house the school. On July 16, 1943, authorization and top priority were given to buy required materials and begin construction of nearly 30,000 square feet of buildings.

On September 27, 1943, the first classes were held in the first of the newly completed barracks. Every surface was made of ¾-inch plywood — floors, ceilings, walls and roofs. The buildings were not air-conditioned. Windows would stick. Heating was inadequate. And the roof would leak.

But while the architecture was best described as “henhouse classic,” it was home.

They were quickly dubbed “The Shacks.”

As the barracks neared completion, the medical school needed accreditation, a task Dr. Cary was uniquely suited for, having served as President of the AMA. Accreditation was given on December 15, 1943. The speed of the acceptance was unprecedented. Southwestern Medical College became the nation’s 68th medical school and likely the first to begin operations with an “A” rating — putting it on par with the oldest and best medical institutions in North America.

To preserve the quality of education, the Foundation determined that a maximum of 64 new students would be admitted each year, ensuring time for individual instruction in clinical subjects. “They will learn from the outstanding physicians and surgeons of Dallas, who serve on the clinical faculty…that a sick person presents not merely a scientific question, but a problem of human values that involves the aspirations and frustrations of an individual,” Dr. Cary said.

Incredibly, within a matter of months, the semblance of a quality medical school was in place, and in spite of its facilities Southwestern Medical College began to flourish.

Dr. Cary’s vision was to find men and women who excelled in medical education as well as medical research.

What is remarkable is that within the next 12 months, the Foundation successfully recruited a prestigious faculty, enviable of more established medical campuses. The long list included Dr. Tinsley R. Harrison, a pre-eminent physician in Internal Medicine, who was also made dean of faculty, Dr. William L. Mengert, Dr. Gladys Fashena, Dr. Arthur Grollman and Dr. Morton F. Mason.

Throughout the first year of operation, research done by these and many other physicians, supported by grants from the Foundation, began producing outstanding results — many of which were published in the foremost scientific journals in the country.

Notably, Dr. Harrison’s work in the field of hypertension had already won him worldwide acclaim and Dr. Fashena had made great strides in combating rheumatic fever, a devastating disease that at the time ranked as one of the chief causes of death in school-age children in Texas.

Dr. Fashena, in later years, would comment that she had never been associated with a medical school in which morale was so high.

On March 20, 1944, just nine months after opening, Southwestern Medical College graduated 61 seniors — 38 young men were commissioned first lieutenants in the medical corps of the Army, and 15 took their oath of office as medical officers in the Navy.

In a review of its first year of operations, the Foundation’s annual report ended with this: “Contributions to the science of medicine through research have been recorded in the work completed by patient investigators, fired by a humanitarian zeal that is represented by the idealistic vision of the Foundation. For knowledge, for science, for the people – surely, this
is worthwhile.”

In 1945, when it was determined that the financial needs of the day-to-day operations of the school were exceeding the Foundation’s projections, Fred Lange, the Foundation’s Managing Director, was asked to lead a fundraising drive.

“Outstanding scientists and medical educators must be assured of a permanent, growing institution,” Dr. Cary said.

Lange was aided by Karl Hoblitzelle who sent letters to Dallas business organizations asking that the medical center be designated as the top civic activity of the year. “This beginning is but the seed of a tremendous idea and a visionary ideal,” he wrote. “From it, in time, will spring the steel, concrete and stone of a great city of mercy, where haven may be found by all, the rich and the poor alike.”

Lange’s efforts were so successful that by September 1945, the Foundation had pledges for $1.3 million and other income totaling $260,000 per year. To their credit, many practicing Dallas physicians participated generously in the drive and, overall, nearly 2,000 individuals were inspired to contribute to the fund.

During the remainder of 1945, the Foundation saw gifts of $100,000 come from T. E. Braniff for use in the construction of clinical laboratories (which was added to the $1 million building fund raised in 1943), and the Hoblitzelle Foundation donated $125,000 to purchase 62 acres on Harry Hines Boulevard, adjacent to the proposed site of a new Parkland Hospital. The land was given as a memorial tribute to Hoblitzelle’s late wife, Esther, who had died of cancer in 1943 at the age of 48. For the Foundation, it was a farsighted acquisition in that it connected with a tract of land where the new Parkland Hospital was proposed and assured that the new medical center would have room to grow into its future.

By 1946, physicians returning from war could not return to their same positions since Baylor had relocated. The major reason these rearrangements did not produce more antagonism was because Millard Heath, Dallas County Medical Society Director, “effectively neutralized with tact and courtesy the divisions within the medical community.” Fortunately the need for doctors was growing, as the population of Dallas was now approaching 400,000.

As more veterans returned, the need for a new Veteran’s Administration Hospital to provide care for injured soldiers and veterans became clear.

In 1947, a new VA hospital seemed on the verge of breaking ground near the medical center campus. Bonds for the nearly $7 million hospital had been launched.

That same year, the Foundation provided $306,000 for medical school operations and an additional $75,000 for research. Rae Skillern had donated $100,000 for a student center. It was announced that construction would soon start on a $2 million building for the medical school, the basic sciences building, its first permanent structure.

As the vision of the new medical center began to materialize, interest in the school took off. Student applications exceeded 600 for the 64 spaces available. The faculty had grown to 35 full-time members and more than 350 part-time members of the clinical faculty – physicians who had their own medical practices but volunteered to teach part time without pay.

An article in the Dallas Times Herald in May 1948 praised Southwestern Medical College’s faculty as some of the “best reserves of teachers in medical science in the nation.”

The medical school had become a shining example of a community coming together for the betterment of everyone.

But suddenly, in the midst of such success, progress slowed to a crawl. Architectural plans for the new Parkland Hospital entered a cycle of revisions. Plans for moving forward with the new Veteran’s Hospital were delayed by budget concerns. A long period of waiting began.

The Foundation Board decided that construction for its medical school should wait until these issues were resolved, which meant that visible progress came to a halt.

At the same time, the cost per student was rising logarithmically as new technologies were applied to medical instrumentation. It was becoming apparent that the Foundation would be hard pressed to acquire the endowment required for the kind of medical center that Dr. Cary had imagined.

As the Flexner Report had suggested almost 40 years earlier and as Dr. Cary well knew from decades of experience, in order to secure its future, the medical school would need to be absorbed by a well-funded university.