By Christina Verheul, Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine

Students and researchers at Washington’s newest medical school will now have a connection to centuries of medical history and research thanks to the generous gift of a fellow physician.

Dr. Guenter Risse, a physician, medical historian and award-winning author, gifted the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine with his personal library of 1,500 historical medical texts and scholarly works. The library includes an 18thcentury collection displayed in an antique bookcase and a collection of historical medical memorabilia and pharmaceuticals. The gift is valued at more than $25,000.

“Instead of dividing the books and gifting them to numerous regional and national institutions, I conceived the idea of donating them together to the newly established Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine,” said Dr. Risse. “I am pleased to know that my gift will make a valuable contribution and become an essential resource.”

The books serve as a vast wealth of the history of medicine, science and disease, while the collection of medical memorabilia and pharmaceuticals reinforces the rich history found in the antique texts. The pharmaceutical collection includes unopened pharmaceuticals produced and distributed in the U.S. between 1900 and 1940. Still in their original boxes and packaging with seals and labels intact, the bottles are supplemented with a corresponding collection of ephemera, such as promotional brochures explaining the indication and actions of the remedies.

Dr. Guenter Risse standing next to a book case.
Dr. Guenter Risse

“My hope is that the collection will allow future researchers to study the chemical composition of the remedies and assess their pharmacological action while providing valuable insights into self-administered medical treatments popular in early 20thcentury rural America, notably regarding the practice of homeopathy,” said Dr. Risse.

Jonathan Potter, director of the Spokane Academic Library, received the initial call from Dr. Risse expressing interest in donating his collection.

“I’ve had calls like this at least a dozen times, but this one grabbed my attention because of the age of the collection and because of how respected and prolific Dr. Risse is, which is exemplified by the fact that he amassed this stuff as part of doing his scholarly work,” said Potter.

Steve Grossman, assistant dean of outreach and career development, and Patti Grossman, clinical education specialist and clinical assistant professor, also participated in the acquisition of the gift, forging a relationship with Dr. Risse through their shared passion for medical education.

“Patti and I were convinced that such a monumental collection would educate, enlighten and allow our students to visualize their professional roots and remain humble and respectful of those who built the foundation of the art and practice we now enjoy,” said Steve Grossman. “The names associated with the diseases they will study are silent testimonies to lifetimes of inquiry and hard work – names we should know, respect and not forget.”

While the 18thcentury books and antique bookcase are viewable on the fifth floor of the Spokane Academic Center, the rest of the collection is in archival storage for cataloguing. Discussions are underway to determine how the materials will be displayed and made available to students and researchers for study.

“We are preserving a legacy, and it’s really nice to have something that’s an anchor back in time at such a new medical school,” said Potter.