The Memoirs Of Frederick T. Gates


My intimate, confidential relationships with Mr. John D. Rockefeller in New York City began in September, 1891.

In connection with the founding of the University of Chicago I had become well acquainted with Mr. Rockefeller. In March of 1891, he told me that the pressure of appeals for philanthropic causes on his time and strength had become too great to be borne; that he was unable to give away money with satisfaction without inquiry as to the worthiness of the cause; that these inquiries were now consuming more of his time and energy than his business, and indeed injuring his health, and that either he must shift the burden to other shoulders, or he must cease giving entirely.

He invited me to come to New York and assist him in his benevolent work by taking the interviews and inquiries and reporting results for his action. I accepted Mr. Rockefeller’s invitation, and after consultation at home informed him that I would report to him in New York, ready for duty, in September following.

Origin of the Rockefeller Institute

Soon after I entered Mr. Rockefeller’s private office in New York, the question of medical instruction under the auspices of the University of Chicago came up for decision. The president of the university, Dr. William Rainey Harper, wanted a medical school dedicated to the regular practice only. Mr. Rockefeller was unyielding in his insistence that the university should be associated only with a medical institution founded by the university itself, representing no school of medicine, but purely scientific in its research and instruction.

Mr. Rockefeller intimated at the time that he would be prepared to foster such an institution as a department of the university. The difference of view between the Chicago authorities and Mr. Rockefeller proved to be irreconcilable. The university proceeded to absorb Rush Medical College, then representing the regular school only, and the subject was dropped. Thus early, however, had Mr. Rockefeller disclosed his interest in medicine as a science as distinguished from medicine as a school.

Thus the matter rested for four years. But in the summer of 1897 I prepared and transmitted to Mr. Rockefeller, who was as usual spending his summer in Cleveland, a memorandum earnestly recommending the founding by him in America of an institution for scientific medical research on the general lines of the work of Koch in Berlin and the Pasteur Institut in Paris.

Mr. Rockefeller entertained the suggestion hospitably, as indeed I had anticipated, and encouraged further and detailed inquiry. It was in this way that my name became associated with the origin of the great Institute of Medicine Research subsequently founded, and so munificently endowed and equipped by Mr. Rockefeller.

In the latter half (1884-1888) of my pastorate in Minneapolis, there had been in my congregation several practicing physicians as well as the usual quota of faith healers, Christian Scientists, and medical nondescripts, each not unwilling to have an encouraging word here and there from the pastor. I was actively canvassed, however, only by the homeopaths. They not only put me on the mailing list of their central propaganda in St. Louis, but they insisted on my reading Dr. Hanneman’s great masterpiece known as The New Testament of Homeopathy .

Homeopathy was simply a reaction and protest against the powerful and injurious drugs often administered by the regular practices. Moreover, it was impossible in any community to discover with the naked eye any statistical advantage to either school.

To me the inference was obvious that neither school was having much effect on the health of the community, and that if there existed a science of medicine, that science was not being taught or practiced in America.

I used to meet occasionally the ablest and most prominent physician in Minneapolis, a man of the regular school, who sometimes had patients in my congregation. He described to me once with easy frankness the actual character of his practice.

He said that in ninety of every hundred of his calls, the patient would have recovered just as certainly and comfortably without him. Of the remaining ten he could make nine perhaps more comfortable and could throw certain protections about the patient, but the disease must run its course to recovery or fatality even with the most watchful care. There remained only the one case in a hundred perhaps in which medical science as commonly practiced among us knew how to effect a cure.


I may say here that I have ever since been in the habit of telling this story to physicians trained earlier than 1900, and without exception found it confirmed by their experience. And so, when I entered Mr. Rockefeller’s private office in 1893,1 had been for years convinced that medicine as generally taught and practiced in the United States was practically futile.