The Legacy of Ben Peckham
Published: 6/2/2009

Ben Peckham's widow, Ann, with Laurel Rice, MD

Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Ben Peckham, MD, PhD came to the Medical School in 1956 from Chicago, where he enjoyed a private practice and taught at Northwestern University Medical School.

Recruited as Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology, he found a department that had no home of its own – it was housed in Surgery – which paid scant attention to gynecology. With some of the funds from his NIH grant for studying cellular kinetics, strong backing from the University, and a knack for organizing, Ben Peckham established a department with its own offices and research facilities. He saw to it that gynecology – especially surgical gynecology – became more prominent, and he developed divisions of maternal-fetal medicine, gynecologic oncology and endocrinology. With an MS and PhD in physiology, his personal research interests lay with endocrinology. He was able to attract highly competent subspecialists to lead the divisions as well as investigators to carry on long-term research programs.

One of Dr. Peckham’s most significant contributions in the early days was to bring together Madison’s obstetricians and gynecologists, the Medical School staff and Madison’s private hospital facilities, into a cooperative training effort. The result of these changes was a three-fold increase in the number of the Department’s teaching faculty and trebling of the number of obstetrical and surgical patients available for student and resident education. The subsequent development of a combined University-Madison General (now Meriter) Hospital Obstetrical Division made possible the present University Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, its regional high-risk obstetrical services and its significant research facilities located in Meriter.


Early on and throughout his tenure, Professor Peckham emphasized the teamwork approach to patient care by increased involvement of residents and, particularly, medical students in all levels of patient care. To varying degrees this teaching philosophy spread to other departments in the medical center.


Although an excellent administrator and a one-time Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs, Dr. Peckham always personally directed the Gynecologic surgical services dubbed the Benign Service after the formation of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology. His love of resident and student teaching, which drew him into academic medicine in the first place, was rewarded by tenacious patient loyalty and several teaching awards.


With the fine motor skills used for gynecologic surgery, inspiration and a set of jeweler’s tools from a former patient years ago, he began collecting and cutting rough gem material and the design and construction of jewelry. His well-equipped basement workshop contained enough material for many more years and his ex-patient friends in the jewelry business continued his education with their generous advice and assistance. Dr. Peckham’s elegant award-winning creations have inspired hobbyists as well as professionals when they have been displayed at museums and other exhibitions.