‘Greetings of the Season’…and other holiday wishes from the deans

One beloved holiday tradition is sending cards to family and friends – connecting with loved ones when often the weather and a busy season make it difficult to meet personally. The Office of the Dean routinely sent out holiday cards on behalf of Washington University School of Medicine. The following are a few examples from the archives of the holiday cards specifically made and sent out by deans of the School of Medicine over the years.

Some cards were visions of a Christmas present.

Above is a card sent by Dean Oliver H. Lowry (dean from 1955 to 1958) in December 1956, featuring a collage of images representing patient care and laboratory research, framing a winter photo of the Cancer Research Building – the main entrance to the School of Medicine between 1950 and 1988.

This card sent by Dean Robert A. Moore (dean from 1946 to 1954) features a holiday night scene of the same entrance to the Cancer Research Building, topped with a Christmas tree.

Some cards featured remembrances of Christmas past.

This card, sent in December of 1959 by Dean Edward W. Dempsey (dean from 1958 to 1964), was a look at one of the predecessor medical colleges of the School of Medicine – the Missouri Medical College. Although the building shown in the card was long torn-down and had not been used by the college since the 1890s, it touched the memory of one faculty member. Professor Emeritus of Anatomy, Robert J. Terry was just a boy when he was first acquainted with the building. In 1960, nearing his 89th birthday, he wrote a letter to Dempsey thanking him for the pleasure of seeing the building again.

Though Dempsey may have anticipated Terry’s nostalgia, he may have been less sure that others receiving the card would have been as moved by the simple sight of the building. The image on the card – that of a winter wonderland with top-hatted wearing men and a woman with her hands in a fur muff – was based on a photograph. The original photo, seen here, was likely taken on a sweltering, sunny day. The street of unpaved dirt and stone is dry and dusty. A woman is waiting in the shade of the building while a man on crutches is in his shirtsleeves. Artistic license was taken, reimagining the photo from the past for the holiday season.

An artist’s eye in graphic design was important in the creation of all of these cards, especially those which were visions of a modernized future.

This card, sent by Dempsey in December 1958, is a sleek, quintessentially mid-century design showing the planned “new” Wohl Clinics building which wouldn’t be completed until 1961.

In the days before computers, word processing and laser printing in the office – a world of rotary telephones and typewriters – the cards were not only designed by hand, but each was still addressed by hand. Coordinating the dean’s mailing list was quite the task, but it was more complicated when the cards being sent out were of non-standard sizes.

On Nov. 20, 1958, Dorothy Rinderer, the administrative assistant to the dean, wrote to the designer of the card, Peter Geist. “Since there will be a great deal of longhand addressing of envelopes, we would appreciate knowing as soon as possible the size of this year’s card so that we could place an order for the envelopes.”

Peter Geist III was a commercial artist and graphic designer. He was a graduate of the Washington University School of Fine Arts and worked at the Gardner Advertising Company as an art director, designing logos and printed materials for companies like Monsanto. He also designed the business logo for his friend, architect Harris Armstrong, who had designed the Cancer Research Building. Armstrong also designed Geist’s home. Geist was, for a time, on the faculty of the university’s School of Art and was a graphic designer for university publications in addition to working on many other projects.