Ohio History Journal








The endeavor, during the period of 1811-1833, to establish a

satisfactory method of medical licensure under the aegis of the

law, and which turned out to be such a dismal failure, has been

recounted in various articles published in the "Historian's Note-

book" of the Ohio State Medical Journal and in the QUARTERLY

of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society. To

marshal the facts concerning that phase would, therefore, be but

unnecessary reiteration. However, it should be borne in mind that

in 1833 the disgusted legislators, with the consent of the thoroughly

disillusioned medical profession, repealed all laws pertaining to

the practice of medicine. After much trial and error all persons

concerned had become convinced of the futility, at that time, of

attempting to regulate medical practice by law. So, the medical

profession was "put upon its own," faced with the not too promis-

ing outlook of trying to lift itself by its own boot straps. A state

of near-chaos existed in the ranks and the problem of bringing

about some semblance of order and professional self-respect was

indeed tremendous. There were, of course, some qualified practi-

tioners in the State, but they were in the minority, whereas, the

number of incompetents and out-and-out quacks was legion.

To a certain extent this situation was a natural result of the

times. The population of Ohio was rapidly increasing but the

number of capable physicians and the facilities for adequate medi-

cal training had not kept pace with the astonishing growth of the

commonwealth. Such could hardly have been expected, espe-

cially when one pauses to reflect that the opportunities for even

a rudimentary education were sadly lacking. There were but

two medical colleges west of the Alleghenies--the Medical De-

partment of Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky



OHIO MEDICAL HISTORY, 1835-1858                   367


(founded by Dr. Benjamin W. Dudley in 1817),1 and the Medi-

cal College of Ohio (founded by Dr. Daniel Drake in 1819).2

Other medical colleges which started during, or near, this period

were: Willoughby Medical College, the Medical Department of

the University of Lake Erie (founded in 1834);3 the Medical

Department of Cincinnati College (founded by Dr. Daniel Drake

in 1835);4 the Cleveland Medical College, the Medical Department

of Western Reserve College, at Hudson (founded in 1843);5

Starling Medical College, Columbus (founded in 1847);6 the Cin-

cinnati College of Medicine and Surgery (founded by Dr. Alva H.

Baker in 1851);7 and the Miami Medical College of Cincinnati

(founded in 1852).8

The direct result of this confused state of affairs was that

there were three distinct classes of practicing physicians--those

who had received a degree from a medical college, those who had

attended lectures at some medical college but who had not gone

on to graduation, and those trained entirely under the preceptor

system, and who "were very decidedly more than those who at-

tended one course of lectures."

"The number who had attended one session of lectures was

greater than those who held medical degrees, but up to 1835 the

number who had never attended any medical school much ex-

ceeded the total of both of these groups. The proportion who

had not attended at all gradually diminished, but there was not

an equalization until after the Civil War."9

With this information at hand one does not have to stretch

the imagination very far to realize what a conglomeration of

physicians, would-be physicians, medical neophytes, impostors and

quacks plagued the lusty infant State of Ohio.


1 Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-general's Office (Washington,

D. C., 1880-), Ser. 1, XIV, 720.

2 Ibid., XIII, 775; Ohio Laws, Statutes, etc., Acts, XVII, 37.

3 Ibid., XVI, 472.

4 Otto Juettner, Daniel Drake and His Followers (Cincinnati, 1909), 182; Index.

Catalogue, Ser. 1, III, 192.

5 Ohio Medical Directory, 1890-91 (Cincinnati, 1890), 65; Index-Catalogue, Ser. 1,

III, 221.

6 Ohio Medical Directory, 1890-91, 65; Index-Catalogue, Ser. 1, XIII, 568.

7 Juettner, Drake, 289-98; Index-Catalogue, Ser. 1, III, 192.

8 Ibid., IX, 243; Ohio Medical Directory, 1890-91, 65; Juettner, Drake, 320.

9 Frederick C. Waite, "The Professional Education of Pioneer Ohio Physicians,"

Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly (Columbus), XLVIII (1939), 196.




After the repeal of the medical laws in 1833 a brief quiescent

period ensued, during which there was no collective action by

medical men. Then some of the more progressive and alert mem-

bers of the profession began to bestir themselves. The outcome

was a circular issued in June, 1834, by Dr. William M. Awl, of

Columbus, addressed to "all Scientific Practitioners of Medicine

and Surgery in the State of Ohio." The circular read:

The undersigned, uniting in sentiment and feeling with that portion of

the Profession who view, with pain, the great depression of character--

want of harmony and concentration of useful action, which unhappily pre-

vail in the Medical Science--acknowledging, also, a proper responsibility

for the advancement of correct principles, the promotion of public benevo-

lence, and the common welfare of society--are induced most respectfully to

recommend and consent to support a call for the assemblage of a General

Medical Convention, to be holden in the city of Columbus, on Monday, the

5th of January, A. D. 1835.

The grand design is to organize for practical utility, the whole scien-

tific medical power of the State. All regular scientific Practitioners of

Medicine and Surgery, either of city, village or county, who are disposed

to advance the honor and dignity of the Profession;--every one who has a

heart in the cause of science, and is ready to unite with the great and

good of the age, in elevating the moral and scientific character and talent

of the great and extending West, is cordially invited, and expected to come

and record his name in this Convention.

The regulation of professional etiquette--The construction of inde-

pendent Medical Societies--The support of a periodical Journal of Practical

Medicine--The erection and location of public Asylums, for the reception

of Lunatics and the instruction of the Blind--The promotion of the Tem-

perance cause--The regulation of Vaccination--The convenient supply of

the Leech:--

And many other subjects will, perhaps, claim the attention of the Con-

vention. But the whole proceeding should be an independent and voluntary

offering for the common good, all are expected to be unpledged, and none

should come entirely unprepared.10

Although written in the rather grandiose style characteristic

of the era, this was a clear, clarion call to the medical profession

to translate its ideals into realities by disseminating knowledge,

by manifesting an active interest in the public welfare, and by

instituting a self-imposed system of rules and regulations designed

10 Medical Convention of Ohio, Proceedings, 1835, 3-4.


OHIO MEDICAL HISTORY, 1835-1858               369


to elevate the standards of medical practice.   It was the true

genesis of voluntary medical organization in Ohio, which has

persisted to this day.

The convention was attended by 72 persons who hailed from

nearly every settled section of the State. After organizing and

electing Peter Allen, of Trumbull County, as president, the very

first order of business was an attempt to purge the newly-formed

organization of undesirables. A committee of three was appointed

"to inquire into the rights of individuals to membership in this

Convention." The committee reported back as follows:

Your committee, appointed to inquire into the rights of individuals to

membership, in this Convention, Report--That the obligations the Conven-

tion owe to the profession, require it of them that in order that an individual

shall be entitled to a seat in this body, he shall have been a regular student

of medicine, under the direction of a respectable and qualified physician, and

that all disciples of "Botanic" or "Thompsonian" systems of practice, be

excluded from all participation in the deliberations of this Convention.11

The report was accepted by the convention.

The "Thompsonians" (Thomsonians), contemptuously re-

ferred to as "steam doctors" or "steamers," were riding high on

the tide of popularity at the time. They were a thorn in the

side of the regular medical profession and consequently were

immediately ostracized. It is interesting to note, except for the

specific reference to "Thompsonians," how naively ambiguous was

the phraseology of the remainder of the resolution.    Not even

the remotest attempt was made to define "a regular student of

medicine" or "a respectable and qualified physician." Had that

been done with any degree of conscientiousness it is probable that

a great many of those in attendance would automatically have

been disqualified.  It was an infant organization--it must be

nursed along. Adoption of too rigid restrictions as to qualifica-

tions for membership might have imperiled its very existence.

That the medical profession was acutely aware of the weak-

nesses inherent in attempts at self-regulation was attested by the

following resolutions introduced at the convention ten years later

(1845) by Dr. Alva H. Baker.


11 Ibid., 5-6.




Mr. President: As the Profession of Medicine is the most responsible

profession on earth, so should it be the most Learned, Honorable, Elevated

and Dignified. Admitting such to be the fact, then, as its guardians it

becomes our duty to adopt such measures, as are best calculated to advance

and promote the same. THEREFORE BE IT

RESOLVED, that a thorough English education, good moral char-

acter, and well regulated habits, are essential pre-requisites to the study of


RESOLVED, That the practice of encouraging young men to study

Medicine, who have not the ability, and are not determined to pursue it

regularly, is highly reprehensible, and should be totally discountenanced.

RESOLVED, That less than three years regular study, with some

respectable physician, and two full courses of Lectures, should disqualify

a candidate for Graduation.

RESOLVED, That the cheapening of a Medical education is calcu-

lated to lower the character of the profession, and is decidedly injurious

to the public at large.

RESOLVED, That each member of the State Medical Convention, is

hereby positively forbid consulting with an Empiric or in any wise giving

countenance to his practice, under penalty of total suspension of all privi-

leges in this association.

RESOLVED, That any Physician who may pursue a course contrary

to established ethics is a fit subject for contempt, and should be avoided by

every honorable and high minded Medical man.

RESOLVED, That, county or district Medical Associations tend to

elevate the standard of Medicine, and harmonize the profession.  That

thereby community is benefited, and Quacks discomfitted.l2

These resolutions, in the main quite meritorious, were "laid

upon the table." Why? Probably because the convention itself

was a heterogeneous group of competents and incompetents, and,

to avoid treading upon the toes of too many of the "faculty,"

laying them "upon the table" was the easiest solution. Perhaps

one may be justified in surmising that, had the resolutions been

adopted, quite as many confreres as quacks would have been "dis-


Although the members of the convention refused to adopt

those resolutions providing for at least a partial policing of their

ranks they were, on the other hand, unwilling to agree to a motion

by Dr. J. B. Thompson to memorialize "the Legislature upon the


12 Ibid., 1845, 10-11.


OHIO MEDICAL HISTORY, 1835-1858                371


subject of a Medical Law."13 Instead the following preamble

and resolutions, offered by Dr. James F. Hibbard, were adopted.

WHEREAS, It is the opinion of this Convention, that a legal organi-

zation of a State Medical Society should not be asked for at this time, and

this Convention being a whole within itself, without connexion with any

preceding Convention, and without succession it cannot keep a record, and

can have no archives, and consequently, much of the statistical and other

good that it might and ought to do, is never accomplished:

AND WHEREAS, It is the opinion of this Convention, that the pro-

fession should do all that lies within its power to elevate itself, and benefit

the public, and that this is to be done only by individual and associate effort:

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, That Drs. Hills, R. Thompson,

Davis, Butterfield and Baker, be a committee to draft a Constitution and

By-Laws for the organization of a State Medical Society, and that they be

requested to report at the earliest practicable moment during this session.

"The committee appointed upon the subject of a State Medi-

cal Society made a report, which was finally recommitted to the

same committee, to report anew on the first day of next Conven-

tion" which was to be held "in Columbus on the 2nd Tuesday of

May, 1846, at 10 o'clock, A. M."14

As it so happened, that was the last opportunity for the

Medical Convention of Ohio to form itself, as a whole, into a

State medical society. In retrospect one may be safe in assuming

that to some of the "intelligentsia" in the convention a certain

number of members were persona non grata. As a consequence

on May 14, during the 1846 session of the convention, a select

group of twenty-five "medical gentlemen assembled, and organized

a meeting, by the selection of G. W. Boerstler, Chairman, and

Jas. F. Hibbard, Secretary."

"The chairman stated the object of the meeting, whereupon

a constitution was reported and adopted, as the temporary basis

of the Ohio State Medical Society."15

Meetings of the Medical Convention of Ohio were held as





13 Ibid., 13.

14 Ibid.

15 Ohio State Medical Society, Transactions, 1846, 1.




Year                  Date                      Place

1835 ...............January 5-7 ............ Columbus

1838................January 1-3 ............ Columbus

1839 ................May                                14-15 .................Cleveland

1841 ................May                                5-7 ...................Columbus

1842 ................May                                16-20  ............... Cincinnati

1843  ................May                               6-11 ..................Lancaster

1844 ................May                                28-30 .................Mt. Vernon

1845 ................May                                20-22 .................Columbus

1846 ................May 12-14 ................ Columbus

1847 ................May                                16-20 .................Columbus

1848 ................May                                16-18 ................Columbus

1849................June 5-7 ...................Columbus

1850................June 4-6 ..................Columbus

1851............... June  3 ....................Columbus

"It will be noted that sessions of the Medical Convention of

Ohio and the Ohio State Medical Society were held concurrently

from   1846 to 1851 after which the Medical Convention of Ohio

merged with the Ohio State Medical Society."

The new constitution provided for regular annual meetings

in Columbus on the first Tuesday in June.

"Articles of Incorporation were issued to the Society on

February 22, 1848.

"On May 28, 1902, a new Constitution and By-Laws was

adopted which changed the name of the organization to the Ohio

State Medical Association."16




















16 Robert G. Paterson, "The First Medical Convention in Ohio," Ohio State

Medical Journal (Columbus, 1905-), May, 1938, 560-61.