Ohio History Journal

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Abraham Flexner, Rockefeller

Philanthropy, and the Western Reserve

School of Medicine


In September 1914 the president of Western Reserve University in

Cleveland, Charles F. Thwing, addressed a friendly letter to an important

ally of the university's medical school:


I am glad to say to you that your Western Reserve Medical School is opening to-

morrow in excellent form ... The students seem to be overflowing. We have a lit-

tle larger first-year class than we ought to receive. We, Faculty and Trustees of

both Lakeside [hospital] and the University, are now considering, with utmost care,

the question of [future] location.


The correspondent to whom Thwing wrote so intimately was neither one

of the great contributors to the university nor one of the important lead-

ers of the medical school. Rather it was Abraham Flexner, an officer of

the Rockefeller-funded General Education Board in New York.

Thwing was neither flippant nor overgenerous when he told Flexner that

the Western Reserve University School of Medicine was "his," and there-

by hangs the tale of this essay.2 Beginning in 1910, a few years before

Thwing's letter, and at a crucial point in the school's evolution, Flexner

and Rockefeller funding had become important actors, and for at least two

decades remained highly influential. It was precisely during those years,

1910 to about 1930, that the school was transformed from a regionally-



Darwin H. Stapleton is the Director of the Rockefeller Archive Center, North Tarrytown,

New York. An earlier version of this paper was read as the 1990 Anton and Rose Sverina Lec-

ture for the Historical Division of the Cleveland Medical Library Association, Cleveland,

Ohio. Both versions have drawn on research in the Case Western Reserve University

Archives by Bari 0. Stith.


1. Charles F. Thwing to Abraham Flexner, 30 September 1914, f. 7283, box 709, Gener-

al Education Board archives (hereafter GEB), Rockefeller Archive Center (hereafter RAC),

North Tarrytown, New York.

2. The name of the Medical Department of Western Reserve University was changed to

the School of Medicine in 1912. I shall use the latter name throughout this paper. Frederick

C. Waite, Western Reserve University Centennial History of the School of Medicine (Cleve-

land, 1946), 422.