Reminiscences of the Nobel Festival, 1950*


by Philip S. Hench
6 November 2001

When Dr. Kendall and I were asked to tell you of our recent trip to Stockholm, we wondered at first whether it would be entirely proper for us to discuss publicly an event in which we participated so personally. But on second thought, it seemed appropriate that we make to you our staff colleagues, some report of the 1950 Festival because Dr. Kendall and I went to Sweden as representatives of the Mayo Clinic, the Mayo Foundation and their allied institutions. Were always happily and proudly conscious of that fact. In our opinion, the awards we received belong truly to all the men and women of the Mayo Clinic because it was the spirit of co-operative endeavor, the fundamental credo of this institution, which made possible the work which resulted in our trip to Stockholm. My regret is that those who first engendered that spirit, Dr. Will Mayo and Dr. Charlie Mayo, are not here tonight.

At the Mayo Clinic no man works alone, and through the several years during which I have been occupied with the problem of my special interest, I have had the sustained and loyal support of the entire staff, especially of the Board of Governors and of its Research Administrative Committee. If I were to mention a few individual names I would recall the long hours of helpful discussions and the other assistance which I received from Drs. Alvarez, Bollman, Butsch, Comfort, Drips, Lundy, Magath, Mason, McKenzie, Mussey, Osterberg, Power, Randall, Rynearson, Sanford, Snell and Sprague, as they and other associates gave me encouragement in my repeated attempts to identify the helpful ‘substance X’ of jaundice and pregnancy.

Most significant has been my association with Drs. Kendall, Slocumb and Polley. I know that the names of Charles Slowcomb and Howard Polley will always be associated in your minds with the award and with the events which I shall now describe. Permit me to tell the story of the 1950 Nobel Festival in an informal, and sometimes in a rather personal, manner.

Mrs. Hench, her mother – Mrs. John H. Kahler, our 7-year-old son, John, and I were joined in New York City by our three older children, Mary, Kahler and Susan. After a pleasant crossing on the Liberté and after twenty busy hours in Paris, we took the Nord Express for the thirty-six-hour journey from Paris to Stockholm. As we paused in the station at Copenhagen, we were met by a group of Danish friends, officers of the Danish Society for Rheumatology and their wives, who presented my ladies with flowers and made us feel very welcome.

On Friday morning, December 8, our train approached Stockholm through a countryside freshly covered by a heavy snowfall. Every scene looked like a Christmas card. It was quite sunny but cold. At the station we were met by a representative of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and one from the American Embassy, by Professors Göran Liljestrand and Nanna Svartz of Kungl. Karolinska Mediko-Kirurgiska Institutet (The Royal Caroline Medico-Chirurgical Institute) and by Docent Erik Jonsson, of Södersjukhuset.

From the station we were driven to the Grand Hôtel, which was being taken over by the new and old Nobel laureates and their families. To our party were assigned four front rooms and a parlor. From our third-floor windows we had a magnificent view. Stockholm, a city of 730,000 persons, is built on islands and peninsulas, with many expanses of water. Just opposite us and across the Strömmen inlet was the Royal Palace, the Riksdaghus and the nearby Royal Opera House.

In our rooms we found many invitations and the official instructions as to what we had to do, where we should be and what we should wear during the next four days. To each of the new laureates and his family was assigned an attaché from the Swedish Foreign Office who served as escort and aide for the next few days. Our courteous escort was Mr. Gunnar Ljungdahl, who was of great assistance to us during our stay in Stockholm.

Philip Hench and family

Paying their hosts a real compliment. Philip Hench (center) with his family during the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony in Stockholm.

To our rooms came each day a small army of friendly newspaper folk who seemed to be fascinated by the fact that such a large family had journeyed so far to the Nobel Festival. Two reporters were especially impressed by the inclusion of my wife’s mother, and one newspaper headline read “Mother-in-law Attends Nobel Festival.” When, five weeks earlier, Dr. Hilding Bergstrand, rector of the Caroline Institute, had invited my family to the ceremony, I had cabled our acceptance gladly, but with some misgivings, lest it be considered presumptuous for me to bring the whole family. But we soon discovered happily that they all, our official hosts of the Nobel Foundation and of the Caroline Institute, the newsfolk and the various Swedish friends we met, felt that we had paid them a real compliment in bringing the whole family. Soon our four children, especially 7-year-old John, and the charming, 17-year-old daughters of Dr. Reichstein and the American novelist, Mr. William Faulkner, became the delight and daily target of the reporters and news photographers, who understandingly became much more interested in these young people than in the older guests.

Saturday, 9 December

The Nobel Festival of 1950 was an event of special significance, for it commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Prizes. Invitations to the celebration had been sent to each of the (circa) 100 living laureates of previous years, and about 25 of them were on hand. (Curiously, no former winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature was present.)

On the next afternoon, Saturday, came our first chance to meet our hosts and these laureates at a reception at the Nobel Foundation House. Presiding, at this colorful reception were the councillors of the Nobel Foundation and the Foundation’s president, His Excellency, Dr. Lars Birger Ekeberg, the chief marshall of the Swedish Court, a tall distinguished man with a crown of white hair.

That evening, at the Grand Hôtel, the rector and faculty of the Caroline Institute, which annually awards the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, gave a beautiful dinner for the 3 new and for the 11 previous medical laureates who were on hand. The latter, with the year of their awards were: Archibald V. Hill, 1922; Otto Warburg, 1931; Edgar D. Adrian, 1932; Henry H. Dale, 1936; Corneille Heymans, 1938; Gerhard Domagk 1939; Henrik Dam, 1943; Herbert S. Gasser, 1944; Alexander Fleming, 1945; Ernst B. Chain, 1945 and Paul H. Müller, 1948.1 Present also were the respective diplomatic representatives. We were happy to meet our American ambassador, Mr. William Butterworth, and Mrs. Butterworth.

During the dinner Professor Bergstrand, rector of the Caroline Institute, in a brief speech graciously welcomed the senior laureates and then proposed a toast in honor of the 3 new ones to which the latter responded.

The next day, Sunday, 10 December, was the principal day, the anniversary death of Alfred Nobel in 1896. The “Solemn Festival of the Nobel Foundation,” as it is called, was to be held in the Concert Hall from 4 to 6:30 p.m., then in the City Hall from 7 p.m. Until about 2 a.m.

At 11 o’clock Sunday morning, the old and new laureates went with officials of the Nobel Foundation to lay wreaths on the grave of Nobel in the North Cemetery. Spokesman at the brief but impressive ceremony was Sir Lawrence Bragg of Great Britain, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915.

On returning from the cemetery, we were taken about noon to the Concert Hall to receive instructions as to how to conduct ourselves at the afternoon ceremony. As we entered the main hall we found workmen preparing the great auditorium, arranging the decorations, flowers and seating. Television operators were testing their apparatus for the first public demonstration of television in Sweden. A television screen, placed on the edge of the platform, reflected their manipulations. As the laureates and their escorts entered, one of the television staff turned his camera on them. The distinguished laureates, like a group of American youngsters, became fascinated as they saw themselves and their companions on the screen. Most of the European laureates probably were seeing television for the first time. The laureates in physics, some of whom probably discovered some of the fundamental principles used in radio and television, appeared to be as fascinated as the rest.

When order was restored, the laureates were told where to assemble, where to march onto the platform, where and when to make the prescribed three “reverences” to the King and one to the audience, and where each would sit. Apparently, some of the men were out of practice in bowing to royalty and it was amusing to see dignified men practicing nodding solemnly to an empty chair, often in too stilted or too vigorous a fashion at first, then in a more subtle, polished manner. Apparently, Sir Henry Dale was not satisfied with the short, unsophisticated nods which Dr. Kendall and I were making, for he came over to us, chuckled and said “For this one afternoon you two fellows will just have to lay aside your democratic principles, and really throw yourselves into this thing!” After a quick lunch in our hotel rooms, we all dressed in formal attire.

“The Solemn Festival of the Nobel Foundation”

Sharply at 3:15 p.m. the various attachés from the Swedish Foreign Office came for their respective laureates and their families. The crowds of people gathered outside the hotel, along the streets to the Concert Hall and especially in the square outside the hall provided a very friendly atmosphere for the laureates and their families, but also produced what my daughters Mary and Susan described as a pleasantly uneasy feeling of being ‘Queen for a Day’.

Meeting in a room on the mezzanine floor, the laureates were lined up, the new ones first, each with an escort from the appropriate awarding-institution. As I took my place beside my escort, Dr. Nils Antoni, professor of neurology at the Caroline Institute, I met Dr. Tadeus Reichstein, of Switzerland, for the first time. His airplane had been long been delayed by bad weather, and he and his daughter Ruth had arrived just an hour previously. His wife, on another plane, turned back and unfortunately, never did arrive. Behind the new laureates came the older laureates; on the basis of the year of his award, the senior laureate was Professor Max von Laue of Germany, who had won the physics prize thirty-six years before (1914).

When all were gathered the laureates and their escorts proceeded downstairs to an anteroom offstage, where an official photograph of the new recipients was quickly taken. The three awarding faculties were already on stage. After a few moments, promptly at 4:00, was heard a loud fanfare of trumpets announcing the entry of the King and the royal family, who proceeded to their seats as an orchestra played “The King’s Anthem.” Then another loud and exciting fanfare provided the signal for the laureates to make their entrance. Two tall doors at the rear center of the platform were opened with ceremonial slowness by uniformed ushers. Then, to the music of the Concert Hall orchestra, and as the King and the assemblage rose, the laureates marched onto the stage, stood for a moment in front of their seats, made their first reverence to the King, and sat down.

On either side of the platform were seated the officers and councillors of the Nobel Foundation and the faculties or members of the three prize-awarding bodies in Sweden: the Royal Swedish Academy of Science (physics and chemistry), the Royal Caroline Medico-Chirurgical Institute (physiology and medicine), and the Swedish Academy (literature). Seated obliquely in front were, on the audience’s right, the sponsors who were to read the citations for each prize; on the left, the 8 new pristagarna (prize takers), as they are called in Sweden.2 Behind the latter were seated, in left front seats, 25 laureates of previous years,3 making a total of 33 winners. Such a number will hardly be assembled again until the seventy-fifth or one hundredth festival, twenty-five or fifty years from now.

If, as the papers said, the assemblage on the stage provided a dignified showing, the view from the platform was equally impressive. Those on the stage saw 2,000 people in formal attire, many wearing, colorful ribbons and decorations. The auditorium was packed; extra seats completely filled the aisles.

50th anniversary

The 50th anniversary of the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall in 1950. Photo shows all 25 living laureates who attended the ceremony seated on stage while the King and other members of the Royal Family joined the audience at the auditorium floor.

Photo: AB Reportagebild

Seated in the front center were King Gustaf VI Adolf, Queen Louise and the royal family: Prince Bertil, Princess Sibylla and Prince Wilhelm. That morning, I had been puzzled to note that the King, was to sit, not on the platform with the officials and laureates, but on the auditorium floor with the audience. Two informed people told me: “It is traditional at Nobel Festivals for the King and the royal family to honor the laureates by leaving the stage to them. Rising from his seat placed just in front of the audience, the King welcomes each recipient and is ‘thus the first of the people’ to honor each prize winner.” Assuming that my informants were correct, one must agree that by these actions the King pays a most gracious courtesy to the honored guests. Sitting in the front row just to the left of the royal family was, to my delighted surprise, my whole family. On the other side were Mrs. E. C. Kendall and other relatives of the new recipients: Ruth Reichstein, Marianne Diels, Mrs. Powell, Mrs. Walker, who is Professor Powell’s sister, and Jill Faulkner. In the second row center were the members of the royal household, and in the next three rows were the prime minister, the cabinet and the diplomatic corps.

The proceedings were opened by the president of the Nobel Foundation, His Excellency, the Lord High Steward, Dr. Ekeberg, who welcomed the royal family and guests, and then paid a moving tribute to the Late King Gustaf V, who as Crown Prince and King had presented personally almost all the Nobel Awards during the last fifty years and who had so recently died, on October 29, 1950, at the age of 92 years. During the tribute everyone rose. Then Dr. Ekeberg reviewed briefly the life of Alfred Nobel. For the radio and television audience he spoke in Swedish. But in the programs, the addresses and citations were printed in English, French or German.

The prizes were conferred in the order in which they had been mentioned in Nobel’s will: first that for physics, next that for chemistry, then the prize for physiology and medicine and finally that for literature. According to custom, Professor Cecil Powell of Bristol, England, winner of the physics prize, remained seated during the general citation or “proclamation” by his sponsor; then arose for the direct citation (short address). As he descended the stairs to receive the award the trumpeters again sounded the fanfare, and the King rose and led in the applause as all on the stage and in the auditorium rose to join in.

After Professor Otto Diels, of Kiel, Germany, and Professor Kurt Alder, of Cologne, received jointly the prize for chemistry, Professor Liljestrand, secretary of the Nobel Committee of the Caroline Institute and professor of pharmacology, explained the basis for the 1950 awards in physiology and medicine. Unlike other sponsors, he used no notes in making his citation, but spoke dramatically and effectively memory. For fifteen minutes he reviewed in Swedish the recent work on adrenal physiology and the background of that work. Then, turning to the 3 recipients who arose for the direct citation, he spoke to Dr. Kendall in English, to Dr. Reichstein in German, to me in English, and then to all three collectively in English.

Professor Liljestrand closed his address with the traditional and stirring formula: “I now have the honor of asking you to accept the Nobel Prize for 1950 from the hand of His Gracious Majesty, the King.” Then the 3 recipients started down the stairs together, except for a momentary interruption as the junior Rochester delegate tripped on the edge of a carpet.

I have not not found out what the King said to Dr. Kendall or vice versa. With a twinkle in his eye, Dr. Kendall told me: “That’s a secret.” But I suspect that King Gustaf Adolf asked Dr. Kendall: “How do you pronounce 17-hydrov-11-dehydrocorticosterone?”

After the awards were presented a more worrisome duty had to be performed by the recipients. Passing on, one was supposed to walk backwards about 15 to 20 feet, keeping one’s face to the royal family, until the steps leading back up to the platform were reached. The motion pictures later revealed clearly how successful or otherwise each recipient was in accomplishing this feat. Having seen the motion pictures, I must conclude that walking backward gracefully is not one of the things well taught to members staff of the Mayo Clinic. But from what I heard of the good humor and democratic instincts of King Gustaf Adolf. I feel certain that he gave everyone an “A” for effort.

Back in our seats, we took a quick look at the diplomas and medals. Each medical diploma was encased in a heavy blue leather folder, beautifully embossed. Inside, the 2 pages of the diploma were illustrated by colored hand drawings of certain historic buildings in Stockholm. The Swedish lettering beneath can be translated as follows: “The Royal Caroline Medico-Chirurgical Institute which, according to the will which was made on 27 November 1895, by Alfred Nobel, has the right to reward with the Nobel Prize the most important discovery by which the physiological and medical sciences have been guided in recent times, has this day decided to award the 1950 prize to Philip S. Hench, Edward C. Kendall and Tadeus Reichstein jointly for their discoveries relating to adrenal cortical hormones, their structure and biological effects. Stockholm, 26 October, 1950” (the date the awards were voted). Immediately below the date are the signatures of Rector Bergstrand and 32 of the 34 other permanent voting faculty members who choose the recipients.

Kendall, Reichstein and Hench

The three Nobel Laureates in Physiology and Medicine, 1950 (from left): Edward Calvin Kendall, Tadeus Reichstein and Philip Showalter Hench.

Photo: AB Reportagebild

The medal, of almost pure gold, carries on the obverse the Erik Lindberg profile of Alfred Nobel (1833-I896). On the reverse the Spirit of Medicine, holding an open book upon her knees, is collecting in a basin water springing from a rock in order to quench the thirst of a sick young maiden.

On a cartouche at the bottom is engraved the recipient’s name. Around the margin of all the Swedish Nobel medals runs this inscription from Vergil’s Aeneid: Inventas vitam juvat excoluisse per artes. This can be translated freely: “How pleasant it is to see human life enriched by the inventiveness of art”.

Two large overflow audiences of about 3,500 persons watched the ceremony on television in another auditorium in the Concert Hall and in the near-by Royal Biographic Theater. Between each of the presentations of awards symphonic music was played beautifully by the Concert Hall orchestra relegated for the occasion to the top balcony.

Concluding the ceremony was the presentation of the prizes for literature. The belatedly awarded 1949 prize went to William Faulkner, the shy, quiet American writer from Oxford Mississippi. The 1950 prize was given to Lord Bertrand Russell, the English writer, philosopher and mathematician, a small, dynamic figure with chiseled features and flowing silver hair. As the entire audience sang the Swedish National Anthem, “Du gamla du fria,” this part of the festivities ended.

The Nobel Banquet in the City Hall

Cars took us to Stadshuset, the City Hall, one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. Because about 1,000 people were to attend this fiftieth Jubilee Nobel Banquet, it was held, not upstairs in the Gold Hall, as in recent years, but downstairs in the Great Blue Hall. As the other guests were being seated, the 270 honored guests assembled in the Gold Hall and in the Prince’s Gallery. Introduced by a fanfare from trumpeters, dressed in medieval garb, the honored guests, to the accompaniment of orchestral music, proceeded along the balcony and down the marble stairs to their tables. At the head table, Dr. Kendall was seated between Marshal Ekeberg’s wife and Frau von Laue; Mrs. Hench sat between Professor Powell and Bertrand Russell. Mrs. Kendall’s table-companion was Prime Minister Tage Erlander. I was seated between the prime minister’s wife, Fru Aina Erlander and the foreign minister, Östen Undén. Mrs. Kahler’s escort was Professor Warburg, (prize winner in medicine, 1931). At near-by tables sat Mrs. Albert J. Lobb; Mr. Lobb represented the Mayo Foundation and his fellow regents of the University of Minnesota. Also present was my former associate at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Edward Rosenberg of Chicago, and Mrs. Rosenberg, who honored us by making the journey to Stockholm with us. My children were happy to sit with one of Alfred Nobel’s grand nieces and with Professor Domagk’s daughter. Sixteen members of the Nobel family were present.

The banquet itself was served in a picturesque and colorful manner. Cooked by 70 people in the kitchen, the food was distributed by 132 waiters and waitresses with almost military precision under the supervision of 6 head-waitresses, a triumph in culinary logistics! As each new course was to be served, the waiters appeared on the balcony and to music marched in formation down the marble stairs and thence to their assigned tables.

The table appointments, and decorations were individualistic, and included tall candelabra alternating with flowers and with smaller candle-holders each made in the form of the letter
“N.” One of the dramatic moments came at desert time. Suddenly, except for the candles on the tables, all the lights in the Great Blue Hall were extinguished. The orchestra struck up a lively tune and 124 waiters appeared on the balcony, each carrying an illuminated tray of sculptured ice cream. On each tray was a tall figure made of clear ice: some were icy replicas of the City Hall. Other waiters carried separate letters of the alphabet carved in ice, consecutive waiters spelling out the names of the different prizes: chemistry, physiology and medicine, etc. One group of letters in ice spelled out Nobel 50 År (years). Each iced figure was illuminated internally by electric light bulbs of different colors which, with small batteries, had been frozen inside the ice. The colorful procession was led by a captain of waiters, who held on high, a large iced and internally lighted figure of an eagle. “The whole made a magnificent spectacle resembling an ice floe which slowly and majestically swept down the stairway on the shoulders of the waiters”; thus the procession was described in one newspaper.

Early during the banquet toasts were proposed: one for His Majesty, the King, one in memory of Alfred Nobel. Between courses Professor Robert Fåhraeus of the department of pathology of the University of Uppsala gave the main address of welcome to the laureates. Then, at various times during and after the dinner, came brief acceptance speeches of the new laureates in the following sequence: Russell, Kendall, Hench, Reichstein, Diels, Alder, Powell, Faulkner. The trumpets on the balcony would sound their fanfare. Then, after a moment of disconcerting silence, the next speaker’s name was announced over the amplifiers. To give his acceptance speech each prize taker had to rise from the head table, walk up eleven marble steps to a rostrum on the first landing, then turn and face the awesome assemblage. To climb those eleven stairs to that lonely rostrum and to express one’s deep feelings in an adequate and individual manner to that distinguished audience, many of whom had on previous occasions heard the acceptance speeches of some of the world’s outstanding literary and scientific figures, was one of the most difficult assignments one could ever be called upon to fulfill. As Mr. Faulkner said “They make you earn the prize all over again.” But the warm and comforting sympathy of the friendly audience lessened one’s sense of inadequacy and lonesomeness.

After the acceptance speeches the senior laureate, von Laue, spoke for his colleagues of previous years. Then a large choir of university students. with scholastic banners assembled on the balcony. The chairman of the students’ association greeted the guests, speaking eloquently in perfect English. In reply, Professor Powell gave an excellent impromptu response. These amenities fulfilled, the choir serenaded the audience with some splendid choral singing. As the finale the choir marched, singing down the marble stairs, passed by the tables and then disappeared down the long lower corridors of the City Hall while their voices grew fainter and fainter. The four-hour banquet ended about 11:30 p.m., after which a general reception was held upstairs in the beautiful Gold Room with its magnificent expanses of gold mosaic. After midnight there was dancing in the Blue Hall until about 2:00 a.m. Thus ended a memorable day.

Hench and Aina Erlander

At the Nobel Banquet in the Blue Hall of the Stockholm City Hall with Mrs. Aina Erlander, wife of Prime Minister Tage Erlander. Also caught by the camera is William Faulkner (off Philip Hench’s shoulder).

Monday, 11 December

The next afternoon each recipient was obliged to give an address before the appropriate awarding institution. The medical recipients gave their “Nobel Lectures”

Between 6 and 8:00 p.m. the Nobel family gave a delightful dinner for the laureates and their wives in the main banquet salon of the Grand Hotel. Our senior hosts were Emil and Gustaf Nobel. Each of the new laureates was honored by having one of the Nobel ladies as a dinner companion. My own escort was Fru Viktor (Gullevi) Nobel, who pleased her guests of several nationalities by conversing animatedly with each in his native tongue.

Reception at the Palace

At 8:30 p.m. the royal family held a reception at the palace for the laureates and their wives. Customarily, the King and Queen give a formal banquet, but this year the banquet was replaced by a less formal reception because the court was officially in mourning.

The reception was very pleasant and interesting. We collected in a large cheerful room with white painted walls. Here the respective ambassadors took their particular nationals in tow. Thus divided into small groups we passed into the next room, a large affair with paintings, dark tapestries and huge chandeliers. A tall, distinguished-looking elderly man wearing decorations and a long very thin sword, obviously a court officer or marshal of the court, checked his list of guests with each ambassador. The groups lined up irregularly according to an alphabetic arrangement: Allemagne (Germany), America, Argentine, France, Great Britain, etc.

After the Kendalls went in, our names were called and Mrs. Hench and I passed through a small anteroom to meet the royal family: the King, the Queen, Princess Sibylla, Prince Bertil, Prince Wilhelm. Without further introduction, King Gustaf Adolf greeted me as “Professor Hench … “which took me back to the “professorial days” of my father. We had a nice chat, discussing among other things the honorary degrees which my alma mater, Lafayette College, had conferred on him and his wife when, as Crown Prince and Princess, they had visited the United States in 1938. As Mrs. Hench and I talked to the King and Queen (she was a British Mountbatten and he speaks English perfectly), the Kendalls were concluding their chat with the Princes.

After brief greetings with the rest of the royal family we passed on into a very, long chamber, the Gallery of Carolus XI, sometimes used for large royal banquets, where certain ladies and gentlemen of the King’s household were mingling with their guests. Food and drinks of various kinds were being passed about. Almost at once a very pleasant man attached himself to us to make us feel welcome. He was Mr. Erik Sjöqvist, the King’s secretary with the title ‘cultural attaché’.

For some reason, and despite the alphabet, the British had been received last and the very last one to be received had been Bertrand Russell. When he entered the reception hall he noticed Mrs. Hench and came over to talk to us. He had been Mrs. Hench’s dinner companion the day before, and throughout the whole festival he and my wife got along splendidly. He is a cheerful, amusing man, very alert despite his 79 years.

At the conclusion of the two-hour reception, the King and his family passed among their guests making a circuit, bowing and bidding everyone goodnight.

Nobel Soirée at the National Museum

The evening was not over yet. About 10:30 p.m. we arrived at the National Museum (near the Grand Hôtel) for a soirée given by the Nobel Foundation. Our whole family had been invited, and Mrs. Kahler, Mary and Kahler were there. Hundreds of Stockholm’s citizens were on hand, all formally dressed. People were sitting on the stairs and the balconies to greet the laureates and their wives, whose arrival was again announced with a fanfare by the peripatetic trumpeters. Everyone arose in friendly greeting as we climbed the long flight of stairs and joined the others. A lovely musical program was in progress. A very good orchestra (La Société d’Orchestre Académique de Stockholm) played various numbers and the Academic Choir of Stockholm sang some beautiful things which Kahler and I especially enjoyed. Later a soprano with a delightful voice sang a group of lovely Swedish songs. At about 11:15 p.m. a buffet supper was served in one of the rooms.

The Ambassador’s Luncheon Party

At noon Ambassador and Mrs. Butterworth gave a very pleasant small luncheon party at their home for the Kendalls and the Henches. Thev had sent us invitations to a reception they were to give for the Bunches on the following Saturday, but we could not remain in Stockholm that long. A few weeks before, when Dr. Bunche and a few other American laureates had been invited to the Research Corporation dinner party for the Kendalls and Henches in New York, Dr. Bunche unexpectedly had to remain in Washington. Thus, unfortunately, Dr. Kendall and I have not yet met him.

Late in the afternoon Dr. Kendall and I went to a one-day-early Lucia party given by Professor Liljestrand in his laboratory.

Dinner Party of Professor Svartz

That evening, Nanna Svartz, professor of medicine at the Caroline Institute (and a member of the Nobel Subcommittee of two which had reviewed and presented the work on cortisone before the committee and faculty), gave a fine dinner party for the Kendalls, the Reichsteins, Mrs. Kahler, and the whole Hench family. Professor Svartz’ husband is the pediatrician, Professor Nils Malmberg; their daughter, Gunvor, was very kind to our children. Also present were the Lobbs and Rosenbergs; Professor and Mrs. Domagk and their daughter; 3 or 4 other local professors and their wives, and 3 young medical students, one of whom had received his degree that very day.

Wednesday, 13 December

Of other delightful official and private events I can only mention one in closing – the Lucia festival, which provided a pleasant anti-climax to our week in Stockholm. The legend of Lucia honors the spirit of Christian charity and celebrates the beauty of light. It is widely celebrated in the Scandinavian countries on December 13, one of the shortest and darkest days of the year. The Lucia festivities are held not only as civic affairs but also in most homes and offices.

The main feature this year in Stockholm was to be a civic event in the City Hall, the “crowning” of “Lucia of Stockholm, Queen of Light.” The King is one of the sponsors of the event, which is underwritten annually by one of the large Stockholm corporations; in recent years it has been managed by the Stockholm’s Tidningen, one of the leading newspapers. Because the money raised this year was to be used for rheumatic children, the committee had asked me to “crown” Lucia at the evening ceremony, the invitation having been cabled to me in November through Docent Gunnar Edström, of the University of Lund, whom I had met on several occasions and who had entertained Mrs. Hench and me at his home in 1948.

The Lucia Festival, City Hall

In the evening about 2,000 people including the diplomatic corps and their distinguished guests attended the civic Lucia festival. It was really a fine, dignified ceremony, semi-religious and partly social. First, everyone gathered in the Blue Hall. Completing a street parade through city the Lucia of Stockholm and her attendants reached the City Hall. The young Lucia (Miss Elisabeth Meyerhöffer) is an authentic Swedish beauty, with blond hair and perfect features. She also has poise, charm and personality. As she and her attendants slowly entered the Great Blue Hall they were followed by a choir of boys, singing. My hosts and I waited to meet Lucia on the first landing of the marble stairs. As she drew near I noticed a man in a dark suit walking unobtrusively just a few feet behind her. He was carrying a wet towel just in case Lucia‘s hair caught fire from her crown of lighted (real) candles. Such an accident occasionally occurs. To forestall it, the top of the girl’s head usually is covered with a thin protection of some sort, and some people are resorting to crowns of electric lights for the chosen daughter of the family to wear for the early morning family celebrations.

After the lovely Lucia of Stockholm joined us on the stair landing with her attendants arranged on the lower steps, I was introduced to give my little talk. But during the day I had developed a very hoarse sore throat. So with the approval of my hosts, Kahler gave the speech for me and did very well indeed. Perhaps some of you heard him, for the affair was broadcast over Swedish radio stations and re-broadcast to the United States for transcription in connection with certain Swedish-American Lucia celebrations.

After Kahler’s talk I hung a jewelled pendant around Lucia‘s neck. Then a boy soprano sang a lovely air in Latin. Soon, about 600 people adjourned upstairs to the banquet in the Gold Hall. Dancing began in the Great Blue Hall. After the banquet a reception in the Gold Hall and the dancing downstairs continued long after midnight.

Our family had been formally invited to visit the Lucia fest of the Medical Student’s Union. About 2:00 a.m. we went to the Student’s party with Dr. Edström’s daughter, Fru Marianne Westrup, and Mr. Oscar Rosander, the Swedish cousin of one of my boyhood friends, where we received a friendly welcome.

In retrospect, that which made the greatest, most lasting impression upon us all was the amazing spirit of friendship and the truly gracious hospitality which were shown to those who participated in this Nobel Jubilee, not only by our hosts of the Nobel Foundation and of the prize-awarding institutions, and by the citizens of Stockholm, but by the royal family, the government and diplomatic corps and indeed by the whole Swedish and Scandinavian people. My family and I have also sincerely appreciated the friendly interest which so many of our home folk have expressed to us these past months. For this we shall always owe the people of Sweden and our home folk our unmeasured thanks.

Hench receives medal and diploma

Philip Hench (right) receiving his Nobel Prize medal and diploma from King Gustaf Adolf VI of Sweden while Prince Wilhelm looks on.
Photo: AB Reportagebild

* Reprinted from Proceedings of the Staff Meetings of the Mayo Clinic 26:417-437 (Nov. 7) 1951. This paper was presented at a meeting of the general staff of the Mayo Clinic on the evening of February 7, 1951.

1. Dr. Bernardo Houssay, Prize winner in 1947, and his wife arrived from Argentina two days later.

2. Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1950, was not present at this Stockholm ceremony, since the peace prize is awarded by the Norwegian Storting (Parliament); he received his prize in Oslo on the same day, December 10, and was received in Stockholm a few days later.

3. In addition to the medical laureates mentioned above they were: Max von Laue, 1914; W. Lawrence Bragg, 1915; Werner Heisenberg, 1932; George Thomson, 1937; Otto Stern, 1943; Isidor I. Rabi, 1944; Percy W. Bridgman, 1946; chemistry, Irene Joliot-Curie, 1935; Richard Kuhn, 1938; Adolph Butenandt, 1939; George de Hevesy, 1943; Otto Hahn, 1944; Arttturi Virtanen, 1945; Arne Tiselius, 1948.

To cite this section
MLA style: Reminiscences of the Nobel Festival, 1950*. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2024. Mon. 26 Feb 2024. <>

Nobel Prizes and laureates

Eleven laureates were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2023, for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. Their work and discoveries range from effective mRNA vaccines and attosecond physics to fighting against the oppression of women.

See them all presented here.