Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, November 15, 2000
School of Medicine preserves its history in E-book


Ensconced in a distant stairwell of Lane Library is an almost unnoticed memorial from long ago. In this modernist staircase is affixed an ancient-looking, bronze plaque where one can read the name of Shadworth O. Beasley, who perished during the "Great War." If perhaps your curiosity was piqued by this plaque you might be out of luck. No one left at the library or the medical school can remember Beasley, and few left alive anywhere know much more than what little you can read on the plaque. You might dig into the Stanford archives to find more answers, but that would be long and tortuous.

Like the sparse ranks of WWI survivors still around for Veterans' Day parades, any institution's history tends to die with the people who lived and worked there in the past. Or if not dead, the memories are most often entombed in archives, seldom available to those curious about what shaped the school we know today. Those who want to know more about the history of the Stanford School of Medicine, however, are now blessed with a detailed history of the institution that is easily accesible on the web. Through a seven-year labor of love, Emeritus Professor and Honorary Curator at Lane Library John L. Wilson, MD, has written a detailed history of the medical school, which Lane Library has published as an ebook on the Lane website ( ). The book is called "Stanford University School of Medicine and Predecessor Schools: An Historical Perspective."

The curious and the serious alike can now quickly find out that Beasley was a graduate of the class of '97 and was an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology. Beasley, a major in the US Army Medical Corps, died while rescuing wounded soldiers under heavy fire on the Western Front. The bronze plaque in the hallway used to stand at the entrance to Lane Library when the School of Medicine was in San Francisco. On the website people can now even see a picture of the ill-fated physician in uniform, smiling with his mates and raising a cup in salute in a capture German trench.

Wilson began the book after retiring from the medical school in 1989. In those long-ago days before the world wide web he envisioned a print book. But as the 1400-page book neared completion it became clear that the book would be most useful in electronic form, in which readers had the ability to do quick searching, look at many original documents and photos, and follow hypertext links to other subjects and references.

Acting Director of Lane Library Valerie Su says Wilson's book is a "tremendous resource." The book is very detailed, Su said, and is easy to use. "It's really remarkable what Dr. Wilson has accomplished."

Medical Center staff threw a reception for Dr. Wilson and his new book last Friday. A number of the leading lights of Stanford's past and present came to speak, including Phylllis Gardner, MD; Peter Stangl, director of Lane Library; Spyros Andreopoulos, director of the Medical News Bureau from 1963 to 1993; and Eugene Bauer, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. According to Su, Andreopoulos noted in a short speech that he had found many interesting things in the book, including evidence that Stanford and UCSF had discussed a merger long ago. David Korn, former dean of the School of Medicine, was not able to attend but sent a short, emotional message to communicate his "esteem and deep affection" for Wilson. "John continues to amaze me, as he goes on from triumph to triumph, defying the passage of time and the impediments to which mere mortals are generally susceptible," Korn said.

By all accounts, such affection for Wilson is common. Wilson was born in 1914 and received his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt and his medical degree from Harvard in 1939. Wilson enlisted in the navy the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and was a naval flight surgeon for five years in the Pacific Theater of Operations. In 1949 he was on his way from San Francisco to join the faculty of a medical school in China when he learned the communists had closed the school to Americans. Instead, he became a clinical instructor of surgery at Stanford. In 1953, Wilson began a 15-year stay as a faculty member at the American University of Beirut before returning to Stanford in 1968. Toward the end of his medical and administrative career at Stanford, Wilson worked to integrate the records of Stanford University of Medicine and the those of the medical schools that were merged into Stanford.

Wilson's book is an extremely detailed record of the early years of the medical school -- the years most at risk of being lost to history -- but the press of time kept him from spending as much time documenting more recent events, especially those in the years since the medical school moved to Palo Alto. Acting Director Su says that the library is now looking for a volunteer who might be interested in documenting this more recent history in a companion ebook. Lane Library is also interested in publishing many more ebooks, either books that exist just on Stanford's servers, or reprints of books that are published elsewhere.