Becker Library recently received a small collection of papers from the estate of Teresa J. Vietti (1927-2010), emeritus professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine and pioneering scientist in the field of pediatric oncology. Vietti completed her residency training at St. Louis Children’s Hospital before spending two years as a hematology/oncology fellow in Detroit, then serving as director of the hematology laboratories at Texas Children’s Hospital in Dallas. In 1961, she returned to St. Louis to join the faculty of Washington University School of Medicine; she became an associate professor in 1965 and a full professor in 1972. Vietti also served as chief of the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology from 1970 to 1986, and as the first chair of the national Pediatric Oncology Group from 1980 to 1993.
For a more in-depth biography of Teresa Vietti and her tremendous accomplishments, please read this Becker Blog piece published in 2016. What follows is a selection of some of the intriguing material from the recently accessioned Teresa J. Vietti papers:
The collection includes numerous personal family photographs, including these portraits of Teresa and her identical twin sister Eleanor (who went by her middle name, Ardel), and this color portrait of the Vietti family: parents Victor and Grace, younger brother William, and twins Teresa and Ardel. The latter two photographs were likely taken in Bogotá, Colombia, where the Vietti family lived from 1937-1942 due to Victor Vietti’s work as a physical chemist for Texaco. The Teresa J. Vietti Papers also include a short, handwritten autobiographical note that describes the exact occasion when both Teresa and Ardel realized that they would become scientists:
“…while at a routine visit, our physician allowed my twin & I to look through his microscope – that was it! Forget dolls & other things. We had to have a microscope (my parents got us a toy one) & we began to take care of the chickens, ducks, and dogs of my mother’s [indecipherable] collected the pollywogs in my mother’s pots, & examined all other living creatures we could catch.”
Teresa and Ardel both became doctors, but their careers went on different trajectories. Ardel contracted a severe erysipelas infection at 15 years old, and due to the length of her recovery graduated from high school a year behind Teresa. “My sister made a complete recovery but became very religious & we developed a completely different set of friends,” Teresa writes. About half of the material in Teresa’s papers relates to Ardel, who applied to the Alliance Foreign Missionary Society after receiving her medical degree from the University of Texas. She was accepted and became a medical missionary at a leprosarium outside of Buôn Ma Thuột, Vietnam. The above images show a letter Ardel wrote to her parents in 1960, which mentions how excited she is that Teresa would soon visit her: “Am getting very excited about Teresa’s coming – not getting much work done.” Two years later, in May 1962, Ardel was abducted from the leprosarium along with two other American missionaries, Archie E. Mitchell and Daniel A. Gerber.
With the context that Eleanor Ardel Vietti remains the only American woman unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, the documents related to the Vietti family’s search for answers are heartbreaking to read. The Teresa J. Vietti Papers include numerous newspaper and magazine articles related to Ardel’s disappearance, as well as a particularly tragic group of about dozen letters written to congratulate Victor and Grace after a 1968 newspaper report was published claiming Ardel had been seen alive and well in Vietnam. These letters all express relief, joy, and admiration for the strength of the Vietti family. The collection also includes various reports sent to the Vietti family over four decades from the Department of Defense regarding Ardel’s status as Missing-in-Action.
Teresa Vietti’s impact to the field of pediatric oncology as an educator, a scientist, and a leader, cannot be overstated. When she retired as chair of the Pediatric Oncology Group, she was given this book of hundreds of letters from colleagues and former students who wrote to her about her impact on their lives and careers. Between almost every page is a copy of the handwritten thank-you note Vietti sent to her well-wishers after receiving the book.
Becker Library is very fortunate to have received the Teresa J. Vietti Papers and we are delighted to be able to share the collection with the public. If you are interested in learning more about Vietti’s life and achievements, you can view her collection page by clicking here, or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.