In 1881, Edward A. Birge began teaching zoology courses to students at the University of Wisconsin which, combined with existing courses in botany, physics and chemistry, made up the early beginnings of medical learning.
In 1907, the Wisconsin state legislature passed a bill to establish a College of Medicine, renamed the School of Medicine two years later. Classes were held in the attic of historic Science hall and the old Chemical engineering building and included basic anatomy, physiology, physiological chemistry, pathology and pharmacology. Two decades later, 19 men and six women became the first graduates of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine’s four-year program.
In 1919, the Mary Cornelia Bradley Hospital for the study of children’s diseases was built to care for children with orthopedic conditions and research childhood diseases. Dr. Harold Bradley and his wife donated $50,000 to construct the hospital in honor of their daughter, Mary Cornelia Bradley, who contracted spinal meningitis and pneumonia and died at the age of six. Additionally, Mr. And Mrs. Crane donated $25,000; with an additional $18,000 provided by legislature.
A law providing state support for the care of indigent crippled children gave another vital use for the hospital. It was reported that there were between 20 and 25 crippled children in the hospital every day after the law passed. It became clear that there was an urgent need for additional facilities to care for these cases.
Rapid advances in orthopedic care and the need for a dedicated children’s hospital pushed the state legislature to approve $261,000 for a new facility. The Wisconsin Orthopedic Hospital for Children opened June 5, 1931 (later becoming the Children’s Hospital). There, doctors could provide medical, surgical and therapeutic treatment for children whose parents weren’t able to obtain treatment. The building, located on what’s now the west side of the UW campus, could hold around 110 patients; a kitchen, laundry and swimming pool were in the basement, with operating room and an x-ray suite on the third floor.
Common ailments in the 1930s and 40s included tuberculosis of the joints and bones, rheumatoid arthritis, bone tumors and congenital disorders; hip fractures and bunions were also treated. There were special outpatient clinics available for patients with cerebral palsy, scoliosis, or club foot. In the 1950s, the polio epidemic filled every bed and created a long waiting list for reconstructive surgeries and medical devices, such as braces.