Collection FC037 - Baumgarten family Papers


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Baumgarten family Papers



18.00 Linear Feet

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Biographical history

The Baumgarten family was a German-American family who settled in St. Louis in 1850 and had great influence on the local medical profession with its members practicing medicine across four generations. It began with Frederick (1810-1869), and passed down through succeeding sons in the next three generations with Gustav (1837-1910), Walter Sr. (1873-1945), and Walter Jr. (1912-1980).

Born in Nordheim, Germany, Friedrich Ernst Baumgarten was a German-American physician who emigrated to the United States in the 1840s, settling in St. Louis in 1850. He received his medical degree from the University of Gottingen in 1831, and became a mining surgeon in in the town of Clausthal in the Harz Mountains. After earning another degree from the University of Jena in 1844, Friedrich became interested in the prospect of a better life in the United States. He left his family for Galveston, Texas and attempted to establish a medical practice there, but yellow fever epidemics pushed him to settle further north. In 1850, Friedrich (now known as Frederick) came to St. Louis and found it to his liking due to the growing German immigrant community, so he sent for his wife and children to move in with him. The family settled in 1851, and Frederick became an American citizen in 1852. However, his wife could not adjust to life in America so she soon moved back to Germany with their daughters while their son, Gustav, remained behind with his father. During his career in St. Louis, Frederick emphasized his medical interest in obstetrics, but carried on a successful practice with patients with a variety of backgrounds and medical afflictions. He was a founding member of the German Medical Society of St. Louis and participated in the St. Louis Medical Society, the St. Louis Academy of Science, and the Masonic Order.

The son of Frederick Baumgarten, Gustav joined his father with the rest of his family in St. Louis as a young teenager. He enrolled in E. Wyman's English and Classical High School. Like his father, Gustav was interested in medicine and earned a medical degree from St. Louis Medical College in 1856 with a thesis on nutrition. After graduating at 19 years old, he was not yet ready to practice medicine so he returned to his native country in 1857 to spend a year at the University of Gottingen in its Ernst-Augustus Hospital. Gustav also spent a year at the University of Berlin, working at nearby clinics and studying under Rudolph Virchow, the leading authority in cellular pathology at the time. He then spent a third year in Europe, studying at the University of Vienna and working at clinics in both Vienna and Prague. Upon his return to St. Louis, Gustav entered practice with his father, seeing patients at St. Louis Sisters of Charity and City Hospital. During the Civil War, he served as a naval surgeon in the Union Navy throughout the Gulf Coast and at the Memphis Naval Hospital. After the war, Gustav's German fiance joined him in St. Louis for marriage and family, raising three children as his medical practice took off. While he was a private physician for the rest of his career, Gustav was active in the local and national medical communities. He was a co-editor of the St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal in 1866, contributed articles to the Reference Handbook of the Medical Sciences (1885), and served as president of the Association of American Physicians in 1899. In addition, Gustav joined the faculty at St. Louis Medical College in 1871 as a professor of physiology and medical jurisprudence and later professor of special pathology and therapeutics. He was a significant figure in the medical college's independence from St. Louis University in 1872 and its affiliation with Washington University in 1891, along with the college's merger with Missouri Medical College to become Washington University Medical Department in 1899-1900. He also served as the dean of the school during the merger. He passed down his medical practice to his son Walter in the early 1900s, and died in 1910 after a prolonged illness.

Walter Baumgarten, Sr. followed in his father's and grandfather's footsteps into medicine after earning an A.B. degree from Johns Hopkins University and a medical degree from St. Louis Medical College in 1896. Walter Sr. spent his early medical career throughout the country, serving assistantships at St. Louis City Hospital, Harvard University, and Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1903, he returned to St. Louis to enter private practice at his father's medical practice and also began teaching in 1907 as a lecturer in chemistry and microscopy at Washington University. Walter Sr. became an instructor in medicine at Washington University in 1917 and remained in the position until 1943. He was a councilor of the Southern Medical Association, an editor of the Missouri State Medical Journal, a fellow in the American College of Physicians, and a member of various local and national medical societies. Walter Sr. married in 1910 and raised three children, but died in a fire at his home in 1945 while his elder son, Walter Jr., was returning from WWII.

As the fourth and final member of the Baumgarten family to practice medicine in St. Louis, Walter Jr., was a doctor of internal medicine from 1946 to his death in 1980. He graduated from John Burroughs School in St. Louis, and received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Washington University. Between 1939 and 1942, Walter Jr. served internships and residencies in St. Louis and Chicago. He then became a flight surgeon with the United States Army Air Force until August 1945. After WWII, Walter Jr. spent his medical career as a staff surgeon at St. Luke's and Barnes Hospitals, and taught clinical medicine at Washington University School of Medicine. Along with his work in surgery and medical education, Walter Jr. served as president of the St. Louis Heart Association and the Missouri Heart Association, and as the chairman of the social planning council of St. Louis Department of Health and Hospitals. In 1967, he became the head of the medical staff at St. Luke's Hospital, and helped establish a hospice for terminally ill patients at the hospital. Walter Jr. was also known for his passion in historic preservation, having acted as trustee for the Jefferson National Expansion Historical Association and a member of the Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. He made the history of medicine and collection of rare medical texts a special field of study, and was a chairman of the Library for the St. Louis Medical Society, which named him as honorary curator in 1964.

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The collection is open and accessible for research.

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Users of the collection should read and abide by the Rights and Permissions guidelines at the Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives.

Users of the collection who wish to cite items from this collection, in whole or in part, in any form of publication must request, sign, and return a Statement of Use form to the Archives.

For detailed information regarding use of this collection, contact the Archives and Rare Book Department of the Becker Library (

Preferred Citation:

Item description, Reference Code, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University in St. Louis.

Languages of the material

  • English

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  • Latin

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"Describing Archives: A Content Standard, Second Edition (DACS), 2013."

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© Copyright 2019 Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives. All rights reserved.

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