Dean History: 1950s- Dean - WI

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Dean Medical Group's History

A Tour Through The Decades

  • Dr. Tom Geppert, right, managed the iron lungs at St. Mary’s Hospital.
  • A glance back at an OR (circa 1950s). From the early days when Dr. Joe Dean would operate on kitchen tables, to the operating room at St. Mary’s Hospital decades later, modern spaces were much better equipped to handle the demands and rigors of surgery.
  • Dean Clinic is marked by a uniquely-shaped sign.
  • After leaving Dean Clinic, Dr. Hart Van Riper went on to shepherd development of vaccines in the late 1950s that wiped out polio in the U.S.
  • The iron lung was the latest innovation to treat polio patients at St. Mary’s Hospital. In the 1950s, most Madison and Dane County polio patients received their treatments at St. Mary’s.
  • Dr. Hart Van Riper, center, administers polio vaccines in the 1950s.
  • The 1952 medical school graduation photo of Dr. Mary Underriner. Dean Clinic’s first female physician, she joined the staff in 1953.
  • Dean Clinic’s 1953 letterhead, which includes its first female physician Dr. Mary Underriner.

The Polio Epidemic, Expansion, and Plans to Move

“In the second half of the twentieth century, knowledge in medicine exploded. Research produced major advances in our understanding of the cause of illness, and the number of therapeutic interventions that could actually change the courses of diseases dramatically increased. Rigorous comparison of the outcomes that might be expected with various treatment strategies became possible and even expected. Evidence from research became possible and even expected. Evidence from research began to matter to doctors and patients.”

Thomas Lee, Eugene Braunwald and the Emergence of Modern Medicine

The victory of the United States and the Allies in World War II revealed the enormous capability and heights the nation’s efforts could reach, particularly when aided by science and technology. In medicine, a new optimism or “modern view” appeared at the beginning of the 1950s. Its premise was that by understanding human physiology and technological advances, the course of diseases could be predicted and future outcomes could be changed.

Leading efforts to stop polio

The successful battle with the polio epidemic in the 1950s and 1960s exemplified the sound basis for this optimism, and Dean Clinic physicians were in the frontlines of combat, both nationally and locally.

Former Dean pediatrician, Dr. Hart Van Riper, was the medical director of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (March of Dimes), who led the development of vaccines that essentially wiped out polio in the United States. Throughout the epidemic, Dr. Thomas Geppert managed the iron lungs at St. Mary’s Hospital, which received most of Madison and Dane County’s polio patients. Dean’s Dr. William Bartlett helped organize the mass oral vaccine program in Dane County.

New staff additions

Dean Clinic grew and diversified during the 1950s on a course parallel to the advances in science and technology. The decade began with the hiring of Dean’s first radiologist, Dr. Robert Farrell, in 1950 and was followed two years later with the addition of Dean’s first urologist, Dr. Arthur Sonneland.

Dean’s first female physician, Dr. Mary Underrinner, joined the staff in 1953 and added expertise in psychiatry to the growing clinic. The decade ended with the addition with Dean’s first cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, Dr. Richard Botham, who would spearhead Dean’s tremendous expansion into southern Wisconsin during subsequent decades.

Dean family changes

The participation of Dean family members in the clinic also changed during the 1950s. Dr. Joseph C. Dean Jr. (“J.C.”), the son of Dean Clinic founder Dr. Joseph Dean, retired in 1955 after 23 years of practice as a surgeon. Dr. David Dean, the son of retired Dean physician Dr. James P. Dean and brother of Dean obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. James L. Dean, joined the clinic as a surgeon in 1955. He would be the last member of the Dean family to join the clinic staff.

Growth and expansion

The number of physicians at the Dean Clinic doubled from seven to 14 during the 1950s. It became increasingly clear that the downtown building housing the Dean Clinic since 1929 was too small. There were too many physicians with inadequate office space and the small clinic parking lot could not accommodate the increasing number of patients.

The search for a new site resulted in the 1959 purchase of three acres of land on the 1300 block of Fish Hatchery Road, not far from St. Mary’s Hospital. After two years, construction of a new building was completed and Dean Clinic moved into the medical facilities at 1313 Fish Hatchery Road on July 4, 1961. The burgeoning Dean Clinic would soon outgrow this facility, too, and the first of several subsequent wings were added to the building over the next four years.

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