Copyright 2004 By Bob Hibbs
Saturday June 26, 2004 

Postcard 250: Affecters of University Hospitals

Among those most responsible for today’s dynamic, widely-respected University Hospitals are Gustavus Hinrichs (I), 
William Boyd (II), Arthur Steindler (III) and John Colloton. The Hinrichs and Colloton images courtesy UI Library Special 
Collections; the Boyd image courtesy State Historical Society at Iowa City; the author created the graphic.


By Bob Hibbs

Iowa City and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics present an apparent oxymoron in the modern world of huge teaching hospitals.

Finding such a stellar institution in a relative small town in a rural state is highly improbable. Logically, it shouldn’t be; yet, it is. This billion-dollar complex currently employs thousands and influences world-wide medical research efforts in numerous specialties.

It offers care and hope to Iowans whose local medical communities are no longer capable of treating their afflictions. It sees patients from foreign lands who respond to the implied promise of world-class care which U-Hospitals offers them.

It trains new physicians, nurses, pharmacists, medical technicians of every ilk and countless others in such diverse vocations as nutrition, audiology, speech therapy, sanitation and public health. Even dentistry is nearby.

Its existence and stature emanate not from a single person or generation, nor any single event. Rather, literally thousands have participated through nearly 150 years dating to the university’s infancy.

However, if any one of four specific individuals had not provided dynamic leadership at crucial times, then in all probability today’s institution would not exist, or would be vastly inferior to its present lofty status in the world of medicine.

The nexus pillars are Gustavus Hinrichs, William Boyd, Arthur Steindler and John Colloton.

Hinrichs was UI’s first great science teacher. UI’s third building – 1866 North Hall erected adjacent to Old Capitol – was built to house his classrooms and laboratories. This European born and trained genius eventually became insane and was fired; but, during his tenure he raised eye-brows along an all-important eastern seaboard to quality science instruction at UI.

He more than anyone convinced an early Iowa citizenry that despite competing efforts of envious communities, the state’s medical school belonged in Iowa City and deserved state funding.

Boyd carried the unlikely title of financial chairman of the Iowa Board of Education (now Regents) beginning in 1909 when U-Hospitals was headquartered along Iowa Avenue during an era when growing efforts at national accreditation nearly extinguished the UI medical school and hospital.

Boyd, who is unrelated to a later UI president of similar name, believed quality medical training could be made compatible with a small community in a rural state. He worked tirelessly toward that goal while most despaired.

Ultimately, Boyd convinced the giant Rockefeller Foundation to provide millions of dollars during the 1920s to help finance an entirely new hospital west of the river. It was opened in 1928 after he oversaw its planning, helped recruit resident faculty and dampened friction among med school cliques.

Without Boyd, the current hospital is inconceivable.

Arthur Steindler, an orthopedic surgeon at UI and later Iowa City’s Mercy Hospital, solved the problem of finding enough patients in a rural setting to permit development of medical specialization. He sold a farmer-dominated Iowa legislature on paying treatment costs in Iowa City for kids from throughout the state, thus financing a children’s hospital.

This “indigent care” program was expanded a half-decade later to include adults, presaging the Medicaid program by decades. Without the early source of patients provided by these state-funded programs, modern U-Hospitals wouldn’t exist.

During the 1960s, John Colloton found an updated 1928 physical plant in need of replacement, as well as a critical need for staff development. The current complex, including a section (or pavilion) named for him, speaks to his decades-long contribution.

These pillars had many supports; broad shoulders on which to stand; benefited from tall cedars at their sides with brilliant faculty and staff delivering outstanding services. Hundreds, even thousands, have made important contributions through more than a century.

However, without the nexus contributions of these individuals, in all probability the hospital complex which so dominates the west university campus today would not exist.

Next Saturday: Iowa City’s first tornado.

Bob Hibbs collects local postcards and other historic ephemera and researches history related to them. 

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