Notable Norwegians: Dr. Owen Wangensteen

Photo: ACS Dr. Owen Wangensteen

Photo: ACS
Dr. Owen Wangensteen

David Moe

Dr. Owen Wangensteen was born September 21, 1898, to Norwegian immigrant parents. From his youth, he had great intellectual curiosity. He served as chief of surgery at University of Minnesota Hospitals from 1930 until his retirement in 1967.

In 1954, he married Sarah Davidson of St. Paul, Minnesota, called “Sally” by her friends. Sally was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Vassar College in 1930, majoring in English and History.

Dr. Wangensteen became a pioneer in open-heart surgery in the 1950s. Two of his former students, Dr. Christian Barnard and Dr. Norman Shumway, performed the first heart transplant surgeries in the world.

Due to Dr. Wangensteen’s interest in research, he raised the funds to build the fifth floor of Diehl Hall to house the library and history of the University of Minnesota medical program. With the help of Sally they encouraged friends, colleagues, and patients to contribute funds and endowments for the future development of the library. Today, the Owen H. Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine is a collection of over 60,000 rare books, manuscripts, and journals dating from the early 1400s to 1920.

After Dr. Wangensteen’s death on January 13, 1981, Sally continued to search for new acquisitions, assist researchers, and serve as an ambassador for the Wangensteen Historical Library. She created the Conservation/Preservation Fund to care for the many rare books contained in the collection. Even to this day, works continue to be collected in the areas of surgery, ophthalmology, cardiology, mycology, tuberculosis, nursing, radiology, pediatrics, obstetrics, and gynecology.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 26, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.