Memories of Twenty-eight Years at Mayo Clinic
By Dr. Della G. Drips
Originally published in the Mayovox; January 10, 1959
This is the eighth in a series of memoirs of members of Emeritus Staff to be published in abridged form in Mayovox with the permission of its author. The complete manuscript is available in bound form in the Clinic Library.
My work with Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation covers two periods. From 1913 to 1917 I was a laboratory assistant in the Division of Experimental Surgery and at the same time working for a master’s degree in histology. The second period was much longer, extending from 1921 to 1949. During this period I was primarily a clinician.
For me the first period was a most important one as during those years I acquired the basic training, knowledge and enthusiasm for my later interest in clinical endocrinology.
Dr. Louis B. Wilson was in charge of the laboratories at the Clinic. I went to see him about getting a job. The laboratory was located in the basement of St. Marys Hospital.
He was in the habit of hiring girls who had had a high school education only and teaching them his own procedures in the preparations of slides for the laboratory. He was not in the least impressed by the fact that I had had a year of medicine. He told me bluntly that I was not to think that I knew how to prepare his slides because I had had courses in histology and pathology. I was to learn how to do this from the young women in his laboratory who he called his “angels.” Madge Pollock (later Mrs. Vernon Gates) and Loretta Lawler (later Mrs. Jay Harwick) were his two “angels.” I was fortunate in being thrown first with these two skillful workers who were most generous with their help.
I was not in this laboratory long, however. I was transferred to the surgical pathologic laboratory of Dr. William Carpenter MacCarty at St. Marys Hospital to learn the then fairly new method of freezing, cutting and staining fresh tissue.
I picked up much valuable information in the short time that I worked in this laboratory by listening to Dr. MacCarty’s talks to the young doctors working in surgery.
At the end of the summer (1913) I went to work in the animal experimental laboratory. I think Dr. Wilson had planned all the time to have me do this. This laboratory was housed in his barn. Dr. Bernard F. McGrath was in charge. He had a keen mind and a vivid imagination and was dedicated to his work. He had many experimental problems going but seemed most interested at the time in devising some methods for transfusing blood. To me, looking back, the experiments which we then did along this line now seem simple, even crude, but they were the beginnings.
It was not long before the laboratory for animal experimentation was moved to specially designed quarter on top of the 1914 building.
In the spring of 1914, shortly after we moved into the new building, Dr. McGrath resigned. Dr. Wilson advised me they were looking for someone who had had training in experimental physiology and surgery, someone who would be likely to make it his lifework at the Clinic. In April 1914, the young man came. He was Dr. Frank C. Mann. He was so anxious to make a place for himself and so vitally interested in his work that he had the zeal of a beaver. I could scarcely keep up with all he expected me to do so before long others were added to our staff. Among them was Katherine Powderly who later had charge of one of the laboratories in the Clinic until her retirement.
When Dr. Mann first came to the Clinic he was interested, among many other things, in the glands of internal secretion. Dr. Robert R. Bensley, of the University of Chicago, had reported evidence of secretion granules in the acinar cells of the pancreas and in the A cells of the islets. He had developed certain fixing and staining methods which showed these. I was sent down to work with him to learn his technic.
We tried his methods on sections through the adrenal cortex as well as on the pancreas and demonstrated secretion granules there. Then I tried them on sections through the ovaries of the gopher. Our findings led Dr. Mann to encourage me to work out the life cycle of the ovary of the gopher. As a result of this work it seemed certain that the ovaries were glands of internal secretion and that their secretions were carried by way of the blood stream to produce the cyclic changes occurring in the uterus and those incident to pregnancy.
This work on the gopher was submitted as my thesis for an M.S. degree in 1917. Fortunately for me the Mayo Foundation was established in 1915, and I was able to go up to the University of Minnesota with the first group of fellows who were candidates for advanced degrees from the Mayo Foundation. In the fall I began the second year of medicine at the University of Minnesota.
On October 1, 1921, I entered the Mayo Clinic as fellow in medicine and was assigned to the section of Dr. David M. Berkman. Dr. Berkman taught me to emphasize in the history the most important problem the patient had, the one which had really brought her to the Clinic, and to take care of that first. He also taught me to schedule only the most essential tests, in other words, to be as sensible and reasonable as possible in handling a patient.
After a year in the Berman section I was sent to Dr. Stacy’s section and remained associated with her as long as she remained with the Clinic.
Both the Drs. Mayo seemed very fond of Dr. Stacy and came often to the section in consultation. Since Dr. Will was more interested in pelvic diseases than Dr. Charlie, he came more frequently, and we all got to know him well professionally.
After he retired from active surgery, Dr. Will continued to see patients with us, as we valued his opinion. If the patient asked him to do the operation he would tell her that he would talk to one of his colleagues about her problem and have the surgeon see her. Patients were always satisfied with whatever he told them.
In those days the examining doctors, besides caring for the patients in the Clinic, were supposed to answer any call from a patient of theirs who was in trouble and not able to come in. This might be a transient or a resident of Rochester. I liked this house practice as I often gathered many side lights on the patients’ problems. A Model T Ford took me around quickly for there were almost no traffic or parking problems in Rochester.
After two or three years in the Clinic I was still more interested in the problem of ovarian physiology … than anything else. Hence, I was allowed to see many of the patients with these complaints who came to the section. Dr. Stacy was generous in this. She also arranged for me to spend mornings for six months at the Institute of Experimental Medicine.
By this time Stockard and Papanicolaou had reported a method of taking vaginal smears from guinea pigs which had revealed that a vaginal cycle was correlated to that of the ovaries and uterus. This was a most progressive step in the study of ovarian physiology. Soon Edgar Allen reported a similar cycle in mice. I remember visiting these men to learn their technic.
Dr. Mann felt that white rats could be cared for and handled more easily than mice so during the six months I worked at the Institute we set up a group of these and I followed the estrous cycle by means of vaginal smears.
Dr. Frances Ford who was working in the Section of X-ray Therapy at this time also was interested in research. Together we had some interesting times trying to disturb the estrous cycle in the white rat by means of very light irradiation over the ovaries or pituitary or both.
In 1932 I was advised to go to Europe, especially to Germany. Ascheim and Zondek had worked out the pituitary-ovarian-uterine relationship and Ascheim was giving a course in the related physiology at the Charite in Berlin. I took this course which proved to be extremely stimulating.
In 1935 Dr. Stacy left the Clinic which was a great blow to the section. It was hard on many of our patients, especially those who lived in and near Rochester who had had Dr. Stacy for many years. Most of them continued to come to the section, but none of us could take Dr. Stacy’s place.
Following the depression of the thirties, the section was reorganized with Dr. Randall as chief executive. Times were getting better and I was very anxious to set up a laboratory at the Institute where we could do the biologic testing for estrin and prolan in human urine and make these tests available to any physician in the Clinic who might wish to order them for a patient. Dr. Randall was in favor of this and Dr. Mann co-operated in every way possible. By this time it was found essential when using a 24-hour specimen of urine to extract the estrin for testing and likewise to precipitate the prolan. Dr. Arnold E. Osterberg of the Section of Biochemistry said he would be glad to do these procedures for us.
As I could not spare the time from the section to do the biologic testing myself, Dr. A. H. Sanford found me a number of college graduates who were well informed generally in physiology. I spent Friday mornings in the laboratory, reviewing the work of the week and approving the tests. The only difficulty with these women was that after a time they either married one of the Clinic fellows or wanted to go on to medical school. I would like to mention their names as they were as important in the early establishment of the laboratory as I was: Emily Smith (Schultz), Elizabeth Mussey, Edith Quamme (Meinecke), Margaret Casey (Collins), Elaine Limbert, Gertrude Tuchy (Fisher), Evelyn Gaines (Cunningham), and Kathleen Peek (Lewis).
After Dr. Osterberg left the Clinic, Dr. Harold Mason’s laboratory took over the preparation of the urine for the tests. Soon, besides doing the two tests already mentioned, we were testing for male hormone (androgen) in the urine of both female and male patients.
In the 40’s
During the early 40’s we become discouraged with the rapid turnover of the college graduates, and at Dr. Mann’s suggestion, decided to take on one of this former assistants, Mrs. Lydia Bloodsworth. She had been a faithful, conscientious worker and was used to handling small animals. She was trained to do the tests and supervise the rat colony. At one time during the war period, Mrs. Bloodsworth was the only person in the laboratory for a period of five months. If it had not been for her faithfulness during this period, the laboratory would have had to be abandoned.
When Dr. Rosenow retired in 1944 and his laboratory was discontinued, one of his technicians, Mrs. Arthur Bremer, came into our laboratory. She was very capable, used to small animals and so was easily trained to do our work.
During the 40’s interest in general endocrinology among the physicians in the Clinic increased rapidly and clinicians were pressing for a full-time endocrinologist so that the laboratory might be set up to do more clinical tests as well as more investigative work. It was decided to bring our laboratory in from the Institute and have us use the space that Dr. Rosenow had had in the 1928 building. Mrs. Bloodsworth and Mrs. Bremer were manning the laboratory. This was about the situation when Dr. Alexander Albert came to have charge.
Anyone visiting Dr. Albert’s laboratory at present must be impressed by the great amount of work being done there. The quarters on the upper floor became too small so another move has put the laboratory on the fourth floor of the 1928 building.
Several members of the Section of Obstetrics and Gynecology have continued to be interested in carrying on some investigative work in the laboratory. Mrs. Bloodsworth is still one of the technicians.
It seems to me on looking back that the effort made to establish and carry on a laboratory for the study of problems coming up in clinical endocrinology was worthwhile. What I did in trying to get a laboratory started was little, but it was a beginning, and perhaps the most interesting time to be associated with undertakings is at the beginning.