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Revival of Medical Societies in California

We turn now to the role of the San Francisco Medical Society and the California State Medical Society in the general movement to reform medical education and drive out "irregular" practitioners (i. e., those without a legitimate M. D. degree).

We have seen that frustration over failure to reform medical schools led the A. M. A. in 1869 to call upon State Societies to establish Boards of Medical Examiners. It was recommended that applicants for a license to practice medicine be required by the Boards to submit proof of having had a proper general education, and of having completed a full course of medical studies in a "recognized school." It was hoped that the Boards would force medical schools to reform by recognizing only schools with high standards. The Boards would at the same time serve the purpose of weeding out "irregular" practitioners.

This leads us to a consideration of the revival of the San Francisco Medical Society and the California State Medical Society, both of which were in suspension during the early 1860's; and the extent to which these Societies contributed to the eventual establishment of Boards of Medical Examiners in the State.


Third San Francisco Medical Society, 1868

We have already mentioned that the First and Second versions of the San Francisco Medical Society, like other California medical societies in the Gold Rush era, failed to survive the intense medical competition, personal rivalries and social upheaval of the period. Prior to its complete disappearance in the late 1850's, the Second San Francisco Medical Society had a period of mild florescence during the presidency of Henry Gibbons, Sr. He never ceased to express regret, through editorials in the Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal, over the demise of medical societies in California, and he was a persistent advocate of their revival as a requisite for professional amity and advancement in the State. [36]

It is not surprising then to find Dr. Gibbons playing a major role in restoration of both the San Francisco and the California State Medical Societies. Although Dr. Gibbons never claimed the distinction, it was undoubtedly he who, in early January 1868, "invited to his residence several members of the profession, to consider the propriety of organizing a Medical Society". [37] After two or three more preliminary sessions to frame the Constitution and Bylaws, the first meeting of the Third San Francisco Medical Society was held on 4 February 1868. It was at this meeting that the officers and standing committees of the Society were selected.

Familiar names among the revived Society's new officers and committee members were J. P. Whitney, President; Henry Gibbons, Jr., Recording Secretary; Thomas M. Logan, Corresponding Secretary; Henry Gibbons, Sr., Admissions Committee; and John F. Morse, Ethics Committee. [38]

Henry Gibbons, Sr., greeted the new Society with an editorial in the Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal of which he was Senior Editor: [39]

We are highly gratified to be able to announce the birth of (the San Francisco Medical Society), the need of which has been seriously felt by the members of the profession in San Francisco for a number of years. It opens on a liberal basis, ignoring all personal considerations, and all cliques and coteries. . . We have not a doubt of the success of the present movement. We know that the profession in this city contains the elements of a large, useful and flourishing association.

The first scientific meeting of the reborn Society was convened on 24 March 1868 in San Francisco's imposing City Hall. [40] In honor of the occasion, the newly elected president, Dr. J. P. Whitney, delivered an inaugural address which was ironically, in view of subsequent developments, mainly concerned with drawing the distinction between "regular" and "irregular" doctors in San Francisco. [41]

By 1868 San Francisco had become a more hospitable environment for medical societies and medical schools than previously. When gold was discovered in 1848 the population of San Francisco was less than 1,000. By the end of 1849, the Gold Rush had swelled the former bayside outpost to a chaotic city of 30,000. A decade later, in 1859, the population had more than doubled to a total of 70,000. By mid 1868, it had doubled again, reaching 147, 950. [42] [43]

General conditions gradually improved as the population matured. By 1868, the motley assemblage of tents and shanties, argonauts and adventurers of '49 had given way to a stable and flourishing society. Schools, churches, business enterprises and family life contributed to an atmosphere of civility, culture and progress. It was a season of economic prosperity. There were good rains and bumper crops. Downtown consisted of substantial buildings, many of stone or brick. Comfortable middle class homes adorned the surrounding hills. Optimism was in the air as day-by-day, the gap narrowed between the eastern and western ends of the transcontinental railroad that would in another year link coast to coast. [44]

Dr. Gibbons was elated with the prompt and favorable response of the profession in San Francisco to the call for reinstatement of a medical organization in the city. In an editorial in the Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal in May 1868, he confidently predicted a bright future for this third San Francisco Medical Society. [45]

The Medical Society of San Francisco is now fully established, and in good working order. Its meetings are held on the evenings of the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. . . in the City Hall. Already the good results of such organizations are rendered palpable by the development of professional activity and energy in the form of discussions and written communications. We expect the association soon to gain such a position as a school of medicine, that no practitioner can afford to do with out it.

Dr. Gibbons was prophetic. The Third San Francisco Medical Society has endured to the present day.


A. M. A. Invited to meet in San Francisco

The year of 1870 was a busy one for Dr. Gibbons. Most importantly, he masterminded the revival of the Medical Department of the University of the Pacific, as we have seen. He also undertook other important tasks.

In April 1870 the State Legislature established a State Board of Health, the second in the nation and, in May, Dr. Gibbons was elected as the first President and Dr. Thomas Logan as the Secretary of the State Board. [46] [47]

During 1870, Dr. Gibbons served both as President of the San Francisco Medical Society and Vice President of the American Medical Association. In that dual role he presided over arrangements for the A. M. A. to hold its Annual Meeting in San Francisco in 1871.

As a result of previous groundwork by Dr. Thomas Logan, the A. M. A. let it be known that an invitation to hold its 1871 meeting in San Francisco would be welcome. In response to this encouragement, the San Francisco Medical Society appointed Dr. Joseph C. Tucker, director of the local U. S. Marine Hospital and a member of the A. M. A., to serve as a delegate from the San Francisco Medical Society to the Annual Meeting of the Association held at Washington, D. C., in May 1870. Dr. Tucker was the only delegate from California at the Washington meeting where he extended a formal invitation to hold the next Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The invitation was accepted, and at the end of the Washington meeting the "Association adjourned to meet at San Francisco on the first Tuesday in May, 1871." It would be the first meeting of the A. M. A. in the Far West. [48] [49]

San Francisco was a popular choice because of the recent availability of a convenient means of travel, and the prospect of viewing the legendary region west of the Mississippi from the comfort of the transcontinental railway now in service. In an all-out construction race, the Central Pacific Railroad laid track from the west and the Union Pacific from the east until they met near Ogden, Utah. On 10 May 1869. with an engine from the west drawn up cowcatcher to cowcatcher with an engine from the east, Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific took up a position on the north side of the track and Thomas Durant of the Union Pacific on the south. Then each drove a spike that joined the rails, and inaugurated travel by train from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The ceremonies that followed celebrated an historic engineering achievement and marked the beginning of a new era. The festivities included an address by Professor Morse and, in honor of the occasion, Bret Harte was inspired to contribute the following deathless poetry: [50]

What was it the engines said,
Pilots touching - head to head ?
Said the engine from the west;
"I am from Sierra's crest,
and if altitude's the test,
Well, I reckon, it's confessed,
That I've done my level best."
Said the engine from the east:
"Those who work best talk the least.". . .

Certainly there could have been few inducements other than tourism for the A. M. A. to hold its Annual Meeting in San Francisco in 1871. The city by the Golden Gate had a national reputation for factional infighting among its doctors and between its medical schools. Organized medicine in the city was currently represented by only a recently-resurrected local medical society of uncertain viability, and it was well-known that the California State Medical Society had expired of acute and chronic dissension in 1861.

It was soon evident that the contentious spirit of earlier days had not been extinguished. When the testy Dr. Stillman, Editor of the California Gazette, heard that the A. M. A. had been invited to meet in San Francisco he hastened to issue the following bull in June 1870: [51]

We give the following report of the proceedings of the National Medical Association, held in May 1870, at the National Capitol, as given in the New York Medical Gazette:

"To those who have read the published reports of the proceedings of the late session of the American Medical Association, no words of ours could more vividly picture the degrading position in which that body has placed our profession before the eyes of the community. We would fain, if it were possible, keep the shame a secret; but the busy tongues of the daily press have babbled it verbatim by the column, to the thousand-eared public, and it is well that those who know our disgrace should know, also, that there are some among us who blush for it."

(Now Stillman adds his caustic personal views.:) Twenty-one years ago this Association was organized with the best wishes and highest hopes of the medical profession. What has it done in all that time? Year by year it has dwindled until the hopes of its founders have ended in shame and humiliation. No subject of higher consideration than the fee that should be charged for examination for life insurance companies, or the color of the skin requisite to membership in medical societies was definitely settled.

The proceedings upon the whole would do credit to some Trades' Union Convention, and its objects seem to have been no higher. If the profession at large has been deteriorating as fast as this national association during the same time, may God have mercy on us!

The Association did agree upon one other thing which fills us with apprehension. It resolved, upon the solicitation of some physician, who was at Washington on some lobby business connected with a hospital contract, who it seems had credentials sent to him by the so-called San Francisco Medical Society, to invite them to meet next year in this city.

We shall be glad to see them; we will show them the Seal Rock, Woodward's Gardens, our magnificent and unique City and County Hospital, and do the best we can to make their stay as pleasant as possible. The President of the San Francisco Medical Society, will be delighted to take them to Yosemite Valley; his overflowing wine cellars will make their hearts glad; but we hope the "nigger question" will not be raised here for we are not all white. Some Caucasian physicians too, do attend African patients, and the question might be raised - but we will not borrow trouble, "sufficient for the day is the evil thereof."

Editor Stillman's tirade merely confirmed the existing impression in the east that the professional environment in San Francisco was uncommonly rancorous. His sanctimonious criticism of the Association's handling of a membership issue involving race was uncalled-for. The National Medical Society in the District of Columbia, organized by African-American physicians, accepted members who were not licensed to practice medicine. Solely on that account the Ethics Committee, chaired by the meticulous Dr. Nathan S. Davis, ruled that members of the National Medical Society were ineligible to serve as Delegates to the Annual Meeting at Washington in May 1870. The decision was warmly contested at the meeting but finally sustained by a large majority, "inasmuch as it has been distinctly stated and proved that the consideration of race and color has had nothing whatsoever to do with the decision." The episode does serve to point up again the divisiveness of the question of "irregular" physicians. [52]

In rebuttal to Dr. Stillman, Henry Gibbons only published a quite civil letter from Dr. Tucker who mildly rebuked the personal slanders and bad manners of the Editor of the Gazette. [53] Dr. Gibbons himself stayed out of the dispute for he was at this time engaged in fending off Stillman's vicious editorial attack on the Faculty of the Medical Department of the University of the Pacific for their letter to the Regents of the State University. In that communication the Faculty urged the Regents to organize the medical department of the University distinct from any medical school, and to appoint an impartial Board of Examiners for conferring degrees.


Revival of California State Medical Society

As President of the San Francisco Medical Society, Dr. Gibbon's attention was now drawn urgently to a vital issue. The existence of a State Medical Society was an essential prerequisite to the hosting of the A. M. A. in May 1871. This meant that only eight months remained in which to revive and reorganize the defunct State Society. To expedite the process, Drs. Gibbons and Logan, acting in their capacities as President and Secretary of the State Board of Health respectively, published the following notice in the issue of Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal for September 1870: [54]

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