- Historic Sites
The Memoirs Of Frederick T. Gates
April 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 3
It was not until after several years of the complete failure of their system of scattered subventions that the medical gentlemen ventured timidly to organize an institute of research and give it a local habitation and a name. Several competent research workers were found in America, but perhaps more were drawn from Europe. Dr. Simon Flexner was placed in charge and under his direction the institute was from the first highly useful and successful.
I hope it may never be forgotten that it is to Dr. William H. Welch that we owe the priceless suggestion that Dr. Flexner be made the director of the institute. The nomination was made in 1903 at the founding of the institute, Dr. Flexner being then forty years of age, at the maturity of his powers and already famous for important and successful research. These two gentlemen, Doctors Flexner and Welch, men of the highest attainments and widest acquaintance in research in this country and Europe, organized the institute, selecting in collaboration the first board of scientific directors and the original staff.
Dr. Flexner immediately developed administrative ability of the highest order, while at the same time pursuing his researches with as much zeal and success as if they had been his sole pursuit. It is nothing but simple truth to say that the Rockefeller Institute has not been less fortunate in its great administrator than in its great founder.
One day I chanced to be walking down Broadway with President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard. We were talking about the Rockefeller Institute and I ventured to confess to him that to me the institute was the most interesting thing in the world. “Nothing,” said I, “is to me so exciting, so fascinating as the work the institute is doing.”
Dr. Eliot stopped short in the street and turned to me and said with emphasis and emotion, “I myself feel precisely so. The Rockefeller Institute is to me the most interesting thing in this world.”
That statement from him is significant. Of course, Dr. Eliot could know little, if anything, of the technique of the work. Certainly it was not the technique that interested him; it was those great, underlying, general considerations which give peculiar value to medical research and which make an irresistable appeal to a layman, even though he can know nothing of the technicalities of the daily experimentation.
Do not smile if I say that I often think of the institute as a sort of theological seminary. But if there be over us all the Sum of All, and that Sum conscious—a conscious, intelligent Being—and if that Being has any favorites on this little planet, I must believe that those favorites are made up of that ever-enlarging group of men and women who are most intimately and in very truth studying Him and His ways with men.
That is the work of the institute. In these sacred rooms He is whispering His secrets. To these men He is opening up the mysterious depths of His Being. There have been times when, as I have looked through these microscopes, I have been stricken with speechless awe. I have felt that I was gazing with unhallowed eyes into the secret places of the Most High.
I say if God looks down on this world and has any favorites, it must be the men who are studying Him, who are working every day, with limited intelligence and in the darkness—for clouds and darkness are round about Him—and feeling their way into His heart.
As medical research goes on, therefore, it will find out and promulgate, as an unforeseen by-product of its work, new moral laws and new social laws—new definitions of what is right and wrong in our relations with each other. Medical research will educate the human conscience in new directions and point out new duties. It will make us sensitive to new moral distinctions. It will teach nobler conceptions of our social relations and of the God who is over us all. Work may be doing in the institute far more important than we dream, for the ethics and the religion of the future. Theology is already being reconstructed in the light of science, and that reconstruction is one of the most important of the services which scientific research is performing for humanity.
The University of Chicago (financed largely by Mr. Rockefeller) opened in the fall of 1892, one year after my removal to New York. Dr. Harper’s plans for the university were magnificent, indeed almost limitless in scope, and ever expanding. They involved, however, some valuable reforms in higher education.
Our charter, drawn by ourselves, had provided for limitless expansion, but I need not say that it did not of itself finance limitless expansion. It was no objection to Dr. Harper’s scheme of university organization that when, if ever, it could be put into full operation, funds would be required for campus, buildings, apparatus, and endowment, far in excess of those of any other American university of the time.
To this, Mr. Rockefeller did not object. The plans evoked approval in educational circles, and gave Dr. Harper just occasion for pride. They were boldly but well conceived, and with some changes have worked well. The whole Northwest, irrespective of creed, was looking to the new institution for educational leadership. If we were broad and hospitable, the field of the university would become limitless in possibility.