The History of MCW

A passion for new knowledge and a dedication to a healthier world inspired the founding of the Medical College of Wisconsin 125 years ago. Through research, discoveries, and treatments, countless lives across Wisconsin and around the world are being changed for the better every day.

That's why for our 125th anniversary, we are celebrating the anniversaries that truly matter – the birthdays, wedding anniversaries, graduations, and everyday milestones – that we've helped make possible over the last 125 years.



125 years of knowledge changing life

Open AllClose All
  The Beginning: An "Admirable Spirit" is Born

Dr. John Bowman's words, spoken during the medical school's first capital campaign, are as true today as they were almost eight decades ago: "The people want the very best and will have nothing second rate."

  Wisconsin's First Medical Schools

The vision of a Wisconsin medical school began to be realized in 1893 with the founding of the Wisconsin College of Physicians and Surgeons and, later that decade, the Milwaukee Medical College. In 1907, Marquette University absorbed the Milwaukee Medical College creating the Marquette University Department of Medicine/Milwaukee Medical College.

Abraham Flexner, MD, was commissioned in 1910 by the Association of American Medical Colleges to conduct a review of all U.S. medical schools because of growing concerns nationwide regarding a lack of standardization. Dr. Flexner's landmark report provided the first standards for medical education in this nation. As a result of his work, medical schools across the country were reorganized to improve the quality of medical education.

Marquette University responded by purchasing the Wisconsin College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1913. Through that acquisition and subsequent merger with Marquette's Department of Medicine/Milwaukee Medical College, a new institution was born: the Marquette University School of Medicine. Under the leadership of Louis F. Jermain, MD, the medical school's first dean, the new medical school garnered community support and ultimately received an "A" rating from the American Medical Association's Council on Medical Education; the highest level of excellence in the nation.

  Marquette University School of Medicine is Founded

On January 14, 1913, Marquette University created a separate School of Medicine. In 1918, the Marquette University School of Medicine was reorganized into a separate fiscal corporation with its own Board of Directors.

Working with a core of full-time academic scientists and clinicians, most of the school's faculty were community physicians who volunteered to teach the medical school's classes. It was under their tutelage — and more importantly their mentoring — that students at the Marquette University School of Medicine became known as outstanding clinicians; doctors with advanced skills and a special interest in patient care. It is a reputation that continues today.

The medical school trained doctors who practiced in every county of the state. Partnerships were also forged with almost every Milwaukee hospital as they became clinical training sites for medical students. As envisioned by Wisconsin's early leaders, the medical school became the center of the health care delivery system.

  Plans for a Medical Center Begin

Following World War II, medical schools were asked to play an even greater role in the nation's health care delivery system. The Marquette University School of Medicine, like its counterparts nationwide, was asked to affiliate with Milwaukee's VA Medical Center and upgrade the quality of medicine provided to the nation's returning war veterans.

Dr. John Hirschboeck, dean of the Medical School in the early 1950's, shared the commitment of the faculty and the community to maintain a strong medical school. He knew that to accomplish that goal, the medical school needed a medical center campus to house modern teaching hospitals with special commitments to teaching, research and tertiary care. In 1952, he unveiled plans for an ambitious venture: the "University Medical Center of Milwaukee," the precursor to today's Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.

Dr. Hirschboeck's vision of an academic medical center drew support from both the public and private sector. A major booster of the project was Kurtis R. Froedtert, a successful Milwaukee industrialist. Mr. Froedtert held a deep respect for medicine and medical education, and upon his death, he left much of his estate for the creation of a teaching hospital to be named Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital. Mr. Froedtert's gift helped the community realize that the dream of an academic medical center was within reach.

  The Marquette Era Ends

Financial difficulties plagued the medical school in the 1950s and '60s, and were a source of concern to Marquette University. On September 30, 1967, Marquette University terminated its sponsorship of the medical school. A corporate reorganization established the medical school as a private, freestanding institution named the Marquette School of Medicine.

Recalling the separation, Father John P. Raynor, S.J., former president of Marquette University said:

"I, who as president of Marquette University and also as president of Marquette University School of Medicine, cut the legal and juridical bonds which had connected the two institutions for more than 50 years. I must say that was the most difficult administrative decision I had to make in my 25-year tenure. However, what had to be done was done, and all in the interest of preserving and enhancing independently sponsored medical education in Milwaukee and attracting the resources needed to make the medical school the vigorous heart and core of our multi-institutional medical center."

The multi-institutional medical center described by Father Raynor is the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, the realization of Dean John Hirschboeck's vision of a "University Medical Center of Milwaukee." John Doyne, Milwaukee County executive in the mid-1960s, and Edmund Fitzgerald, Chairman of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and a member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, shared Dr. Hirschboeck's commitment to the development of an academic medical center. In a public/private partnership, they appointed a blue-ribbon task force headed by Milwaukee industrialist Joseph Heil, Sr., to study the need and potential for an academic medical center in Milwaukee.

The resulting Heil Commission Report was presented on January 14, 1967, exactly 54 years after the founding of the medical school. This report, endorsed by both county government and the Greater Milwaukee Committee, called for major public and private financing and support for a comprehensive regional medical center with the medical school as its hub.

The Heil Report served as a catalyst for new partnerships between the medical school, the business community, county government, and the state. In 1969 when the medical school's solvency was in question, the Greater Milwaukee Committee came to its support and raised more than $1 million over a three-month period.

The Heil Report also prompted the medical school's board of directors to re-examine the independent institution's role and scope. The board determined that the medical school provided statewide services and, as such, should be named to reflect its ties to all residents of Wisconsin. On October 14, 1970, the board of directors voted to rename the medical school as the Medical College of Wisconsin.

  The Medical College of Wisconsin: Establishing Local, Regional and National Prominence

The Medical College of Wisconsin began a period of extraordinary growth in 1978 when it moved to new facilities on the campus of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center (MRMC).

The campus, however, already was unfolding into a major academic medical center. On-campus facilities now include the College's Eye Institute, Curative Rehabilitation Services, the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex, Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and the Blood Research Institute of the BloodCenter of Wisconsin. Medical College faculty work at these facilities and at hospitals and clinics in the metro Milwaukee area.

After its move to the MRMC campus and establishing itself as a major referral center for tertiary care, the Medical College introduced new initiatives, including an emphasis on primary care and outpatient services, programs in inner-city and rural areas, establishment of Centers of Excellence and growth of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The Medical College, to date, has established more than 30 urban initiatives focused on a wide range of public health issues.

During the past 20 years, on-campus construction has been seemingly non-stop. New Medical College facilities include the MACC Fund Research Center, the Medical College Clinics at Froedtert, the fourth floor addition to the Medical Education Building and, in the fall of 1998, the opening of the Medical College Cancer Center and the Health Research Center, the new front door to the College. The $36 million Health Research Center focuses in large part on medical informatics and genetic research. It also features a 30,000-square foot addition to the library, a 312-seat auditorium, conference facilities, a new bookstore and new offices for the Alumni Association.

Undoubtedly one of the most major campus developments has been the emergence of Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital as the only adult, acute-care hospital on campus. The Medical College's 60-year partnership with John L. Doyne Hospital (previously known as Milwaukee County Medical Complex and Milwaukee County General Hospital) ended in 1995 after the Milwaukee County Board chose to become a purchaser, not a provider, of health care.

All of this evolved from the tradition of excellence born in 1893 with the founding of the Wisconsin College of Physicians and Surgeons. The tradition continued with the formation of the Marquette University School of Medicine in 1913. In 1970, the school was transformed into the Medical College of Wisconsin — restructured as a private, freestanding college, independent from Marquette. Its commitment to excellence, however, has never wavered.

  History of the Medical College of Wisconsin/Marquette Medical Alumni Association

As noted in the history on the College, the old Wisconsin College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Milwaukee College of Medicine eventually became the Marquette University School of Medicine, which eventually became the Medical College of Wisconsin. While the names have changed, it is still the same school – the only private medical school in Wisconsin.

In 1925 the Marquette University Medical Alumni Association was incorporated and it came under the umbrella of the Marquette University General Alumni Association.

In 1967, when Marquette severed its ties with the medical school, the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association was faced with the decision of where the Association fit administratively. An independent Alumni Association was established to incorporate the graduates from the Wisconsin College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Marquette University School of Medicine, and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

The name "Marquette-Medical College of Wisconsin Alumni Association" was selected and in 1989 the name was changed to "Medical College of Wisconsin-Marquette Medical Alumni Association." On January 1, 1996, the Association changed to a non-dues-paying organization with the hopes that more alumni would feel a part of the organization and become more involved with the Association's programs and activities. Another important change came with the approval of revised bylaws on May 10, 1996. The revision welcomed all alumni as members of the Association. This includes those alumni who received their MD, PhD, master's, Master of Public Health or did their residency training at the College or one of our affiliated hospitals. The Alumni Association is represented on the College's Board of Trustees and a variety of other committees, including the admissions committee.

To contact the MCW Alumni Office, call (414) 955-4781 or email us.

Other Historical Resources

J.M. Cerletty, MD – Our heritage: Medical education in Milwaukee (PDF) (2004, Wisconsin Medical Society)

Discoveries: 1930s – Current

Honorary Degree Recipients

MCW Libraries Digital Collections (digitized reproductions of materials from MCW's past)