Ohio History Journal





OF   THE    STATE, 1788-1835.*








In discussing the legal requirements for medical practice dur-

ing the period from the first official settlement of the Northwest

Territory to the repeal of all laws designed to regulate the prac-

tice of physic and surgery in Ohio, it seems appropriate to sketch

in, first of all, an historical background. The various factors and

influences which were responsible for the enactment of the first

laws should be well understood.

Immigration into the Northwest Territory during the time

it was owned by England was discouraged for various reasons.

Even in the interval between 1783, when it was ceded to the United

States, and the enactment of the Ordinance of 1787, there was

very little inducement to settlement. However, passage of the

Ordinance with its provision for civil administration and for

acquisition of valid land titles gave a powerful impetus to immi-

gration. Prior to the settling of Marietta, April 7, 1788, the white

population consisted for the most part of squatters and itinerant

traders and trappers. The boundaries of Ohio were not yet de-


* The eight papers under this heading were read before the Public Session of

the Ohio Committee on Medical History and Archives, Ohio History Conference,

Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society Library, Columbus, April 7, 1939.





fined. There was not a single civilian physician in the entire

Northwest Territory. In the early summer of 1788 Jabez True

put in his appearance at Marietta and became the first practicing

physician in Ohio.1 Dr. True was a native of New Hampshire,

had served as a surgeon on a privateer ship during the Revolu-

tionary War, and, after his arrival in Ohio, was appointed a

surgeon's mate in the Indian war at $22 per month. After the

close of hostilities he resumed his practice which took him as far

as thirty miles up and down the Ohio River. He traveled by canoe

and was usually accompanied by two armed guards as a protection

against Indian attack. True died in 1823 at the age of sixty-three,

having practiced in Marietta for thirty-five years.

It was quite natural that the first settlements should be along

the waterways. Water transportation was easier, the bottom lands

were more fertile and such locations were safer from Indian attack

since most Indian villages were inland. The first settlements of

any size were the Muskingum colony (Marietta), the Miami colony

(Cincinnati), the Steubenville colony (Steubenville), and the

Scioto colony (Chillicothe). Because of the difficulty of return

transportation against the current of the Ohio River, the Govern-

ment, in 1796, commissioned Colonel Ebenezer Zane to cut a semi-

circular road from Martin's Ferry to a point at Aberdeen on the

Ohio River. This was known as Zane's Trace. At first it was

scarcely more than a trail, but was soon widened to a passable

road. It soon swarmed with home seekers from the East. Hamlets

sprang up along its course some of which later grew into cities--

St. Clairsville, Cambridge, Zanesville, Lancaster, Kingston, Chilli-

cothe and West Union. At the same time another tide of immigra-

tion was sweeping in from the South, having gained access to

Kentucky by way of the historic Cumberland Gap. The two on-

sweeping waves commingled in the Ohio country. What was the

result? The population of Ohio, which in 1800 was about 45,000,

jumped to about 230,000 in 1810, and by 1820, in one short decade,

had leaped to over half a million.2



1 Samuel Prescott Hildreth,Biographical and Historical Memoirs of the Early

Pioneer Settlers of Ohio . . . (Cincinnati, 1852), 329.

2 Roderick Peattie, Geography of Ohio (Columbus, 1923), 116.




Whence came the physicians to minister to the ills of this

swelling horde? They did not come in sufficient numbers. But

ailing flesh cries out for surcease from pain. The ill were com-

pelled to turn to whatever source held promise of relief. As a

result quacks, mountebanks and charlatans, like a plague, soon

infested the entire state.

At last a self-appointed Moses, in the person of Dr. Samuel

Prescott Hildreth, arose to lead the medical profession out of

the wilderness of chaos. Hildreth, a practicing physician at

Marietta, was elected to the state legislature in 1810. He took it

upon himself personally, to draft and to steer through the General

Assembly the first act designed to regulate the practice of physic

and surgery in Ohio.3 The preamble of this first law reveals

clearly the incentive for its origin. It reads, "Whereas the prac-

tice of physic and surgery is a science so immediately interesting

to society that every encouragement for its promotion should be

given, and every abuse of it, so far as possible, suppressed--

Therefore. ... ."4

This first law (January 14, 1811) provided that the state be

divided into five medical districts. In each district three censors,

or examiners, were appointed by the General Assembly whose

duty it was to meet at designated towns twice each year for the

purpose of examining candidates for the practice of medicine,

and to issue licenses. The law required that the candidate should

satisfy the censors that he was a person of good moral character

and also that he had "attended three full years to the theory and

practice of medicine under the guidance of some able physician

or surgeon, or a license from some medical society shewing his

having been admitted as a practitioner, and give satisfactory

answers to such questions as may be put to him by the censors,

or examiners, on anatomy, surgery, materia medica, chymistry

and the theory and practice of medicine." It further specified that

licenses should "be either printed on smooth, handsome paper, or

written on parchment in a fair, round hand." The censors were

allowed $5.00 for each license granted, and were required to pub-

3 H. Z. Williams & Bro., pub., History of Washington County, Ohio .. . (Cleve-

land, 1881), 408-10.

4 Ohio Laws, Statutes, etc., Acts, 9 Assemb., 1810/11, p. 18.




lish the names of the successful candidates in some newspaper of

general circulation.

A unique feature of the law was that while it did not pro-

hibit a person without a license from practicing medicine, it did

stipulate that no person so practicing could invoke the law to

collect fees for services rendered. Not much in the form of teeth,

to be sure, but as much perhaps as one should expect in a medical

legislative infant still in swaddling clothes.

A little more than a year later (February 8, 1812) Hildreth's

law was repealed and an act to incorporate a medical society was

passed.5 It specified that the society be officially known as the

"President and Fellows of the Medical Society of the State of

Ohio." The names of 120 physicians eligible to membership were

written into the law. Whoever drafted this law certainly had only

a casual knowledge of the state's physicians since many of them

were placed in wrong counties. For example, the celebrated Daniel

Drake was listed as from Franklin County, and Samuel Prescott

Hildreth as from Champaign County.

This law divided the state into seven medical districts and the

physicians residing in each district constituted a medical society.

From each of these societies not less than two, nor more than

three, members were to be chosen by ballot to represent the society

at the state convention, the first of which was to be held in Chilli-

cothe on November 1, 1812. It was stipulated that ten delegates

present at the convention should constitute a quorum. The law

required that component district societies should "communicate

information to each other," and that district societies should

relay to the state convention "such curious cases and observations

as may come to their knowledge." On the other hand, it was the

duty of the state convention "to cause to be published such ex-

traordinary cases, and such observations on the state of the air,

and on epidemical and other disorders as they may think proper,

for the benefit of society and citizens in general." So here was

the first attempt in Ohio to elevate medical standards through

the dissemination of knowledge. The convention was empowered


5 Ibid., 10 Assemb., 1811/12, p. 58.




to expel members for misdemeanors; to appoint an examining

committee for each district; to "confer honorary degrees on such

members of the faculty as they may from time to time find of

distinguished merit;" to purchase and to hold property up to

$12,000; and to levy a tax not to exceed $2.00 per annum upon

all members of the society; which tax could be collected through

suit before any justice of the peace.

Real teeth were put into this law. It stated any male person

(either there were no female practitioners or they were not worth

considering) who was guilty of practicing without a "licence"

not only could not invoke the law to collect fees for services

rendered, but was subject to a fine of "not more than one hundred

nor less than five dollars for every offense." But here were the

real fangs. One-half the fine imposed was to go to the person

instigating the suit, and one-half for the use of the local medical

society. No doubt it was thought that splitting the fines would

appeal to the cupidity of the laymen and thus stimulate whole-

sale suits against the quacks. `Inquiry into the practical results of

this method would make an interesting study.

Another feature of this law was the strict prohibition of

price fixing by the society. Evidently fear of monopolistic prac-

tices existed then even as now.

In passing it is interesting to note that, pursuant to this law,

an attempt was made to hold a convention in Chillicothe in 1812,

but only five delegates put in an appearance. They were: Dr.

Daniel Drake, Cincinnati; Dr. Samuel Parsons, Columbus; Dr.

Joseph Canby, Lebanon; and Drs. Joseph Scott and John Ed-

miston, Chillicothe.6 Since ten delegates were required for a

quorum no business could be transacted and the convention ad-

journed sine die. Nine years elapsed before the next convention

was held in Columbus in 1821.

The next change in the laws occurred in less than a year,

January 19, 1813,7 precipitated no doubt because of the failure to

assemble a state convention. Without a state convention no dis-

trict examining censors could be appointed since the convention


6 Western Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences (Cincinnati, 1827-1888),

VII (1834), 479.

7 Ohio Laws, Acts, 11 Assemb., 1812/13, p. 28.




had been invested with that power. Without censors no candidates

could be examined nor licenses issued. As a result the principal

objective of the law had been defeated. In the new law the num-

ber of districts remained the same, seven. The General Assembly

named seven physicians in each district to act as censors. The

sponsors of the law, who must have been medical men, were per-

sistently trying to get some sort of action--to devise some means

of curbing the activity of medical charlatans.

This act must have been reasonably satisfactory since there

was no more tampering with the laws until January 28, 1817, and

then only for the ostensible purpose of making the district societies

self-perpetuating by empowering them to select a board of censors

to serve for each ensuing year.

An amendment to the then existing medical laws was passed

January 30, 1818. Here for the first time was given legal recog-

nition to formal medical education because it provided that "any

person having received the degree of Doctor of Medicine in any

university or other medical institution within the United States

. . . shall, on application be entitled to a license . . . without an


The next major change in the medical laws was made January

15, 1821.8 In this new law nine medical districts, to conform with

the circuits of the Court of Common Pleas, were set up. Five

censors were named for each district. It created a Medical Con-

vention of Ohio "to be holden" in Columbus once each year begin-

ning with June, 1821. The convention was to consist of one dele-

gate from each district. Since there were nine districts the con-

vention could have a maximum of only nine members in atten-

dance. In effect the convention was equivalent to a central licensing

board with power to "prescribe the periods and methods of study

and qualifications of candidates." The convention was also directed

"to elect annually two of its body to attend as visitors, the com-

mencements in the Medical College of Ohio; join with the faculty

of that institution in the examination of candidates for degrees,

vote on their admission, and subscribe their diplomas on behalf of

the convention, and for their services they shall be paid two dol-


8 Ibid., 19 Assemb., 1820/21, p. 28.



lars per diem." Joseph Canby of Warren County, and John Ed-

miston, of Ross County, were designated as the visitors to the

ensuing commencement of the Medical College of Ohio.

That the members of the first Medical Convention of Ohio,

held in Columbus, June 4, 1821, took their responsibilities seriously

is attested by the stringent rules which they adopted governing

the qualifications of candidates for the practice of physic and sur-

gery. Among the principal stipulations were: that the candidate

be of good moral character; that he have a competent acquaintance

with the Greek and Latin languages; that he be well informed in

"Mechanical Philosophy;" that he shall have "read the various

branches of the profession, with, and attended practice of some

regularly educated and reputable practitioner for the term of two

years;" that he "shall have obtained the information contained" in

the prescribed text-books; and that he shall have attended one

course of medical lectures on all the branches taught in some "re-

spectable Medical Institution."9

One is tempted to speculate as to the familiarity of the august

convention members themselves with the formidable array of books

listed, not to mention their knowledge of Greek, Latin, and

"Mechanical Philosophy." No doubt it gave "the faculty" con-

siderable satisfaction as well as an added sense of dignity thus to

impress the humble neophyte with the profundity of their wis-

dom. One cannot help wondering how many prospective medicos

may have been shunted off into some less exacting but more

lucrative vocation.

An interval of six years appears to have elapsed before the

second convention was held in Columbus, December 10, 1827.10

In the interim repeal of old, and the enactment of new laws had

divided the state into twenty-two medical districts, the general plan

of organization, censorship and licensure remaining essentially

the same. The third convention of the General Medical Society11

was held in Columbus, January 5, 1829. The fourth convention

was held in 1831 and the fifth in 1833. Unfortunately no printed

9 Worthington (Ohio) Franklin Chronicle, July 2, 1821, p. 4.

10 Medical State Convention, Proceedings . . . Columbus, December 10, 1827

(Zanesville, O., 1828).

11 General Medical Society, Proceedings . . . Columbus, January 5, 1829 (Colum-

bus, 0., 1829).




proceedings of either of the last two conventions have been dis-


This brings us to the end of the legal phase of medical organi-

zation. In 1833, the state legislature, discouraged at the futile

attempt to suppress quackery by law, gave up in despair and re-

pealed all existing laws pertaining to the practice of physic and

surgery.12 This action met with the approval of the medical pro-

fession generally which evidently had reached the conclusion that

the only effective way to exterminate quacks was to elevate the

educational standard of physicians, somewhat on the theory per-

haps, that "virtue is its own reward." They reasoned that the

automatic operation of the law of the "survival of the fittest"

would eventually weed out the quacks. A vain hope, for quacks

and cultists have flourished the world over since the "memory of

man runneth not to the contrary," and probably will continue to

thrive, regardless of restraining laws or of any transcendental

heights to which medical enlightenment may soar so long as the

sucker birth-rate remains at status quo. At the very moment of

the repeal of the medical laws one of the most stupendous systems

of quackery this country has ever known--the Thomsonian sys-

tem--was approaching its zenith. Thus, after twenty-two years of

persistent effort, it seemed that the more legislation that was

adopted to discourage the growth of the multi-headed hydra of

empiricism, the more gargantuan it became.

So from the time of the repeal of all medical practice laws in

1833 to the enactment of the medical practice act in 1896--a period

of sixty-three years--any person so inclined, regardless of his

qualifications or his knowledge of medical subjects, could hang out

his shingle and practice medicine in the state of Ohio.













12 Ohio Laws, Acts, 31 Assemb., 1832/33, p. 27.