Lane Library

Faculty Affairs
(Castor and Pollux)

photo of Drs. Stillman & Rixford in the garden near Lane Hospital

Dr. Lane was fortunate in being able to recognize promising young physicians on whom he could depend to pursue his goals for the College. His practice of taking two junior medical students into his office at 652 Mission Street for a year or two during which they served as his assistants was an effective means of identifying and developing candidates for the faculty. Two of these students, Stanley Stillman and Emmet Rixford, later became Professors of Surgery at Cooper Medical College and Stanford Medical School, and both made significant contributions. [28] [29]

photo of Dr. Stanley Stillman, 1861-1934

Stanley Stillman (1861-1934) was born in Sacramento on the 23rd of August. His father was Dr. J. D. B. Stillman with whom we are well acquainted. John Maxon Stillman, Professor of Chemistry at Stanford, to whom we have previously referred, was one of his three brothers all of whom had distinguished careers.

He attended the Boys' High School in San Francisco and then entered the University of California in the class of 1882. He did not graduate for at the end of his second year his strong-willed father took him out of school and put him in charge of the family vineyard in Redlands, California. After three years of pruning and cultivating grapevines; driving a four-horse team and ranching; he broke away and, much against his father's wishes, entered Cooper Medical College in 1887. He was a Student Assistant in Dr. Lane's Office, probably in 1888 and '89. He received his M. D. degree in 1889, the year that Emmet Rixford entered the College and during which their life-long friendship began.

When Dr. Stillman died in 1934, the San Francisco County Medical Society called upon Dr. Rixford to prepare an obituary:

I find it doubly hard to write of Stillman in any objective way, for I knew him intimately for more than forty years - nearly fifty. In fact, we grew up together professionally.

When, not long since, Dr. Leo Newmark wrote me asking for Stillman's address, saying that when one wishes to know about Castor, he naturally calls on Pollux, I could only reply that my relation with Stillman was not that of Pollux to Castor, but rather that of Chauvin to Napoleon; that I had followed him about for years with admiration and devotion comparable only to Chauvin's.

Stillman's nature was a complex of qualities not easily to find duplicated - proud, independent, critical, even irascible; yet kindly, sensitive as a woman. . . As a surgeon, he was not merely competent and skillful, but was gifted with an extraordinary human understanding, as honest, too, with himself as in his professional relations. . . .As a teacher, he had a great knack of painting word pictures which have become almost proverbial in his students' memories. His students adored him, even when savagely critical, as he sometimes was, for they could not but rise to his sterling honesty and his uncanny instinct which dictated his action and his words. (Trenchant qualities not unlike those of his father.). . . .

It is a pity that he contributed so little to the surgical literature, for with a mental makeup peculiar to himself he could have reached a far wider audience than that of the classroom, and his message would have been worth while.

In 1893, both Stillman and Rixford were appointed as Adjuncts to the Chair of Surgery. In 1898, both were promoted to the rank of Professor of Surgery. In 1909, Stanford University organized its medical faculty and Stillman was made Professor of Surgery and Executive Head of the Surgical Department. He continued in that position until 1926 when he reached the age of sixty-five and retired in accordance with University policy. When he died of bronchial pneumonia on 13 October 1934, it was written that "California's best beloved surgeon has gone."

Emmet Rixford (1865-1938) entered Cooper Medical College in 1889 and received an M. D. degree in 1891 upon completion of the three-year course of lectures required at the time. During 1890 and 1891 he served as a Student Assistant to Dr. Lane who regarded him with a confidence and affection that were not misplaced. Following graduation and some travels to study in other institutions, Dr. Rixford returned to assist Dr. Lane in his practice. Looking back over those years, it would seem that Dr. Lane favored the young Rixford as he might have an only son.

photo of Dr. Emmet Rixford, 1865-1938

Emmet Rixford was born 14 February 1865, in Bedford, a small town in Canada near the Vermont border. His father, an engineer, was a Vermonter and his mother a Canadian. The family business was the making of axes and scythes in two factories, one in Vermont and the other in Canada. In 1867, when he was two years old, his parents set out for California. They followed the path chosen by Elias Cooper twelve years earlier - down the east coast in a side-wheeler, across Nicaragua, then up the west coast in another side-wheeler to San Francisco. His father, who became city editor of the San Francisco Bulletin, was also a State Horticultural Commissioner as well as an avid gardener. It has been suggested that Dr. Rixford's love of the outdoors, especially mountain climbing and sailing, was a legacy from his father. [30] [31]

Rixford attended public schools in San Francisco and entered the University of California as a student of engineering, graduating in 1887. He often said that his engineering studies stood him in good stead during his practice of surgery, and helped him especially to understand the mechanics of fractures, a subject to which he gave particular attention. After he graduated in engineering he decided to become a doctor and enrolled in Cooper Medical College in 1889.

Dr. Rixford's recollections of his tutelage under Dr. Lane, and his account of postdoctoral travels in the East, provide a glimpse of the standards of practice at the time: [32] [33]

In my second year in medicine I was fortunate to be given a place in Dr. Lane's office where two of us spent alternate afternoons in routine office work, assisting in operations in the morning. We had the duties of operating room nurse; got the long, low and wide kitchen table out of the back hall into the patient's room where the operation was to be performed; cleaned a number of large white basins; got a quantity of hot water ready, towels, sheets, etc.; sponged off Dr. Lane's old oil cloth apron with its generations of pus and blood and his rubber cloth over-sleeves with elastic puckering strings which he used to protect his cuffs and shirt sleeves; sharpened the knives; got out the instruments, prepared sutures, etc.

One of us gave the anesthetic, the other assisted in the operation. Generally the slower of the externs was stuck, as we said, to give the anesthetic. In this way, I had personally a very large experience in administering anesthetics, and since the anesthetic used was the A. C. E. mixture of Billroth (alcohol, chloroform and ether), I had a large experience in artificial respiration. When the operation was over and the patient in bed, instruments cleaned, paraphernalia put away, the table carried downstairs, one of us would be assigned to watch the patient as nurse. Many a night I have sat up all night listening for the first rumble of the wheels of the vegetable wagons as they came in slow procession down Mission Street at two or three in the morning. This was always the sign of approaching day. . . .

On Sunday afternoon when practice was quiet, Dr. Lane would often call his students into his office and read us a chapter from Hippocrates or Lucian or Tacitus, translating as he went along.

When I was graduated in December 1891 I consulted Dr. Lane, said that I would like an internship. His reply was that I had learned most of the tricks of his faculty, that I would do best to go East, and he gave me a number of cards of introduction, but took occasion to say that I would be disappointed.

Dr. Rixford set out on his tour of the eastern medical centers in the winter of 1892. He stopped first in Chicago where he attended some clinics and operations at Rush Medical College and Cook County Hospital. He found surgical practice at much the same level as in San Francisco.

He spent several months in the spring in New York, principally at the New York Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled. He divided his time between the very busy hernia clinic of W. B. Coley (4000 patients a year with very discouraging results in inguinal cases), and the orthopedic service.

Next he stopped briefly at Jefferson in Philadelphia. "It seemed that all the students chewed tobacco for in the operating room the floors below the benches were running with tobacco juice and one had to walk carefully to avoid skidding."

He finally arrived at Baltimore in the summer of 1892, a year before Miss Garrett gave the money which permitted the organization of the Johns Hopkins Medical School. But the pathologists were active and he was given the great privilege of assisting in the laboratory at the elbow of Simon Flexner. Dr. Welch came in every day or two to look over Dr. Rixford's work. It was practically private instruction for him from that great teacher.

Another privilege at Hopkins was to go through the wards on occasion with Professor Osler, and to observe in the operating department where Dr. Halsted had introduced many innovations, including the first use of rubber gloves.

In Washington, the final stop on his tour, there was not so much to attract the casual medical visitor, but there was the Surgeon-General's Library where he met Doctor John Shaw Billings and his associate, Dr. Robert Fletcher. They were interested in the efforts at developing a library in Cooper Medical College and gave him carte blanche to select books from their collection of duplicates in the basement. Dr. Rixford was tempted to take the whole collection, because the College library was so small that there was little chance of duplication. He afterwards regretted that his modesty curtailed his enthusiasm, for he took only half a dozen or so large cases of books which on their arrival in San Francisco made a very important addition to the College library.

After his return to San Francisco in 1893, Dr. Rixford entered the office of Dr. Lane and in December 1893 was appointed as Adjunct to the Chair of Surgery. As already mentioned, both Stillman and Rixford were promoted to the rank of Professor of Surgery in 1898. They continued in that rank after Cooper Medical College completed its merge with Stanford in 1912.

Dr. Hans Barkan (A. B. Stanford, 1905; M. D. Harvard, 1910), son of the distinguished Professor Adolph Barkan, joined the Stanford Division of Surgery as an Assistant in 1914. Having advanced over the intervening years to the rank of Emeritus Clinical Professor of Surgery (Ophthalmology), Dr. Hans Barkan wrote an "Historical Sketch of Cooper Medical College" which was published in the Stanford Medical Bulletin in 1954. The "Sketch," based on his personal recollections of Cooper Medical College and its succession to Stanford, is one of the most valuable sources of information on the school's transition from proprietary medical college to university department. He has not only provided intimate views of the faculty and issues of the period, but has also transcribed minutes of critical faculty proceedings, the originals of which have since been lost. He had fond memories of Drs. Stillman and Rixford: [34]

From Lane's school arose an excellent group of surgeons. . . Of them all, two men, great contrasts in character, both ruling the surgical profession for many years, stand out in highlight: Stanley Stillman and Emmet Rixford, as surgeons the peer of any and the superior of almost all. I remember them when they were young assistants of Lane and I perhaps ten or twelve. A vivid picture to me still is the old-fashioned but comfortable living room of my parents, with my mother at the piano, Rixford singing Schubert songs, and Stillman puffing a cigarette in the bow window, with my father offering occasional musical suggestions, which were really commands. He had a great regard for both of them and with Lane recognized early that they were the coming men. Stillman served a year as my father's office assistant, and then one day suddenly, as was his wont, father told him that he was cut out for a big surgeon, and provided him with some funds to study. With whom and where I do not remember.

Stillman finally was in charge of all surgery and teaching at the Cooper school and later, as was Rixford, a Stanford professor. Rixford held the same position at the San Francisco Hospital. Both Stillman and Rixford were hard workers; Stillman inclined to growl about it, Rixford always patient. They were impatient with each other often; Stillman arguing the matter with passion, Rixford shaking his head in negation - both great surgeons, great personalities, and great friends.

Rixford was much more the student of the two, deeply versed in medical literature as well as general literature. He was a collector of many things; his collection, especially, of sea shells found at higher altitudes in the Sierra was a remarkable one. Among his favorite subjects was the rose, its development and growth. He was a mountaineer and a good sailor, and his yacht was well known on the bay. (It had originally been the ship on which "Boss" Tweed escaped from New York and took refuge in Cuba.)

Rixford had an even disposition, whereas Stillman had a fiery temper. Many had to suffer by some outrageous remark or act of his in the operating room. But he had a wonderful quality of self-condemnation and would meet you in the hall afterward, stop dead in his tracks, put his hand on your shoulder, with his blue eyes shining affection at you, and say, "Now, my boy, you know I didn't mean that." If that ever happened to you once with him, you forgave him all and would do anything for him after that.

On one occasion, at a banquet in his honor he was teased about this temper of his and told the following story:

"My father had a canary and, when he was tired of hearing him sing, would throw a cloth over the cage. One day the bird continued to sing in spite of the cloth. My father, in a rage, reached into the cage, broke the canary's neck and threw him out of the window." Then Dr. Stillman said, with his charming smile, "Now, what in hell do you expect from a man with an ancestry like that?"


Progress Report

There were two other developments of interest in the 1890's.


The duration of the medical course was increased from three to four years effective 1 January 1894. The significance of adding one year to the course was watered down by provisions for avoiding the first year. For example, the student could skip the first year if he had a B. A. degree; or if he had a high school diploma accompanied by evidence that the curriculum pursued included the following subjects: Anatomy, Physiology, Chemistry and one of the following optional subjects: Pharmacy, Botany, Biology, Histology or Bacteriology; or if the student studied first year subjects privately and passed an examination on these by the Faculty. Another means of avoiding the first year was one year's pupilage with a physician whose standing and facilities for imparting instruction were acceptable to the Cooper Faculty - the old apprenticeship resurrected. Such loopholes served to depress the quality of students entering the medical school, and perpetuated a fundamental flaw in American medical education of the day - that of admitting poorly qualified students to the study of medicine. [35]


At a meeting of the Faculty of Cooper Medical College on 17 June 1895, Dr. Rixford was appointed Chairman of the Lane Library Committee, in other words he was made the Librarian. There were some 300 volumes on the shelves at the time. Dr. Rixford's appointment was especially noteworthy for his tireless efforts were crucial to the future growth and development of the Library which he called "my most beloved hobby." [36] [37]

Lane Library