The possibility of a state medical school in Massachusetts was seriously discussed as early as the 1940s, yet UMass Medical School didn’t officially open until 1970. The holdup? Politics. As usual. Administrators from existing medical schools at Harvard, Boston University, and Tufts worked with a Republican majority in the state Senate — imagine that — to keep the idea at bay for decades. But by 1962, with Democratic majorities in both houses and support from organized labor, the state Legislature was able to pass a bill that officially established the school. Even then, the politics of the school’s location — Worcester was one of 95 potential locations floated — and a spiraling budget almost brought the project to a halt on several occasions.
The school’s first dean, Lamar Soutter, was even forced to engage in some wry political theater to ensure the school stayed on track: In advance of a critical funding vote in 1970, Soutter made a hurried trip to Amherst to select a premed student, making a show of his acceptance to give the school a sense of inevitability.