A home for Dr. Robert Meyer

In the February 13, 1939 issue of Time Magazine, an article described the plight of Jewish physicians in Germany. The Nazi government revoked their licenses and asked many to leave the country all together. The response in the United States included a fear by some that emigrating physicians would compete with U.S. doctors while others created support networks to find homes for their European counterparts.

During the spring of 1939, Dr. John L. McKelvey received notice from Germany that his colleague and mentor, Dr. Robert O. Meyer, would soon become one of the displaced. Dr. McKelvey, who became the first full-time department head for obstetrics and gynecology the previous year, set out to secure Dr. Meyer a position at the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Meyer, a world renowned pathologist, had a full career in Germany. In 1935, at the age of seventy-one, the Nazi government relieved him of his position at his university. With support of his colleagues he remained unofficially on staff and continued to conduct research and collect consultation fees. In December of 1938 the Nazi Ministry of the Interior informed him he would no longer be able to remain in Germany.

By the end of May 1939, Dr. McKelvey secured approval from Dean Diehl and President Ford as well as the Board of Regents to send an official letter of offer to Dr. Meyer. Funding for the position came from a variety of sources. The primary source was the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Medical Scientists (New York) who provided $1,500 per year for two years. The American Gynecological Society and its members provided $1,309. The Manhattan Research Foundation provided $500. Various friends and associates raised $648. Additional funds raised from lectureship fees added to the overall amount needed to fund his research position. The total of this revenue established the Robert Meyer Clinical Associate Professorship Fund in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Minnesota.

On September 1, 1939, Dr. Meyer, then seventy-five years old, and his wife planned to fly out of Berlin but could not due to the Nazi invasion of Poland. Instead, they took a train to the Netherlands to meet their ship to the U.S. After a brief stay in New York, they arrived in Minneapolis on September 21.

From 1939 until 1947 Dr. Meyer actively participated in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology as a researcher. He also worked with the Minnesota State Board of Health as a part-time obstetrics pathologist with their home deliver training.

Dr. Meyer passed away at the age of eighty-three in 1947 after having retired from the University of Minnesota in June. Before he died he wrote the Autobiography of Dr. Robert Meyer: A Short Abstract of a Long Life serialized in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences.

Several documents related to the establishment of the Robert Meyer Fund and Dr. McKelvey’s letter offering Dr. Meyer the position at the University of Minnesota are available below.