From coast to Kansas

When Dr. Sudler left a career in the East for the University of Kansas School of Medicine, he changed not only his life but the history of his new state. 

Dr. Sudler
Dr. Sudler’s 1921 University of Kansas School of Medicine yearbook picture. Photo courtesy of the University of Kansas Medical Center Archives.

In 1905, Dr. Mervin T. Sudler shocked his friends and family by leaving a thriving medical career in the east for a teaching position in Kansas. Dr. Sudler was undaunted and invited the challenge of shaping a medical school in its infancy. Dr. Sudler joined the University of Kansas School of Medicine for its first semester as the new Professor of Anatomy and Dean of the Scientific Department. Over the next 49 years he left his mark on the school and also on Lawrence, Kansas City, and the state of Kansas. 

From the start the medical school faced an uphill battle. Doctors questioned the school’s credibility. Funding from the Kansas State Legislature was inadequate. Not enough staff had been hired. The school was divided between two locations. After completing their first two years of training at KU’s Lawrence campus, many students chose to finish their degree out of state. 

Students preferred to switch schools rather than suffer two years of clinical training at KU’s Rosedale Campus near Kansas City, Kansas. Students and staff who dreaded walking up a steep incline to reach the building nicknamed the site “Goat Hill.” Located on land donated by a local doctor, “Goat Hill” would prove to be one of Dr. Sudler’s greatest challenges. The hilly setting left no room to expand the 35-bed hospital. Critics complained teachers lacked modern training and the hospital was too close to Missouri to serve the needs of Kansans. 

By 1911 Dr. Sudler was effectively running the troubled school, while the official head, Dean Samuel Crumbine, worked in Topeka handling political matters. Soon those too would fall on Dr. Sudler’s shoulders. Over the following 15 years Dr. Sudler’s determination and passion bolstered the medical school and set it on a path to success. 

Postcard of the University of Kansas Lawrence campus in 1905.
Postcard of the University of Kansas Lawrence campus in 1905. Dr. Sudler commuted to Kansas City, Kansas each day from a house near the Lawrence campus. Photo courtesy of University of Kansas Archives.

Important Dates for the Doctor:

1875 - Born in Westover, Maryland

1899 - Earns Doctor of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

1901 - Receives Doctor of Medicine, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Ithaca, New York 

1902 - Instructor, Cornell University Medical College, New York

1903 - Intern and House Surgeon, General Memorial Hospital, New York

1905 - Joins faculty of The University of Kansas School of Medicine 

1906 - Achieves rank of full professor 

1909 - Marries Mabel Britton (1876 – 1948)

1953 - Marries LaVerne Aitken

“When Sudler left the East for the - to him - unknown and uncharted West, his friends warned him that Kansas was in the Far West and still inhabited by bands of roving and marauding Indians. He said that he thought they were right when he alighted at the Union Station and found it jam-packed with Indians — feathers, paint, buckskin trousers, moccasins, squaws and papooses. He soon learned, however, that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was passing through Kansas City with an hour’s intermission between trains.” 

- Dr. Ralph Major, from An Account of the Kansas School of Medicine