Past/Future Conjoined: Note from the USA on the Present Edition

Joel Elkes


It was a warm summer day in 1937. We had heard of The Peckham Experiment while on student rotation under Aleck Bourne, Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Mary's Hospital, London. A man of deep human sympathy, and far ahead of his time, he had a clear vision of where medicine was going. A novel experiment in prospective health care was apparently proceeding in a working class London Borough. There was not much interest in our little group, except for one other student and myself. So on that warm summer day the two of us set out to see for ourselves.

We arrived in the late afternoon. Nearly fifty years later, I still recall the first impression of the building—a feeling of access and transparency: glass walls, glass doors, story-high open spaces. The classrooms and playrooms abutted the gym, and the swimming pool. The kitchen, the cafeteria, the reading room, even the pathology labs were visible from the passage way. Only the interview rooms we shielded from view. Children of all ages were everywhere, playing in creches, nurseries, and playrooms. Some were with their parents, some with "sister" (nurse) some solo, some in clusters doing their thing on ropes, or roller skates, or engaged in quiet study or games. On the terrrace-cafeteria, overlooking the pool, there were parents —mainly mothers, some of whom might be seen again in the evening joined by their husbands or friends. There was also a sprinkling of grandparents here and there. We noticed one other aspect: as the hours passed, more and more teenagers joined in. I remember thinking at the time how remarkable it was to have parents, children, teenagers, and even grandparents, all under one roof, and all clearly enjoying themselves. If there was "staff," it was hard to tell who was who.

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