Monumental gift yields U-M’s first-ever professorship

April 13, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

Elizabeth H. Bates, M.D., top right, and Frederick G.L. Huetwell, top left, played major roles in the catalog of endowed professorships at the U-M Medical School. Bates’ gift, in particular, influenced the medical education of women at the university, as shown in the bottom photo.

In 1898, the estate of Elizabeth H. Bates, M.D., made a monumental gift to the U-M Medical School that left a lasting impact on the organization. Her generosity served as the springboard for today’s robust catalog of endowed professorships that keeps Michigan Medicine among the global leaders in education, research and clinical care.

Surprisingly, however, Bates had little connection to the university that compelled her to donate. At least according to a book compiled by the health system in 2010:

“There has always been a hint of mystery surrounding the 1898 bequest of more than $100,000 to the U-M Medical School by an extraordinary woman who practiced in upstate New York.

As far as anyone has been able to determine, Elizabeth H. Bates, M.D., never visited Ann Arbor and she never was a student there. Still, she decided to establish the first endowment for a named professorship anywhere within U-M.

The endowment amounted to the modern-day equivalent of more than $2 million — a mind-boggling sum in an era when tuition at the medical school was $12.50 a semester.

‘It does not appear that our benefactor ever visited the university,’ James B. Angell, university president, wrote in announcing Bates’ bequest. ‘As far as we can learn, she was moved to remember us in this generous manner by the fact that this university was one of the first to offer medical education to women. She wished to testify her appreciation of the service thus rendered to her sex, and enlarge our facilities for medical education.’

Indeed, U-M was a worldwide leader in educating female students at the turn of the century, helping them overcome challenges women like Bates faced in their career. As a young adult, Bates studied in private with her physician father, as women were not expected to pursue medicine in the mid-1800s. In fact, the first female had graduated from a U.S. medical school only five years before Bates began her studies. Bates eventually attended the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, one of the first med schools for women in the world.

Her gift to U-M was aimed at making it easier for future generations of women to study medicine, requiring the school to allow females “to pursue their studies and to receive the same advantages as male students.”

The endowment established the Bates Professorship of the Diseases of Women and Children. Timothy R.B. Johnson, M.D., chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, has served as the Bates Professor since 1993 and is widely recognized for transforming women’s health care at U-M and across the globe.

A growing catalog

While Bates set the precedent nearly 120 years ago, today the medical school has nearly 300 endowed professorships.

Benefactors cite many reasons for establishing a named professorship. Some laud former deans and historical figures; others honor current or emeritus faculty members. Some even recognize family members.

Patients who have received care at Michigan Medicine, or are passionate about advancing the organization’s three-part mission, have also endowed a named professorship.

One such donor was Frederick G.L. Huetwell, who was born with cerebral palsy. As he began thinking about his estate plans, he decided to make gifts to the medical school, which initially established four professorships and three research funds. Proceeds from that original gift eventually seeded an astounding 11 Huetwell professorships, which include faculty in disciplines such as birth defects, cardiovascular medicine, cystic fibrosis, ophthalmology and visual sciences, pediatric research and rheumatology.

“Huetwell’s deep and wide-reaching love for every aspect of this institution, his good and graceful friendship, and his sweeping generosity to Michigan are his enduring legacy,” according to a story written by the health system.

While endowment gifts are geared toward supporting faculty education, research and clinical care, they also help the school recruit and retain impressive faculty members. Professorships are considered among the highest honors a recipient can receive.

Executive Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Carol R. Bradford, M.D. — who also serves as the Charles J. Krause, M.D. Collegiate Professor of Otolaryngology — recently highlighted the power of professorships in a message to the school: “From the unexpected Bates gift in the late 1800s to the 19 endowed professorships established in 2016 alone, the medical school and our wonderful donors truly are committed to building and supporting a world-class faculty — past, present and future.”

Want to learn more about university and Michigan Medicine history? Check out upcoming bicentennial events on campus! 

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