- Welcome to the Department of Surgery
- UTHSCSA and the Department of Surgery historical timeline, including photos
- Dr. Arthur McFee's history of the Department of Surgery
- Dr. Arthur McFee's history of the Health Science Center
- Dr. Arthur McFee's history of the City of San Antonio in relation
to UTHSCSA and the Dept of Surgery
- July 12, 2004 lecture / presentation by Arthur McFee, MD, Professor Emeritus, UTHSCSA Department of Surgery (very large RealVideo file - 103mb)
- Past Chairs and Faculty
History of the development of San Antonio as relates to the University and the Department of Surgery
With gratitude to Arthur S. McFee, MD, Professor Emeritus
UTHSCSA Department of Surgery
American history did not start with the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. It is a very complex continuum of colonization, conquest and recolonization reaching back many millennia. Large and often very complex urban centers existed for centuries in the Americas well before 1492 and were the result of native conquest and adaptation. Spanish conquest was prominent in the first half of the sixteenth century; monks from institutions in Mexico at Zacatecas and Queretaro were busy in missions in San Antonio five decades before Junipero Serra from the same institutions introduced grapes to California in 1785. The cornerstone of the San Antonio deValero Mission (The Alamo) was laid in 1744; and that of the San Fernando Cathedral shortly thereafter. Not on a direct route between any two points in the United States, the city is however strategically located. It is a focus where the routes from Mexico, all of South Texas and the Gulf Coast converge naturally.
By 1836, it had become a flourishing town of greater then 5000 souls. That year saw the fall of the Alamo and the battle of San Jacinto by which Texas gained independence from Mexico. After this war, in which San Antonio was taken and retaken at least five times it was left as a burnt out shell of approximately 800 people. In1849, Rutherford B. Hayes, then a young journalist, described it as a 'ruined, old Spanish town'. This far from prophetic statement was made at the onset of a period of rapid growth. By 1880, the city had grown to over thirty-thousand. In the next 40 years, it increased six to seven fold to over 200,000. In 1892, it passed Galveston as Texas' largest city; and just recently, we surpassed Dallas by a narrow margin as the second largest city in the state. In the past few weeks, we became the seventh largest American city.
This city has not been immune to urban problems even though its growth, based on several pillars has been fairly steady. An especially enlightening and easily readable small volume: 'Deep in the heart of San Antonio; Land and Life in South Texas' by Dr. Char Miller, a professor of history at Trinity University, chronicles these issues very neatly. The pillars of our growth have been diverse: Ranching-cattle; agriculture-cotton; oil; real-estate; the military; tourism; and mostly recently health related endeavors. Each has been more or less prominent at a given time over the past century.
The problems have been those of any major polyglot city as the haves and have - nots become more sharply divided. Well over one half the population is Hispanic; and this segment is growing. A single anecdote of a personal nature indicates much of the social temper of the city in the first six or seven decades of the twentieth century in what was by any standard a rather unsophisticated place. Our hospital was built with no ICU's. We fashioned one for Surgery at the south end of the 7th and 8th floors, but it was only a patched up job. In 1972, I was able to secure funds to build our 2nd SICU adjacent to the operating room where outpatient surgery is now. It was necessary to approach private donors for funding for the equipment. One such had been the mayor of San Antonio and was the head of a large savings and loan company - now defunct . His reply personally to me was 'money - for Mexicans' in an aghast tone of voice. I am fairly certain that racism was not a part of this man's creed. He had been brought up to regard this segment of society as a breed apart and simply not to be treated otherwise; and no money was forthcoming.
In the time that we have been here - nearly four decades much of this attitude has changed. Social change, here as everywhere, is inevitable but not rapid. Flood control in the city for instance was by no means uniform after the Olmos dam was completed in 1927 and it was a real problem in 1998. Certain areas of the city did not have dependable or uniform water or electricity till the 1950's; and certainly vast differences still exist among school districts.
Nevertheless, San Antonio has evolved into a major metropolitan area. Some of the charm of smaller or more collected communities remains while much of the small town attraction has faded; it is a necessary price for growth, but it is safe to say that San Antonio has a robust economy large enough to support a major metropolitan entity. Medicine is one of the most recent and most important entries in this support group.
The lessons of this growth are those of every developing community skewed to a very definite population preponderance. Obviously tolerance is imperative; education will pay off in development; opportunity must be made available widely.