Laying the Foundation (1946 – 1965)

Before the Division of Biostatistics was established in 1966 within the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, the curriculum for medical students included biostatistics as a component of the teaching program which was handled by Professor Helen T. Graham in the Department of Pharmacology (with the support of Dr. Carl F. Cori, Chairman of the department). In 1946, Mrs. Barbara Hixon of the Department of Mathematics joined Professor Graham in developing and teaching the biostatistics component of the course. A feature of the program was that it often utilized the results of the students’ laboratory experiments to demonstrate the statistical concepts. In 1947, Dr. Oliver Lowry enthusiastically supported the program.

The Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health assumed responsibility for teaching biostatistics when Dr. Robert E. Shank became Chairman in 1948. In the 1950s there was burgeoning support for medical research and research training programs under the aegis of the National Institutes of Health. There was an ever-growing need for assistance for faculty and students in design of experiments, analyses of data, and the application of more advance biostatistical methodologies. Mrs. Barbara Hixon was very active in this developing period (1946-1966). Moreover, the rapid development of computer technology made possible new procedures for design and analysis of data. To meet some of their biostatistical needs, some departments of the School of Medicine added consultants or faculty members with biostatistical and computer competence. The need for a consolidated biostatistics component within the Medical School was evident. When space and funding was procured in 1966 with the assistance of Dean M. Kenton King and several funding agencies, the Division of Biostatistics was officially established with the late Dr. Reimut Wette serving as its founding Director.

The late Dr. Reimut Wette served as the Director of the Division from 1966 until 1979. He came from the University of Texas at Houston where he was Associate Biomathematician and Chief of the Section of Mathematical Biology. He also served as a biometrician at the MD Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston. The new Division of Biostatistics consisted of Dr. Wette, Mrs. Barbara Hixon, an instructor, a secretary, a student programmer and a key punch operator. Dr. Sung Choi was added to the faculty shortly after the Division was established.

As the first Director of the newly formed Division of Biostatistics, Dr. Wette was charged with the task of developing a niche within the medical school community. Knowledge of biostatistics became increasingly important in the various departments as Washington University gained a strong reputation as a research-oriented institution. Much of the federal funding for research from that time forward required a biostatistical component within each project.

At the same time, computers were fast becoming an integral part of the research experience. Wette’s own personal and professional interest in the new technology led him into recruiting additional faculty and staff with special skills in this area. After providing stable leadership for more than a decade, Wette resigned as Director in 1979. He remained an active and productive member of the faculty until 1990, when be became Professor Emeritus. On the occasion of his retirement, the Division library was dedicated in his honor as the Wette Library of Biostatistics.