Montana State University

MSU to host 16th annual medical history conference focused on practicing medicine in the early West

April 26, 2016 -- MSU News Service

The WWAMI Medical Education Program at MSU will hold its 16th annual medical history conference, “Medicine Under the Big Sky,” in honor of the late Dr. Volney Steele, on May 2 in the Museum of the Rockies’ Hager Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Ashley Siemer.

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Tel: (406) 994-4571

Practicing medicine in the early West will be the theme of the 16th annual Medical History Conference to be held from 1-7 p.m. Monday, May 2, at Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies.

The free public event, “Medicine Under the Big Sky,” is held this year in honor of the late Dr. Volney Steele, who helped to establish and fund the yearly conference for students and the larger community. Among other presentations will be an homage to Steele at 4 p.m., “Tradition, Medical Practice and Your Future as a Doctor: One Man’s Example,” with a eulogy by Pierce Mullen, which will close the program.

The conference will begin at 1 p.m. with an introduction and welcome, followed directly by “Medicine, Midwives and Mothers: Childbirth in the North American West,” presented by Jennifer Hill. At 1:50 p.m., Senator Diane Sands will present “As American as Apple Pie: Illegal Abortion in Montana, 1880-1973.” Following a brief intermission, Todd Savitt will present “Practicing Medicine in late 19th Century Rural Montana: Dr. Charles McNulty of Virginia City,” at 3:20 p.m. There will be a reception following the memorial for Dr. Steele at 5:15 p.m.

Hill holds a doctorate in American studies. Her research focuses on reproductive history, women in the American West and the organizing, arranging and managing of museums. She is currently working on a book documenting the delivery experiences of women in the North American West.

Sands, a native Montanan, is currently serving as a state senator. She has more than 50 years of experience as an activist and historian. Sands has served as director of the Montana Women’s History Project and is retired from the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, where she coordinated the World War II history of the Fort Missoula alien detention camp. In 1986, she received the Humanities Montana Governor’s Award.

Savitt, a medical historian whose research focuses on African-Americans, the American South and Montana, has written on the early history of St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula and on a physician who performed abortions in Helena. In 1994, he served as visiting scholar at the Institute of Medicine and Humanities in Missoula, and has served as assistant dean of diversity in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, where he currently teaches.

Mullen is a native Nebraskan and Air Force veteran who taught history of science and European history at MSU from 1963-1996. He is currently a Lewis and Clark Elderhostel leader and a member of Wonderlust. He is also active with faculty retirement groups.

The conference is free and open to the public, though participants are asked to register to aid in planning and for future conference mailing lists.

To register, email with the following information: first and last name and number of people attending.

The conference is sponsored by the MSU WWAMI Medical Education Program, with support from the Volney Steele Endowment Fund at MSU Alumni Foundation.

For more information, see, or contact Ashley Siemer, (406) 994-4411 or

Contact: Ashley Siemer, MSU WWAMI program manager, (406) 994-4411 or