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Exhibit chronicles 100 years of medical education at UW-Madison

November 14, 2007 By Gwen Evans

For a school that began in an attic, the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) has done rather well during the last 100 years.

Skeletons in the Attic, Life in the Atrium

“Skeletons in the Attic, Life in the Atrium: 100 Years of Medical Education at UW–Madison” is currently showing at the Ebling Library for the Health Sciences through June 30.

In the fall of 1907, eight students interested in becoming doctors began their studies in the new College of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, meeting for classes in the attic of Science Hall on Park Street. The two-year curriculum consisted entirely of basic science classes. A handful of faculty members, either "borrowed" from the College of Letters and Science or recently hired for the new college, taught the students anatomy, physiology, physiological chemistry, pathology and pharmacology.

Today, the four-year curriculum at the SMPH emphasizes problem-solving and lifelong learning along with clinical experiences. The instructional facilities have come up in the world, too. Classes are held in the new state-of-the-art Health Sciences Learning Center, and clinical instruction takes place in the nationally recognized UW Hospital and Clinics and many other facilities.

To honor and celebrate the journey, the UW–Madison campus will acknowledge the school’s first 100 years with a number of centennial events, including a special exhibition of photos, documents and artifacts that chronicles the school’s beginnings in an attic to its current position of national acclaim.

"Skeletons in the Attic, Life in the Atrium: 100 Years of Medical Education at UW–Madison" is currently showing at the Ebling Library for the Health Sciences at 750 Highland Ave. in the display area in the Historical Reading Room and the third-floor gallery.

Vintage photos, mainly from University Archives and the Wisconsin Medical Alumni Association, portray the school’s continued commitment to teaching, research and clinical training.

There were plenty of bumps and bruises along the way. There were problems with building Wisconsin General Hospital (the current Medical Sciences Center), turf battles between deans and clinicians, difficulties with legislators supporting a two-, then a four-year school and the drama of two world wars that impacted student life. The exhibit also shows that women, though in small numbers overall, have always been part of the school as students, faculty and researchers.

To display as many of the images as possible and take advantage of the wealth of available memorabilia, photos will be rotated in and out of the exhibit, so more than one visit is recommended.

The public is invited to an opening reception for the exhibit from 3:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29, in the Historical Reading Room on the third floor of Ebling Library.

"Skeletons in the Attic" runs through June 30 and is open during library hours: 7:30 a.m.-11:45 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 7:30 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Saturdays; and 10 a.m.-11:45 p.m. Sundays.

For more information, contact the show curator, Micaela Sullivan-Fowler, (608) 262-2402 or