Yesterday’s cutting edge

Origins of the university’s modern medical school


THE EDUCATION OF PHYSICIANS AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY BEGAN IN 1891. The independent St. Louis Medical College was then brought under the wing of the well-established university. Eight years later, the Missouri Medical College was added. Thus
St. Louis’ two renowned medical colleges enhanced the growing university.

The endeavor held great promise. But Abraham Flexner’s 1909 survey of American and Canadian medical schools called for change. The report spurred a reorganization of the medical school,
led by university board of directors president Robert S. Brookings.

In the spring of 1912, construction began on buildings for teaching and patient care—forming the nucleus of today’s medical center. At the dedication in April 1915, Brookings voiced the hope that “our efforts will contribute, in some measure, to raising the standard of medical education in the West, and that we will add, through research activities, our fair quota to the sum of the world’s knowledge of medicine.”

Washington University Medical Center

The Department of Anatomy’s “autopsy amphitheater,” West Building, circa 1917.

Surgical operating rooms were connected to preoperative, examination and recovery rooms in the West (Dispensary) Building.

A World War I-era anatomy class reflects the formality and gender bias of the age—most doctors were men.

The Washington University Training School for Nurses offered instruction in anatomy, chemistry, physiology and bacteriology in the laboratories of the medical school.