Montana State University

Medical history conference set for April 18 at MSU

March 26, 2011 -- MSU News Service

Subscribe to MSU Newsletters

Bobcat Bulletin is a weekly e-newsletter designed to bring the most recent and relevant news about Montana State University directly to friends and neighbors via email. Visit Bobcat Bulletin.

MSU Today e-mail brings you news and events on campus thrice weekly during the academic year. Visit the MSU Today calendar.

MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN - Leprosy in a former Montana legislator, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and rural surgery are among the topics to be discussed at this year's medical history conference at Montana State University.

Other topics will include country doctors, the importance of medical history to contemporary medicine, the legacy of a Montana pathologist and medical entomology on a research frontier.

The 11th annual Medical History of the West Conference will run from 1:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 18, in the Great Room of the MSU Foundation. The building is located at the corner of Eleventh Avenue and Lincoln Road on the MSU campus.

Leprosy in Montana is an oddity, according to Ellen Baumler, interpretive historian at the Montana Historical Society and one of several speakers at the upcoming conference.

Baumler will discuss Orville Willett, a legislator from Mineral County, a veteran of the Spanish American War and a newlywed who was diagnosed with leprosy in 1917. The Montana Legislature reacted to his diagnosis with new legislation, Baumler said. Willett and his wife were quarantined for 10 years in a cabin outside of Alberton. Willett was eventually moved to a federal facility in Louisiana where he died from the leprosy he caught in the Philippines.

"It's a story that really has never been told," Baumler said.

Other conference speakers will include Herbert Swick, a research professor at The University of Montana and a clinical associate professor in the WWAMI medical program; Todd Savitt, a medical historian whose research focuses on African Americans, the American South, and Montana; Pierce Mullen, emeritus professor of history at MSU; Jane Shelby, executive director of health sciences at MSU; Darwin Lehfeldt, who served as a pathologist in the Bozeman Pathological Laboratory; Charles Rinker, director of Surgical Quality and Patient Safety at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital; and long-time pathologist Volney Steele.

Mullen said this year's conference honors Steele and focuses on some of the topics in Steele's books, titled "Blister, Bleed and Purge: A History of Medicine on the American Frontier" and "Wellington Rankin: His Family, Life and Times."

"Vol has always been interested in the American West - its history, its present status and its future," Mullen said. "He really cares about medical education and broadening the intellectual world of young physicians and surgeons."

The medical history conference is sponsored by the Volney Steele Endowment for the Study of Medical History, WWAMI Medical Education at MSU, and MSU's Department of History and Philosophy.

The conference is free and open to the public, but those planning to attend are asked to notify the WWAMI office by April 8. They can send a note to the WWAMI Medical Education Program at 308 Leon Johnson Hall, P.O. Box 173080, Bozeman, MT 59717-3080; call (406) 994-4411; fax (406) 994-4398 or send an e-mail to

Visitor parking is available across the street from the Foundation building. Hangtags must be bought for $2.50 at the kiosk on South Seventh Avenue and Grant Street or at the Huffman Building on Kagy Boulevard and South Seventh Avenue.