Lane Library

Ray Lyman Wilbur (1875-1949)

photo of Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, 1875-1948

Professor Jenkins made another significant contribution to Cooper Medical College by influencing one of his Stanford University students, Ray Lyman Wilbur, to attend the College.

The Wilbur antecedents in America were of English origin and among the earliest settlers in New England in the mid-1600s. Succeeding generations of Wilburs included both intrepid seafarers on the Atlantic and sturdy pioneers who joined the transcontinental migration to the Pacific Coast. Wilbur recalled the family's circumstances at his birth: [51]

From my very first day I showed my lack of superstition by being born on the 13th of April. The year happened to be 1875, and the place a town in Iowa called Boonesboro (later shortened to Boone). The fact that by the time I was born my family had traveled as far as Iowa in its westward trek rates me as a second-string pioneer, but I was still close to frontier conditions and continued to be so as we moved farther and father west. This westward migration of the Wilbur family shows . . .an American trend.

Ray's father was born in Mecca, Ohio, in 1839 and was the restless product of those stirring pioneer days. As the oldest of the eight children of a typically large pioneer family, he early learned the lessons of responsibility, self-reliance and enterprise. His mother, as was so often the case in the American family, was ambitious for her son to get an education. With her encouragement he worked his way through the Western Reserve Seminary at Farmington, Ohio, where he graduated in 1861. He then engaged in a series of unrewarding enterprises that stamped him as a man of uncertain fortune but unquenchable spirit. He taught school for a while; volunteered for the Union Army at the call of President Lincoln; was captured by Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson at Harpers Ferry and came home a paroled prisoner of war. He then turned to the study of law and completed the law course at University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. After a wide search for a promising location to practice, he opened a law office in Boonesboro, Iowa, in 1866. In the same year he married Edna Maria Lyman. All of their six children - Ray Lyman Wilbur being the fourth - were born in Boonesboro. [52]

Ray's father soon found that there was not enough law business in the small Iowa community to interest him, so he turned to the opening of coal mines. In 1883, when the mines proved unprofitable, he moved the family to Jamestown in the Dakota Territory where he was general land agent for the Northern Pacific Railroad. He also established two law firms for handling the lands of the Railroad, and the loans stimulated by Jamestown's booming economy. The first crop from the raw Dakota prairies was buffalo bones, strewn far and wide, stark reminders of the wanton slaughter of the great herds. The bones were gathered up and sent by train loads for fertilizer. With cash from the crop of buffalo bones, the settler could get along until his first wheat crop came in. This wide expanse of fine wheat land was just being opened to homestead settlement. and was one of the great wheat frontiers of the country when the Wilburs arrived.

In spite of arctic winters and blistering summers, the life of the family during their four years in Jamestown was a happy one. But as businesses in the region began to fail due to drought and collapse of the economy, financial insecurity returned and Ray's father again set out in search of employment. In response to glowing accounts of California's climate and the opening up of new lands for orange orchards in Southern California, he left Jamestown for California in January 1887 to explore the possibility of settling there. Prospects looked brightest in the neighborhood of Riverside, California, and he sent for his wife and children. On the evening of September 7th, Ray's father met the family at the Riverside station, where they arrived by train from Jamestown. In reaching their new home, which was only a short distance from the station, they walked under magnificent pepper trees and palms and along open irrigation ditches running with the limpid waters of the San Bernadino Mountains. To a twelve year-old Dakota boy, this was paradise. [53]

Ray's father had the good fortune to arrive in Riverside at the time of an incipient boom. He was ideally prepared by profession and experience to take advantage of the business opportunities which arose where virgin lands were being transformed into productive orchards on a grand scale. Within a few years he was the President of the Board of Trade. [54]

So far as Ray was concerned, the Riverside experience was also that of a pioneer. The family moved out three miles east of town to a raw sagebrush patch and planted an orange orchard on the high ground. There he had first hand experience as a day laborer in making the desert productive. In due course he entered Riverside High School. For the most part California high schools were on a three-year basis, but Riverside was one of the early ones with a rigorous four-year program. When he graduated on 20 June 1892, his class was a small one. It consisted of three girls and five boys. Out of this class of eight, three went to Stanford University, including Ray himself. [55]

Years later, Dr. Wilbur was to suggest that the amazing speed with which our people swept from ocean to ocean and settled the wilderness between was due largely to the durable quality of the American family. Families cooperated and helped each other. It was all for one and one for all. They and their neighbors stood together. One of the more daring would thrust westward and establish a "beachhead," as it were. Then some of the relatives would follow. Such was the Wilbur experience and we may reasonably conclude that the supportive environment of Ray's extended family during his formative years fostered in him those qualities of sound judgment, integrity and leadership for which he later became well-known and highly respected. [56]

The future Doctor Wilbur was a lanky, self-possessed young man standing nearly six foot four. He entered Stanford University as a freshman in 1892, the second year of Stanford's existence. As we have already noted, he promptly made the acquaintance of Herbert Hoover who became a life-long friend and associate.

Wilbur received an A. B. degree with the Stanford Class of 1896, of which he was the student President. In pursuit of his primary interest in Physiology he took a postgraduate year (1896-1897) at Stanford under the continuing preceptorship of Professor Jenkins in whose laboratory he had worked as an undergraduate. In January 1896, at the second annual meeting of the California Science Association in Oakland, he made a report on the "Effects of Variation of Temperature on Muscle Irritability." On the basis of this and other work, he was awarded an A. M. degree at Stanford in 1897. [57]

While a Stanford student, Wilbur assisted Professor Jenkins in establishing the Physiology Laboratory and Course at Cooper Medical College. As a result of that experience, and the encouragement of Professor Jenkins, he decided to study medicine. He matriculated at Cooper Medical College in 1897; married Marguerite Blake on 5 December 1898; and was awarded an M. D. degree in 1899 (again he was the President of the Senior Class). After receiving his medical degree, he served as an extern at the San Francisco City and County Hospital for the year 1899-1900. During this period he was also an assistant in the medical clinic at Cooper Medical College and a member of the teaching staff as Lecturer on and Demonstrator of Physiology. These activities absorbed his whole day. In the evenings he kept an office hour from seven to eight o'clock at his home on Scott Street, but his private practice was light. [58]

photo of Ray Lyman Wilbur and other students in dissecting laboratory at Cooper Medical College

At the end of the year as an extern, Dr. Wilbur accepted the invitation from Professor Jenkins to return to the University in the fall of 1900 for a three year term as Assistant Professor of Physiology. By this return to University work he hoped to determine whether his bent was for basic science or for the practice of medicine. In addition to the teaching of physiology, Dr. Wilbur wished to continue doing research, picking up where he left off in getting his master's degree in 1897. There were several lines of investigation that he wished to pursue further. Therefore, in addition to settling down promptly to his assistant professorship, he registered as a graduate student for a doctor of philosophy degree in physiology, and started some projects.

Dr. Wilbur recalls the distractions he then encountered as a young physiologist who was also an able physician; [59]

Almost from the first, something happened which was merely a prelude to a series of interruptions of the schedule I had laid out for myself. I arrived on the Stanford campus in early September 1900 at noon (to take up my position in the Department of Physiology). The very next morning, so early that I had not yet gotten up, I was called by one of the professors to see his son, who was suffering rather violent abdominal pains. As there was no local hospital available, I had to rush the boy up to the Lane Hospital in San Francisco. We went up by train, there being no ambulances. Following an appendectomy by Dr. Rixford and a rather precarious after-period, the boy recovered.

The incident led to the discovery that I was the only medical man on the Stanford campus. Having started in to take care of that one patient, I found that the community soon began to call on me for all sorts of medical services. For the most part this did not interfere with my routine physiology work, but before long I was leading a double life, with practically full time in the laboratory and full time in medical practice, and without adequate facilities for practice or time for research work. I was seldom called away from the classroom or laboratory. One time, though, I did have to dismiss my class to go to a professor's child who had taken an overdose of laudanum. Fortunately I got there in time.

By January 1901, I had developed quite a practice. In addition, I was asked by President Jordan to fill the gap left by the resignation of Dr. Thomas Denison Wood as Professor of Hygiene and Organic Training and University Physician, and to supervise the health of the students and take on the medical responsibility insofar as the gymnasia were concerned. By February I had what ordinarily would be considered a well-developed medical practice, but I was still carrying on my University work. . . As I was accustomed to plenty of work, that did not disturb me particularly, but it did not advance my research. After a careful personal analysis, I came to the conclusion I did not have the peculiar quality that makes a high-grade research worker in physiology. Medicine rather than physiology looked to me as offering a much better opportunity for my talents as I judged them.

When I sent a letter to Dr. Jenkins . . .telling him that I had decided to give up my work in the physiology department and go definitely into medical practice, he replied: "I have been prepared for your making such a decision for some time, by various indications. While I believe you would have equally succeeded in the line in which you were at work here at Stanford, you will no doubt succeed in the line of practice, and a man best succeeds where his heart most lies. Personally I should be pleased if your choice fell on this community as your field of work."


Dr. Wilbur's First Trip to Europe, 1903-1904

Having decided to devote his career to medicine, Dr. Wilbur set about with characteristic zeal to prepare himself thoroughly for advanced work in the field. The favored means of acquiring such preparation being a period of study in Europe, Dr. and Mrs. Wilbur departed on their first trip abroad on 4 July 1903. They stopped first in London where Dr. Wilbur attended lectures and clinics in major medical schools and hospitals. He also spent a day at Oxford with Sir William Osler. While in England, Mrs. Wilbur gave birth to their second son, Dwight Locke Wilbur (later Clinical Professor of Medicine at Stanford).

In the fall of 1903, the Wilburs moved on to Germany , preeminent in Europe in medicine and medical science, where many American physicians and medical students came to study and observe. Dr. Wilbur's most memorable experience was in Frankfurt. There he served as a volunteer assistant in the chemistry laboratory of the distinguished Professor Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915), father of hematology and chemotherapy. Professor Ehrlich had just recorded Experiment No. 404 in his series of investigations that later led in Experiment No. 606 to the discovery of Salvarsan, an arsenic compound that proved to be the most effective agent in the treatment of syphilis at the time. [60]

As it seemed probable that he would spend a good deal of his time teaching Clinical Medicine, he arranged as many exposures as possible to the men who were at the top of that field in the various German medical schools. The fact that he had already had some active experience in medicine made every one of their presentations of absorbing interest to him. [61]


Dr. Wilbur's Second trip to Europe, 1909-1910

On return from Europe in 1904, Dr. Wilbur resumed his medical practice on the Stanford Campus and in the vicinity. Then, in 1909, he and Mrs. departed for a second year in Europe. They went directly to Munich and rented an apartment in the neighborhood of the University and Hospital where Dr. Wilbur spent most of his days for a number of months. He had arranged in advance to work in the clinic of Professor Friedrich von Müller who was a great clinician and outstanding teacher of medicine. Dr. Wilbur also registered for the winter semester in the University of Munich where he heard dramatic and informative lectures on psychiatry from Professor Kraepelin whose clinic on nervous and mental disorders he also attended. The skin clinics in Munich were especially valuable in providing abundant examples of skin disease, an experience which Dr. Wilbur augmented by going to Vienna for special courses in dermatology. In Vienna he also took a course in general pathology during which he tried to attend every autopsy in the hospital. He and Mrs. Wilbur returned from Europe late in 1910. [62]


Dr. Wilbur Appointed to Stanford Medical Faculty

In 1907 President Jordan and the Trustees of Stanford University decided to accept the gift of Cooper Medical College from the Board of Directors of the College and to convert the facilities in San Francisco to the Medical Department of Stanford University, a transaction that we shall later discuss in detail. When Dr. Wilbur departed in 1909 on his second trip to Europe for further study it was already with the understanding that upon his return he would be appointed Professor of Medicine and Executive Head of the new Medical Department of Stanford University.

Reflecting these arrangements Dr. Wilbur received the following sequence of appointments to the Stanford University Faculty:

  • Professor of Clinical Medicine (1908-1909)
  • Professor of Medicine (1909-1910; absent on leave)
  • Professor of Medicine (1910-1911; AOL, first semester)

Dr. Wilbur returned to active duty on 1 January 1911. On that date his appointment became Professor of Medicine and Executive Head (Dean) of the Medical Department of Stanford University. He served in these capacities until 1916 when he became President of the University. He was well prepared by temperament, training and experience for these responsibilities. [63] [64]


William Ophüls (1871-1933)

photo of Dr. William Ophüls

A Search Committee of the Faculty was appointed to find a replacement for Dr. Albert Abrams, the Professor of Pathology whose performance had become distinctly questionable. On 18 April 1898 the Committee recommended and the Faculty approved the appointment of Dr. William Ophüls as Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology. The most notable aspect of this appointment was that he receive a salary of $1000 a year. This first appointment to the Faculty of a full-time salaried professor marked the advent of a new era in the academic standards of Cooper Medical College, and a significant step in the modernization of medical education on the Pacific coast.

Other provisions of Dr. Ophüls' appointment were that he not engage in the practice of medicine, but devote his entire time to Pathology and Bacteriology; that $500 be appropriated for the expenses of the Laboratory for the first year; that an additional intern be appointed to receive board and lodging at the Hospital and act as his Assistant; that, if mutually agreeable after a year's probation, he be elected Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology; and that, meanwhile, he be appointed to the position of Pathologist to Lane Hospital and Acting Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology in Cooper Medical College. [65]

These recommendations were approved and forwarded to the Board of Directors for final approval which was granted in May or June 1898. The Board prescribed that he enter upon his duties about 1 July 1898 and that these duties shall be to carry on the teaching of Pathology and Bacteriology in Cooper College by lectures and laboratory courses and to take full charge of the same; to make all autopsies in Lane Hospital and all those in the City and County Hospital which are under the control of Cooper Medical College; and that he shall also make all pathological examinations of tissue, sputum, etc., required in both hospitals. [66]

The performance of Dr. Ophüls having been satisfactory, the Faculty of the College unanimously recommended and the Board of Directors approved his appointment as Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology effective 7 December 1898. [67]

Dr. Ophüls was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 23 October 1871. He was taken to Germany in early childhood where he attended high school (Gymnasium) in Crefeld, and attended the University of Würzberg from 1890 to 1893, where he was a member of the student corps, Rhenania. He spent 1894 in the University of Berlin and in 1895 he received the degree of doctor of medicine in Göttingen under Professor Johannes Orth. In 1896-1897 he was an Assistant at the Pathologic Institute at Göttingen.

On returning to America in 1897 Dr. Ophüls was almost immediately appointed Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology in the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he spent one year; that is, parts of 1897 and 1898. When the search for a Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology at Cooper Medical College came to the attention of Dr. William H. Welch of Johns Hopkins, he recommended Dr. Ophüls who was promptly appointed to the position.

The College could hardly have been more fortunate in the selection of Dr. Ophüls as the first full-time member of the Faculty. He was an outstanding teacher and academic administrator (serving as Dean from 1916 to 1932), and was also the foremost tissue pathologist in the West at the time. As we shall see, he had significant influence on the course of events during the impending period of transition for the school. [68] [69]

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