The University of Nebraska College of Medicine came into being on April 18, 1902, when the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska and the Omaha Medical College signed an agreement to jointly offer a four-year curriculum leading to an M.D. degree. Students were to take two years of instruction on the Univeristy campus in Lincon, and two years of medical education in Omaha.
The Omaha Medical College admitted its first medical students in September of 1881. Classrooms and laboratories were located on the third floor of a building at 13th and Pacific streets. Fourteen students were in the first class, each paying tuition of $30. Over the next 20 years, the Omaha Medical College moved to sites at 11th and Mason streets, next to St. Joseph Hospital, and 12th and Pacific streets, where it remained until 1913. A more suitable three-story brick building was constructed on the site in 1893 for a cost of $20,000. The original capstones from the entrance to that building are currently set above a stained glass window commemorating the College of Medicine.
A Young Campus
Today's College of Medicine campus began to take shape in 1909, when the Nebraska legislature approved $20,000 to purchase land at 42nd Street and Dewey Avenue. By 1913, construction began on the North Laboratory Building (now Poynter Hall), with a budget of $100,000. The College of Medicine had a total of 84 students enrolled in classes. In 1917, construction began on Unit I of University Hospital, with 130 beds and a library. This area is now faculty offices. Two years later, the South Laboratory, now Bennett Hall, was constructed for $180,000. It included space for a newborn clinic and later for emergency department facilities.
The Middle Years
Originally, the main entrance to the University Hospital faced 42nd Street. A large circular drive, flanked by Poynter and Bennett Halls, delivered patients to the old emergency room below the stairs leading to the hospital entrance. Unit II was added in 1927, and Unit III in 1962.
A significant change came in 1965, when Cecil Wittson, dean of the College of Medicine, began planning a new basic science building topped by a library. The site was the large plaza on 42nd Street in front of University Hospital. The structure, now known as Wittson Hall, would provide facilities for the College of Medicine, with faculty offices, laboratories and classrooms. Construction of the Basic Science Building and Library of Medicine began in 1967.
When the Basic Science Building was dedicated in 1969, there were approximately 85 students in each class of the College of Medicine, and the male to female ratio was about 8:1. Today, the class size averages 130, with the gender ratio about 1:1. The Basic Science Building was renamed in honor of Dr. Cecil Wittson in 1972.