Many people honor the death of a loved one by placing flowers on their grave or making a small donation to a cause the loved one was passionate about.
But Catherine MacDonald Simpson took a different route.
After her husband, Thomas Henry Simpson, died from pernicious anemia — a blood disorder caused by vitamin B-12 deficiency — Simpson funded the construction of a half-million dollar institute dedicated to fighting the disease that led to the loved one’s death.
In 1923, Mrs. Simpson donated more than $400,000 to the University to establish the Thomas Henry Simpson Memorial Institute for Medical Research. The building was designed and constructed by architect Albert Kahn, who designed numerous campus buildings, including Angell Hall.
The three-story institute is located on South Observatory Street, just across from the Alice Lloyd Residence Hall, and features a lobby, offices, laboratories, a library and a conference room. The third floor was originally used as a treatment ward that could hold up to ten patients.
While the third floor ward is now gone, the building itself remains in similar condition, featuring the same entrance hall of walnut paneling. The entrance hall now showcases various glass-encased historical medical artifacts dating as far back as the mid-18th Century. These artifacts include various bloodletting tools and devices used in pernicious anemia treatment.
While Mrs. Simpson’s initial focus for the institute was to study pernicious anemia, she hoped that the center would eventually expand to include the study of other disorders. The first instance of this occurred in 1962, when it expanded to include the study of other blood and neoplastic diseases, according to documentation from a Nov. 1962 Board of Regents meeting.
Though there is still no cure for pernicious anemia, the institute has made many advancements in treatment including the development of an important therapeutic compound, progression toward the isolation of vitamin B-12, and the use of blood and blood substitutes in the treatment of shock. The institute has also made progress toward the treatment of leukemia and other blood-related diseases.
Today, the institute is home to the Center for the History of Medicine, part of the Department of Internal Medicine and the Historical Center for the Health Services. The organization works to study the “history, culture and philosophy of medicine” and “to place contemporary medical dilemmas in context with past events,” according to its mission statement.