An American Medical Student in Germany, 1929-1934

By , October 15, 2010
First Page of Letter

First page of letter from Chase to Morrison, May 23, 1930

While processing the papers of Dr. Hyman Morrison (1881-1963), staff at the Center for the History of Medicine found a cache of letters sent to Dr. Morrison by a student studying medicine in Germany between 1929 and 1934. Dr. Morrision had a wide personal and professional correspondence and kept in touch with students, patients, and other doctors often for many years.

The student, Louis Chase, moved between Berlin and Munich, beginning and ending his German medical education in Berlin in 1929 and 1934. During his time in Europe, Chase travelled through Germany, Austria, and Hungary, visiting Vienna, Budapest, and Sofia where, according to his letters, he hated the food but loved the music. He hoped to return to the United States and study at Tufts Medical School – soliciting a recommendation from Dr. Morrison – but was not accepted.

Chase was extremely adept at recognizing and commenting on contemporary German political rhetoric and noticing the tensions and potential for tensions between native German and “foreign,” often Jewish American, students at the unversities in Berlin and Munich. In December 1930, for instance, Chase wrote of an influx of American students: “Of the newcomers to Berlin, all are Jewish, with the exception of one Harvard negro—two or three from Boston, many from New York and its immediate vicinity.  … Actually there have taken place a number of disagreements, happily only verbal, among the students; a protest against the ‘incessant, loud English-speaking carried on in the Anatomy laboratories’ has already been filed by some reactionary native students.”

Chase recounted stories of Nazi rallies – street marches against the release of the film of All Quiet on the Western Front – and sent Nazi propaganda back to Dr. Morrison as items of interest, noting that the leaflet he sent on was a mild example of the type and promising to send something more inflammatory next time. Chase’s last letter, dated July 20, 1934 from Berlin, discusses his plans to take the German state medical examinations and collect a “basketful” of recommendations from his professors in Germany to ensure his medical career before returning to America.

Chase’s letters are a window to pre-World War II Germany, with Chase offering commentary on the development of the nationalist movement in Germany, the rise of the National Socialist party, and the popularity of Hitlerite politics as well as on the differences between American and German medical education.

Hyman Morrison was a visiting physician at Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, a clinical professor of medicine at Tufts College Medical School (now Tufts University School of Medicine) in Medford, Massachusetts, and Chief of Medicine at Boston State Hospital, Massachusetts. Morrison’s research included extensive work contesting the diagnosis of “Hebraic debility,” tuberculosis of the appendix, and the life and work of physicians Reginald Heber Fitz (1843-1913) and Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866). He was born in October 1881 in Vilna, Russia. He emigrated with his family to the United States in 1893. Morrison attended English High School in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, and, after graduation, was accepted to Harvard University. He received an A.B. degree with high distinction from Harvard University in 1905 and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1908.

The Hyman Morrsion Papers were the gift of his grandchildren, Ruth Smullin and Joseph Spivack. Preparation of the collection for research access was funded by Peter Tishler, M.D. and the work completed by Hanna Clutterbuck. The full guide to the collection can be viewed at

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