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Sixth Annual Session of the Medical Society of the State of California Sacramento, 13-14 February 1861

The minutes of the Sixth Annual Session were never published as far as we know. The following information regarding the session was obtained from a handwritten copy of the minutes found in the E. S. Cooper Collection at the California Historical Society Library in San Francisco. [28]

The meeting was called to order by President Isaac Rowell at 11:30 A. M. on 13 February. The number of members in attendance is uncertain, but from the names mentioned in the minutes it appears that thirteen were present. Again there were only three members from San Francisco. These were Professors Cooper, Cole and Rowell. There were five members from Sacramento, and five from the vicinity of Sacramento and north. One resignation was received, and one new member was admitted to the Society.

After transaction of some routine business President Rowell delivered his Annual Address, of which we have no record. This was followed by selection of a full complement of Society officers and Standing Committees for 1861. Dr. S. F. Hamm of Diamond Springs in El Dorado County was elected President. He was originally from Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1848. Dr. Cooper was reelected Corresponding Secretary. [29] [30]

Reports of Standing Committees now being in order, the only one prepared to speak was Dr. Cooper who presented the Report on Surgery. The substance of his remarks was not recorded in the minutes, but we know that his presentation was as usual a lengthy one, requiring continuation into the second day of the meeting. His remarks were followed by a paper on diphtheria by Dr. Hubbard of Marysville and a second paper on the same subject by Dr. Pierson of Sacramento.

The program was completed by the end of the second day and, having no further business to transact or scientific reports to consider, the Society adjourned on February fourteenth after what appears to have been a lackluster session.

The attendance figures of the 1860 and 1861 sessions showed that the physicians of San Francisco (except for Cooper and his associates) had abandoned the State Society, and that it now depended for its existence on less than a dozen Sacramento and other up-country doctors. Yet Cooper's editorial describing the 1861 session was reassuring: [31]

The Sixth Annual Meeting of the Medical Society of the State of California was held at Sacramento in February 1861.

The attendance was not very large, but the proceedings throughout were characterized by harmony among the members, great enthusiasm in the cause of the medical profession of California, and a determination to make the Society a great contributor to the progress of medical science on this coast. . .

We regret that so few medical men of the State take an interest in the Society, and that the burden of keeping it up rests upon a few, but we feel fully compensated for our regrets, in the fact, that the few so manfully and enthusiastically perform this great duty. We are glad that there are medical men in California, who fully comprehend the obligations they owe, alike to themselves and their profession, in keeping up societies for medical improvement, and that nothing dampens their ardor. Their courage is invincible, and a few years more will suffice to show the results of their labors, not only by their own advancement but that of the science of medicine on this coast. They have wills as strong as destiny itself. Stimulated by a love for the profession, affection and sympathy for each other, and untiring energies, what utter folly to talk of anything but great success in the end?

These were Cooper's brave last words on the subject of the California State Medical Society. There is no further mention of the State Society in his writings or a clue anywhere as to why a Seventh Session was never convened. Great were his expectations when he brashly launched the drive for a State Society in 1855, only three months after his arrival in San Francisco. Six years later it quietly disappeared from the scene.

Could it be that events outside the medical sphere discouraged Cooper from continuing his vigorous editorial advocacy for the Society? There was no hint in the Medical Press or in the handwritten minutes of the Sixth Session that a great national catastrophe was impending during the early months of 1861. The declaration of the Confederate States of America took place on 8 February 1861, five days before the convening of the Session.

The Confederacy consisted of the southern States that were determined to secede from the Union if necessary to protect, expand and perpetuate the slavery of the Negro race. Other factors influenced the States' decision but slave labor was the linchpin of the movement. In his inaugural address on 4 March 1861 as the sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln warned the secessionists that the momentous issue of civil war was in their hands, that there would be no conflict without their being the aggressors. They responded on 12 April 1861 by firing the first gun of the Civil War in an unprovoked attack on Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. The disunionists had fired on the flag, the North was inflamed and the issue was joined. [32]

In his authoritative recounting of California's Medical Story, Dr. Henry Harris suggested that the stupendous tragedy of the Civil War was responsible for the "disorganization" of the State Society. He also pointed out that Professor Isaac Rowell was a highly vocal abolitionist and that his identification with the Society would probably have alienated physicians of "Southern breeding and sympathies." [33]

While the outbreak of the Civil War may have had some bearing on the dissolution of the State Society, it was probably not the major cause for the following reasons. California's constitution banned slavery and there was never serious doubt of its adherence to the Union. The State was so far from the scenes of bloodshed and destruction east of the Mississippi, that social order in California was little disrupted. Many doctors volunteered or were called to military duty, but the majority remained and could have supported medical societies had they been so inclined.

Why then did medical organizations in general, and the State Society in particular, fail to thrive on the coast both before and after beginning of the war? In January 1865 when Henry Gibbons became editor of the Medical Press, he pondered the question. As the cause for the demise of medical societies, he cited indifference of the doctors and attempts to subvert the societies into courts of enquiry and condemnation, and he pled for restoration of the societies as a means of combating these very conditions: [34]

Something Wrong. There is not one medical society in California, nor as far as we know, anywhere in the three States of the Pacific (at this time). It makes our ears tingle to record the shameful fact. Not even in San Franciso, where there are two hundred regularly educated physicians, is there an association of medical men for the advancement of the interests of the profession and of science. In years past there have been societies in active and useful operation in several localities; but they have died, either from indifference on the part of the members, or the attempt to subvert them into courts of enquiry and condemnation, for the purpose of punishing certain individuals who may have given offense to others. Cliques and coteries are the invariable result of the absence of associations. The existence of such nuisances is the objection mostly presented, when the proposal is made to form a society. "You cannot maintain a society. There is not enough esprit de corps - too much petty jealousy - too many Ishmaelites." Thus do men talk, pleading the disease as an objection to the remedy.

Societies would cure the evil, or at least tend to that result. Their absence foments exclusiveness, envy, snarling, and irregularities of all kinds. Social intercourse is the great need of our profession in California. Beneath its genial influence, petty jealousies and suspicions would vanish, and give place to mutual respect and confidence. Besides, the interests of medical science require organizations. It is positively impossible to cultivate the field of medicine profitably and thoroughly, without the aid of association. This is especially the case in the newly settled regions on the Pacific coast. . . Is it not time to move in this matter? Ought not medical societies to exist in all the chief centres of population on this coast? We beseech our brethren everywhere to take the subject in hand.

When Gibbons wrote this requiem for the pioneer medical societies of California, he surely had in mind the contributions and ordeals of Elias Cooper. It is fair to regard Cooper as at once the most effective (and controversial) exponent of medical organization on the Pacific coast during the 1850's. Although the societies he sponsored did not survive the Civil War era, they established traditions and laid the foundation for their resurrection in more durable form after the war.

While practicing in Peoria, Cooper was in full sympathy with the historic movement, initiated by the formation of the American Medical Association in 1847, to establish local and state medical societies nationwide. As a founding member of the Illinois Medical Society, he participated enthusiastically in its program. When he departed for California, he considered himself no less than an apostle of medical organization to the West, and in exactly ten weeks from his arrival in San Francisco we find him engaged in co-founding the San Francisco County Medico-Chirurgical Association. We have already told how the organization of the Association was swiftly accomplished including the election of Cooper as Corresponding Secretary. He chaired the By-Laws Committee and by securing the adoption of three series of resolutions of his own design he not only determined the modus operandi of the Association but he stamped it with his now familiar statement of principles: [35]


1. That unanimity of feeling and concurrence of action among the members of the Society is indispensable to its perpetuity;

2. That the members of this Society shall know no contention, save that which prompts us to contend with each other for the highest merits in the cultivation of the literature of our profession, the most skill in its practice, the greatest candor towards each other, and the sincerest devotion to the true interests and dignity of our calling.

We have seen how Cooper lost no time in proposing to the Sacramento Medical Society that they collaborate with the Association in establishing a State Medical Society based on these same principles. Within seven months the State Society was a reality.

This recapitulation of the launching of the two most productive medical societies on the Pacific coast in the 1850's serves to recall Cooper's seminal role in their founding. Throughout their fleeting tenure he was the most diligent in presenting medical reports and scientific observations - activities which were in his view the primary objective of medical societies.

The reasons these pioneer societies ceased to exist are clear. In the case of the Medico-Chirurgical Association, Cooper's personal leadership and program contributions were critical to its survival. In the end, however, not even the dynamic Cooper could prevail over the indifference and cleavages within the medical community of San Francisco, and the Association simply died of inanition.

For the extinction of the State Society, the Pathological Society of San Francisco (founded "for the promotion of science") and its partisans deserve full credit. As Cooper observed, they were masters of political maneuver and thereby gained administrative control. Regrettably, Cooper and Cole presented them with issues which they successfully exploited to fatally undermine the confidence of the membership. In simplest terms, the State Society was the hapless victim of the rule and ruin tactics of a "pathological clique. " [36]

Within three months of his arrival in San Francisco, Cooper had identified the Pathological Society as his Nemesis and he never ceased to denounce it. His premonition regarding the Society's future menace to his plans was all too prophetic, but his diatribes against the entrenched cabal proved futile. As to the Pathological Society's contribution to improvement of the medical profession and promotion of science on the Pacific coast, Cooper would have heartily concurred in the Society's epitaph as belatedly pronounced by Henry Gibbons in 1870: [37] [38]

The Pathological Society (was) so-called because it was always in a pathological condition. A few choice spirits, segregating themselves from the common herd, assumed to be the Profession. Like another distinguished body - the French Academy - their number was limited. Their meetings were secret, and what they did for science never transpired. The Pathological Society lived and died stealthily, leaving, as the only visible trace of its arduous labors, a pyramid - somewhat smaller than that of Cheops - composed of empty bottles and oyster-shells.


Adieu to Doctor Wooster

At some time during 1860 David Wooster's indictment for perjury was dismissed by the California Supreme Court. Cooper registered his disappointment with this outcome in an editorial in the Medical Press for January 1861 and added that: [39]

It is a very difficult matter in California to effect a conviction for the crime of perjury, however clear the evidence of guilt may be. . .In this case, it would appear that there must have been some knotty legal questions involved, as the County Judge occupied nearly six months in deciding upon Wooster's (plea of innocence), and the Supreme Court about as long..

Also in January 1861, Cooper learned that David Wooster had submitted an application for a position as Visiting Surgeon at the U. S. Marine Hospital in San Francisco: His reaction to this information was harsh and uncompromising: [40]

San Francisco, 21 January 1861

The Honorable Eugene Sullivan

Dear Sir:

I learn that there are a great many candidates for the situation of Visiting Surgeon to the U. S. Marine Hospital (in San Francisco) and that you will be likely to have the appointing privilege. I consider it my duty to write you. The situation is one of the finest the U. S. can confer upon a Medical Man and ought to be filled by a worthy one. There are several candidates who are most worthy and some whom it would be a disgrace to any government to appoint. . .

There is one candidate. . . that as you value your future reputation you will not have appointed because sooner or later his true character will be known to be no better (than that of) a State Prison convict and that person is Dr. David Wooster.

He bears the reputation of a cattle thief in Yuba County (his former residence) and I do know him to be an unmitigated perjurer for which as you may remember he was indicted though not convicted.

I take this privilege of writing you because I consider it my duty to watch over the interest of the profession of this coast and I know it cannot be unacceptable to you to be informed in regard to what are the merits of those upon whom you confer the patronage of government. . .

(E. S. Cooper)

Cooper enclosed the following petition in the above letter to Mr. Sullivan: [41]

Petition: We the undersigned citizens of San Francisco, California, having learned that Dr. David Wooster is a candidate for the situation of Visiting Surgeon or Resident Physician at the U. S. Marine Hospital of this city, would most especially remonstrate against said appointment having as we think a thorough knowledge of his moral character.

Wooster did not receive the appointment to the staff of the U. S. Marine Hospital. Whether Cooper's fulminations were responsible for that outcome, we do not know. In any case, public exchanges in the Cooper-Wooster feud finally ceased in the declining days of 1861. Cooper's attention was increasingly claimed by the medical school. The Civil War commanded the services of Wooster. He bid "Vale! Vale!" to the Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal in a valedictory editorial in the December 1861 issue. The last item in that issue of the Journal is an abstract of Wooster's Monthly Reports as Surgeon to the 5th Infantry Regiment of the California Volunteers, stationed at Camp Union, Sacramento. From there, Wooster was soon posted to the Arizona-New Mexico sector, too far for him to launch further barbs at Cooper. Thus concluded the most notorious episode of medical duplicity and professional treachery in California history. [42] [43]

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