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Yale J Biol Med. 2010 September; 83(3): 161–163.
Published online 2010 September.
PMCID: PMC2946132

Milton Charles Winternitz

I do not remember my first meeting with Winternitz, but, when the full-time clinical experiment was launched in Baltimore, Winternitz was one of my first customers. He was and still is one of our ablest medical scientists.

In his account of William Henry Welch and the Heroic Age of American Medicine, my brother, Simon, speaks of a group which included such brilliant men as MacCallum, Opie, G.H. Whipple, and Winternitz. “These men,” he said, “and many others who also made important contributions, carried Welch’s influence all over the nation, until American pathology came to equal and even perhaps exceed the European schools on which it was modelled.”

Winternitz — or, as he is always called by his friends, “Winter” — was born in Baltimore of poor, but intelligent parents who sacrificed everything to educate their son. As he grew up, he mixed freely with all kinds of people, including (in his own words) the elegant of Eutaw Place.

He received his BA degree from Johns Hopkins in 1903 and his doctorate in medicine in 1907. Among his teachers in the University, all of whom were impressed with his ability and character, were Brooks, the biologist, and Remsen, the chemist. In the Medical School, Welch, Mall, Howell, Abel, and Osler inspired him with the enthusiasm which has been characteristic of his whole scientific life. In 1917, Dr. Welch, answering a call from the Yale authorities for a new pathologist and bacteriologist, suggested Winternitz. Three years later, he became dean of the Medical School, a post which he held until 1935.

Between 1919 and 1921, Mr. Rockefeller, Senior, presented the General Education Board with almost $50,000,000 to be spent, principal and interest, for the improvement of medical education in the United States. Winternitz was among the first and most persistent of those who sat on my doorstep.

In an autobiography called I Remember, published in 1940, I said of Winternitz that he was one of the most energetic, keen, and forceful administrators that I encountered in the whole course of my dealings with medical schools. The phenomenal rise of the Yale Medical School is an interesting story. No sooner was full-time teaching introduced into the Johns Hopkins than Winternitz posted down to New York to see me. It was obvious that the school had simultaneously to raise endowment, to find a building fund, and to reorganize its faculty. At the request of Winternitz, I went to New Haven and visited the Medical School and the New Haven Hospital with him. The shortcomings were enough to daunt anyone but Winternitz himself. As a matter of courtesy, of course, I first called on President Hadley, who was skeptical as to the possibility of raising funds or making the necessary changes in personnel without creating too great a furor. I recall very distinctly this interview with President Hadley in his room in Woodbridge Hall. In his nervous way he paced up and down, explaining to me that before I went into details with Winternitz he wished to call to my attention a few points which he thought would have to be borne in mind. He said:

“The Yale Medical School is not only practically without funds but relies upon the facilities and courtesies of the New Haven Hospital, which we have hitherto enjoyed free of all cost. Now, the head of the Board of the New Haven Hospital is Colonel Isaac Ullman, and it is in reference to Colonel Ullman that I particularly want to speak to you. In the first place, Colonel Ullman is not a Yale graduate.”

“Well,” I replied, “inasmuch as I am not a Yale graduate myself, I do not think we are likely to encounter difficulties on that score.”

“In the second place,” he said, “Colonel Ullman’s closest friend is a Roman Catholic while he himself is a Jew, and we are anxious to avoid anything that might be attributed to racial and religious prejudice.”

I answered, “As I am a Jew myself and have been for years making my way among Christians and working with them, I think the situation can be handled tactfully, so that prejudice need not be stirred.”

“Finally,” said Mr. Hadley, “there is a third point, namely, Colonel Ullman’s business. He is a corset manufacturer.”

“Oh well,” I said, “now I feel perfectly certain that he and I will get on famously.”

I left President Hadley and went to the Graduate Club, where I met Colonel Ullman and Winternitz. Colonel Ullman was a shrewd bargainer.

“How much is this structure going to cost the New Haven Hospital?”

“It will not require a big sum to begin with, but in the course of time the whole hospital will have to be reconstructed and reorganized. That can be made a matter of years, the speed depending upon the pride of the citizens of New Haven in the rejuvenated institution.”

“Well,” said Colonel Ullman, “can we do anything with three hundred thousand dollars?”

“Oh yes,” said I gaily, “with that sum Winternitz and his associates can do a good deal.”

“How much will the General Education Board contribute?”

I mentioned a sum which left it incumbent upon citizens of New Haven to raise one half. Naturally Ullman wanted more, but I pointed out to him that, if the school was to be reorganized, the main financial support would have to come from New Haven and the alumni of Yale, since it was to be the Yale Medical School and not the General Education Board Medical School. Ullman agreed.

“I will,” he said, “give a dinner at the Hotel Taft, and I will get Bill Taft to come up and preside. Will you come to New Haven and make a speech?”

I replied that I was an inexperienced speaker but that I would do anything to help the good cause.

“Very well,” replied Ullman, “what would you say?”

I had no time for thought, and I did not know the local situation, but on the spur of the moment I suggested a line which I might take. With the candor that was characteristic of our relations as long as the Colonel lived, Ullman replied: “If you make that speech, we won't get a cent.”

“Very well,” I said, “I can make a different kind of speech,” and then quickly outlined a quite different kind of address.

“Fine,” said the Colonel, “if you will talk that way, we will get the money.”

The dinner was held, and about one hundred citizens of New Haven attended. Colonel Ullman was in great form, exuberant in his enthusiasm, and really showed that he had caught the vision which Winternitz had been dangling before him. Taft presided with his accustomed geniality. The table reverberated with laughter, and Taft’s chuckle, as a sally of some sort or other was made here and there, kept the merriment going. When the time for speechmaking came, I fulfilled my bargain. Winternitz and Stokes spoke seriously and well. The sum which Ullman set out to raise locally was procured in a relatively brief time.

This volume is published to honor Winternitz. Is there any doubt in the mind of the reader that I have placed on his head the myrtle crown of victory with which the Romans decked their successful warriors? It detracts nothing from his laurels if I beg you to remember at this time the scientists by whom Winter was trained, the great University where he was trained, and the wise and generous philanthropists to whose unstinted generosity the Johns Hopkins University owes its being — Johns Hopkins himself, President Gilman, the two Rockefellers, father and son, and finally Mr. Frederick T. Gates and Dr. Wallace Buttrick.


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