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Wed, 02.29.1888

Franklin McLean, Doctor, and Activist born

Franklin C. Mclean

*Franklin McLean was born on this date in 1888. He was a white-American doctor and Civil Rights activist.

Born in Maroa, Illinois, Franklin Chambers McLean was the son of William T. and Margaret Crocker McLean. McLean came from a family of physicians; he received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1907, his M.D. from Rush Medical College in 1910, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in 1912 and 1915, respectively. While in graduate study, he interned at Cook County Hospital, taught pharmacology at the University of Oregon, and also studied for a time at the universities of Graz and Vienna.

In 1914, McLean joined the staff of the Rockefeller Institute in New York and formed close relationships with Alfred E. Cohn, Donald D. Van Slyke, and Rufus Cole and met Abraham Flexner and Simon Flexner. All these men were concerned with developments in medical education and research and supported the “full time” plan, in which professors were salaried and worked full time in the medical school instead of supporting themselves in private practice. It was with these ideas in mind that in 1916 McLean was placed in charge of the Peking Union Medical College, which was sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation in an attempt to make medical training available in China comparable to the best in the U.S. and Europe.

After this, McLean joined the Army Medical Corps during World War I. He returned to china in 1919 to supervise the building of the hospital and laboratories. Resigning his administrative duties in 1920, he remained as chairman and professor of medicine until 1923, when he returned to the U.S. While in China, he met Helen Vincent, also a medical doctor and they married in 1923.  Soon after, McLean directed the new medical school being planned for the University of Chicago operated on the full time plan and intended mainly to train researchers and to promote scholarly investigations by its faculty. The medical school opened in 1927 with McLean serving as vice-chairman of the faculty and chairman of the Department of Medicine. In 1929 he left to assume the title of Director of University Clinics and Assistant to the President in Medical Affairs.

In 1930, McLean became Dean of a division for the clinical departments. The school made auspicious beginnings and the hospitals continued to expand, with McLean playing a key role in the building of Bobs Roberts, Chicago Lying-In, and McElwee-Hicks Hospitals.  Financially, however, the school was in trouble because of the depression and a lack of sufficient endowments. The full time system was a heavy burden and although McLean secured several large donations, including $500,000 from Julius Rosenwald, Albert Lasker, and Max Epstein, they did not meet the increasing deficits. His forthright manner made him the focal point of policy disputes, and also led to a number of personal grievances among the faculty members.

In 1932, McLean was forced to resign and offered a professorship in the Department of Physiology. He made this transition easily and went on to contribute to important advances in the study of electrolyte and mineral metabolism, radiation biology, and the physiology of bone. During World War II he directed the Toxicity laboratory, which conducted experiments for the Army on chemical warfare agents. McLean was made Professor Emeritus in 1953, but continued his work, which included publishing, with Marshall R. Urist, three editions of Bone: An Introduction to the Physiology of Skeletal Tissue in 1955, 1961, and 1968.

McLean also made life-long efforts to aid African American students who desired medical training.  He served as a trustee of the Julius Rosenwald Fund and Fisk University, and was closely associated with Provident Hospital and National Medical Fellowships, Inc. He also trained a number of students, co-published books and articles, and inspired loyal sentiments in many of them. Franklin C. McLean died on September 10, 1968, at Billings Hospital.

University of Chicago

To become a Doctor


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