Artifacts from U-M Medical School history resurface

June 28, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Michigan Medicine News

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Nearly 123 years since his final lecture at the U-M Medical School, Dr. Corydon L. Ford’s most important personal items — his surgical and anatomical tool kits, microscope and walking stick — have returned to the university.

One of Ford’s descendants presented them as gifts to the school earlier this month and they’re now on permanent display on the second floor of University Hospital.

“It is an honor to accept these items and use them to help tell the story of the Medical School,” said Carol Bradford, M.D., executive vice dean for academic affairs. “As an alumna of U-M and the medical school, I am fascinated by our rich history. While we are leading the future of health care, it is important that we also embrace our glorious past.”

Ford joined the U-M faculty as a professor of anatomy in 1854. Highly regarded by his colleagues and students, Ford was elected dean of the medical school in 1861-1862 and again from 1879-1880 and 1887-1891. He was the last medical school dean to be elected directly by the faculty.

“These gifts represent the metaphorical DNA of our medical school,” said Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine. “These items are really quite remarkable.”

The cane would have been instrumental to Ford, who had been left partially paralyzed in childhood and as a result chose medicine as a career over his family’s long history of farming.

Ford taught on the top floor of the original Medical Building and lived in his office until 1865, when at the age of 52 he married, Markel said. When the school began to admit women as students in 1870, Ford was considered one of the most tolerant of the new arrivals.

At Ford’s final lecture, on April 12, 1894, Harvard-trained physiologist Warren Plimpton Lombard recalled, “All of the faculty would have been there had he allowed it to be known in advance. He was then 81 years old, but he gave a great lecture. It was a masterpiece. Ford was without doubt the finest of old school lecturers on anatomy in this country and probably in the world.”

After giving this last lecture, Ford turned wearily to an assistant and said, “My work is done.”

A few hours later, he walked the few blocks to his home, suffered a massive stroke, and died.

Ford’s belongings were given to his great-nephew, J. Lloyd Ford of Grand Rapids, Michigan, around 1895. The items have been kept in a vault at the Shawnee Milling Company in Shawnee, Oklahoma, since it was founded by J. Lloyd Ford in 1906.

“We wanted thes items somewhere they would really be appreciated,” said Robert L. Ford, a great-great-great-grand-nephew of Corydon Ford who is now the chairman of the Shawnee Milling Company. “They could sit in our family vault for another hundred years and not inspire anybody, but the job of a teacher is to inspire. I can’t help but think he would want these items here as inspiration to current students.”

Ford’s items are on display in the lobby of the Ford Auditorium, which is named for another Ford family — that of automobile fame.

Read more about Corydon Ford on the Medical School’s list of past deans.

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