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Cooper Founds Peoria's First Hospital

Cooper's short range approach to the dissection problem was more effective. In September 1851 he opened the first hospital in Peoria, located on the prairie about a mile from the edge of town near the west line of Monson and Sanford's addition to Peoria. There he made successful provision for the discreet furtherance of his anatomical studies, well out of the limelight of his downtown office. The new establishment was a three story building known officially as the Peoria Eye Infirmary and Orthopedic Institution but, no doubt because of Cooper's anatomical museum and dissections, the children called it the "Spook House". [38]

The Peoria Democratic Press reported on 24 September 1851 that Cooper had one patient in his Infirmary and accommodations for 40 or more. By 1 October the Press learned that he now had several patients and was fast making arrangements to receive all who seek admission. We can understand Cooper's desire to fill the beds as soon as possible and his urge to inform the entire region that a splendid new facility devoted to the most modern of specialty care was now available. However, he miscalculated the reaction of his professional colleagues when he widely published an announcement of these unique services in area newspapers. They promptly accused him of advertising and unethical conduct. There followed a bruising encounter with some of Peoria's leading practitioners, details of which we will defer until we come to Cooper's role in the Peoria Medical Society.

But before taking leave of the Infirmary, we should remark that Cooper proved to be exceptionally forward-looking in its founding and operation. The Editor of the Press seems to have maintained a special interest in Cooper's affairs. After a visit to the Infirmary in May of 1853 he reported to his readers that "we are convinced that its celebrity has been acquired through the merit of the proprietor only. Every evening the lady inmates assemble in the parlor and recite lessons in French, after which the Dr. or a friend reads aloud from a book. The patients almost forget they are under the care of a physician". [39] By his brashness, innovations and sheer ability the tireless Cooper was fast becoming a respected figure in Peoria in spite of detractors in the Medical Society. In a history of the County written sixty years later he is called "the most active, progressive, original and enterprising member of the Peoria county profession during this first stage in its development." [40]


The Country Medical Schools

Prior to the passage late in the 1800s of legislation in the various States providing bodies for dissection, teachers of anatomy in American medical schools faced obstacles that were legally insurmountable. On the one hand, dissection was outlawed except on the bodies of executed felons, resulting in only a few bodies being available for teaching and research in anatomy. On the other hand, grave robbing was illegal and subject to severe penalties. This cruel dilemma was not resolved in Illinois until passage by the Illinois Legislature of the Anatomy Act of 1885 mandating that the body of any deceased person requiring to be buried at public expense shall be released upon request to a medical school or physician for advancement of medical science, provided that certain conditions regarding notification of relatives and ultimate disposal of the remains are met. [41]

Meanwhile, in 1849 there occurred the tragic anatomy riot at the Franklin Medical School in St. Charles that doubtless fuelled the Peoria protest against Cooper, and by the strange course of subsequent events, again raised his hopes of an academic career.

Franklin was one of the following group of new medical colleges founded in and near Chicago during the seven year period from 1842 to 1848.

  • 1842 Medical Department of LaPorte University (Later Indiana Medical College), LaPorte Ind. Discontinued in 1850

  • 1842 Franklin Medical College, St. Charles., Ill. Discontinued in 1849.

  • 1843 Illinois College Medical School, Jacksonville, Ill. Discontinued in 1848.

  • 1843 Rush Medical College, Chicago, Ill. Rush is the only school in this group that has continued without interruption to the present day.

  • 1848 Rock Island Medical School, Rock Island, Ill. The school moved in 1849 to Davenport, Iowa; later to Keokuk, Iowa; and finally merged into the State University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City. More later regarding this transient school.

Except for Rush, these medical colleges may be described as Country Medical Schools. Their location outside metropolitan areas posed for them an especially severe problem in obtaining anatomical material, with dire consequences for Franklin. [42]

Franklin Medical College (1842-1849)

The first medical colleges to be founded in the State of Illinois - Franklin, Illinois, Rush and Rock Island - were opened during the 1840's, the decade when Cooper began to practice in Peoria and to establish his reputation as an anatomist and surgeon. He surely would have observed the fate of these schools, particularly that of Franklin, with keen interest.

Franklin Medical College was located in St. Charles about 40 miles west of Chicago and 110 miles northeast of Peoria. Although the school never acquired a State Charter or awarded any MD degrees, it was the first in Illinois to organize a faculty and conduct a formal course of medical lectures, and on that basis may be credited with initiating medical education in the State. A class of 15 or 20 students attended the first series of lectures that began in the fall of 1842.

The original faculty of 6 "professors" was a respectable group and included two particularly able physicians: George W. Richards (1800-1853), Dean and Professor of Anatomy and Physiology; and Nichols Hard (1818-1851), Professor of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children. Dr. Richards received his MD degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Fairfield, New York, in 1828 and Dr. Hard graduated from the Ohio Medical College in 1841. Both were highly regarded as physicians and teachers, and both had amphitheaters in the upper stories of their offices where they gave lectures to students and provided an abundance of anatomical material for dissection. As already noted, Cooper followed a similar pattern in combining the teaching of anatomy with his practice, probably influenced by such examples as theirs.

In spite of the flourishing prospects of Franklin Medical College, the Illinois State Legislature delayed the granting of a charter. Richards and Hard therefore acquired faculty status in the Medical Department of La Porte University in La Porte, Indiana, 60 miles east of Chicago and arranged that this school award MD degrees to Franklin students. Such was the ingenuity of these pioneers in surmounting obstacles to their operating a medical college. They could not, however, overcome the effects of the grave-robbing incident that abruptly extinguished their school in 1849. [43] [44] [45]

Franklin Anatomy Riot

The circumstances were these: anatomy was the prime course in medical education at that time, and a country school such as Franklin in the small town of St. Charles had great difficulty in procuring subjects for dissection in a manner that would not arouse the hostility of the local community.

In April 1849 Mrs. George M. Kenyon, daughter of a prominent citizen by the name of Churchill, died shortly after her marriage and was buried in the local cemetery. John Rood, a first year medical student at Franklin Medical College, in search of knowledge and dissecting material, enlisted the aid of George Richards, a son of the founder of the College, in opening the newly-made grave of Mrs. Kenyon. On the way to the cemetery they stopped for refreshments at a tavern where one of the customers peeked into their wagon and saw some shovels. This finding was sufficient to reveal the purpose of the mysterious night mission of the two young men whose zeal for grave-robbing was known throughout the entire surrounding country. Unaware of being under suspicion, they drove on to the cemetery where they hastily disinterred Mrs. Kenyon, covered the empty grave as best they could and hurried to St. Charles where they concealed their gruesome prize in Dr. Richards' barn.

Meanwhile, the father and husband of the deceased woman were alerted to inspect her grave which, to their horror, they found empty. Their first step toward recovering the body was to seek the assistance of local physicians who selected a committee to visit the home of Dr. Richards and search the premises. Dr. Richards, who is said to have been at the time unaware of the facts in the matter, issued a firm denial of involvement in the affair. The aggrieved relatives and their friends doubted the doctor's word and, their emotions now thoroughly aroused, organized an armed posse to force entrance into his home and recover the remains at all costs if they could be found. Meanwhile Dr. Richards, having discovered that the body was on his premises, realized the seriousness of the situation and advised Rood to hide the corpse in some secure place until an amicable settlement could be reached. During the night and with the assistance of an employee of Dr. Richards, Rood moved the body to a secluded area. There they placed it under a limestone ledge and returned to the Richards residence to await developments. [46]

Knowledge of the approach of 200 or more armed men led by Kenyon, the irate husband of the exhumed woman, soon reached Dr. Richards who made preparation for the defense of his residence. The family fled over a stone wall back of the house, but he refused to leave. The local sheriff absented himself from the scene so as to be neither a participant nor a witness in the unfolding drama. The grim posse executed military type maneuvers on their approach to the house. Now, according to Zeuch: [47]

Thinking the evidence completely hidden, the doctor determined to put on a bold front and deny knowledge of the whereabouts of the remains. As the enraged citizens hove in sight, armed with rifles, shotguns and other weapons, they presented a formidable front. "The stillness of death," said an eye-witness, "seemed to hover about." At first, however, they were quiet and well behaved. A strong local prejudice against Dr. Richards among his townsmen was evident and increased their boldness. The doctor's friends prudently remained quiet, while he attempted to settle the matter peaceably from within. A small delegation, upon their own initiative, searched the barn for the body. They reported the finding of an unrecognizable cadaver of a male, disfigured by dissection, which helped to inflame their passions. The fearless Richards then opened the door and, appearing before the crowd with his hand in an opening of his coat, spoke to them boldly and, according to a mob spokesman, insultingly. The avengers then began to get impatient and surged forward. Their menacing attitude caused Richards to close the door, whereupon Churchill (the woman's father) attempted to force an entrance. At this point Kenyon, impatient for action, retraced his steps a few feet backward, asked those in front to step aside, leveled his gun and fired a shot that passed through the door above the knob. Rood, with his back upon the door, bracing it from within, received the fatal bullet. Another shot struck Richards through the right subclavicular region, pierced the lung and cut the brachial plexus. The doctor though bleeding profusely, removed his coat and again went to the door to speak. But before he could utter a word some one hurled a stone that hit him in the face, whereupon he was forced to retire to the bedroom where Dr. Everts attended him.

Temporarily placated, the crowd withdrew and invited a local magistrate, Judge Barry, to step in as mediator. Under the cover of darkness, the Judge and a Captain Norton personally retrieved the woman's body from its hiding place in the limestone crevice, located for them by one of the badly frightened Franklin medical students. Following the reburial of Mrs. Kenyon, an uneasy truce prevailed.

As to the final outcome of this episode, John Rood died of a bullet wound to the head; Dr. Richards recovered from his injury but lost the use of his right arm for which he compensated by learning to write with his left hand. The Franklin Medical College was closed by the incident, never to be reopened. [48]

There is no doubt that this violent anatomy riot in upstate Illinois in 1849 was well known to the people of Peoria, and led them to suspect that Cooper's anatomical material was obtained by the robbing of local graves, as was doubtless the case. One must admire the dedication and courage of physicians like Cooper whose pursuit of anatomical science in their day involved not only a grossly repugnant medium, but also great personal risk.

From Rock Island to Keokuk

After the Franklin anatomy riot and closure of the school there occurred the following complicated series of maneuvers that ultimately involved Cooper, and showed that he had gained considerable recognition in the region as an anatomist. Dr. George W. Richards, while still a member of the Franklin Medical College faculty, participated in organizing and became president of the Rock Island Medical College in Rock Island , Illinois, 120 miles west of St. Charles and just across the Mississippi River from Davenport, Iowa. Notable among the faculty of eight professors at Rock Island were Richards, theory and practice of medicine; John S. Sanford, midwifery and diseases of women and children; and Saul G. Armor, physiology, pathology and medical jurisprudence.

After giving only one course of lectures and graduating 21 students in the 1848-49 academic year, the Rock Island school moved across the river to Davenport and opened the 1849-50 academic year with a reorganized faculty that still included Richards, Sanford and Armor. The Davenport school was incorporated in Iowa under the name of College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Upper Mississippi. This College functioned for only the 1849-50 lecture series. In the spring of 1850 it became the Medical Department of the State University of Iowa and was transferred to Keokuk, Iowa, some 120 miles down river from Davenport. In 1870, the Medical Department moved from Keokuk to the campus at Iowa City and is now well known as the University of Iowa College of Medicine. [49]


Cooper Offered Anatomy Professorship at Keokuk

In 1850 Richards, Sanborn and Armor, widely regarded as outstanding teachers, moved with the Davenport school to Keokuk. There they were joined in the same year by Dr. Nichols Hard as Professor of Anatomy. Hard, who had been a colleague of Richards in the Franklin and La Porte schools, was an important addition to the Keokuk faculty in a key subject area. In the summer of 1851 he contracted cholera followed by an attack of dysentery resulting in his death at the age of 33 on 16 October 1851. [50] [51] This sad and unexpected loss of the school's highly respected Professor of Anatomy occurred on the eve of the fall series of medical lectures due to begin in early November. Professor Sanborn, who was the Keokuk Dean at the time, received the unwelcome news of Hard's death while in New York on school business. In view of the importance of Anatomy in the curriculum, he considered it his responsibility to find a replacement for Professor Hard as soon as possible. He had heard of Dr. Elias Cooper of Peoria as a rising star in anatomy and addressed to him the following urgent letter: [52]

New York, Oct. 22d, 1851

Dr. E.S. Cooper

Dear Sir:

A late telegraphic dispatch, brought me the melancholy intelligence of the Death of Dr. N. Hard, Professor of Anatomy in the Med. Dept. of the Iowa State University.

It was made my duty, by a resolution of the Board of Trustees, to fill any vacancy that might occur in the recess of the Board; and having heard of you as a distinguished Physician, and an indefatigable Cultivator of Anatomy, I have been induced to nominate you as Professor of Anatomy in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Iowa University, and request your acceptance of the same. I have advertised my Colleagues at Keokuk of the act, and you will please write them immediately in relation thereto. Direct your Communication to Profs. Armor and Hudson.

I am now in this City, expending a part of an appropriation made to our Institution by the last General Assembly of Iowa. The prospects of the School are exceedingly flattering.

In haste, Very Respectfully, Jno. F. Sanford

P.S. I would be pleased to learn by Telegraph, whether you can accept the place, and what time you could commence your course at Keokuk. I desire the information as it would influence my return. Direct to me at the New York Post Office. J.F.S.

Response from Keokuk

Cooper, who earlier in the year had finally acquired an MD degree, wrote promptly to accept the appointment. As we have learned, he had already shown his lively interest in such a position by competing unsuccessfully in the previous year for a post in Anatomy at Rush Medical College. It might well be that his commendable performance in the Rush competition brought him to the attention of Dean Sanford at Keokuk. In any case the unexpected call to a professorship at Keokuk must have been exhilarating to Cooper who had spent six toilsome years in perfecting his knowledge of anatomy and his skill in dissection. His elation was short-lived for, in response to his letter of acceptance, he soon received the following reply from Keokuk: [53]

Keokuk, Iowa, Nov. 18th, 1851.

Dr. E.S. Cooper,

Dear Sir,

Your letter of the 14th is before us. We are sorry indeed that there shall be any misunderstanding concerning the vacancy that has occurred in our Institution, especially if it effect in any degree your private business matters. That there is a misunderstanding appears to us evident from the letter you received from Prof. Sanford. Still we have no idea that the Doctor intended to transcend his authority. In an emergency last season we delegated our Dean, Prof. Sanford, to fill one or more vacancies which occurred; but in examining our Constitution, it appears there to be the duty of the President to appoint at least an ad interim prof. in case of death or resignation.

In the impulse of the moment, and overwhelmed with the position in which we were placed by the death of Prof. Hard on the eve of our Session, Dr. Sanford may have supposed that it was the duty of the Dean to fill the place, and thus wrote you immediately on the receipt of the intelligence of Dr. Hard's death. We are satisfied, however, that the Doctor is mistaken, and wrote you therefore immediately on the receipt of your former letter.

We desire to act prudently in this matter in order that every thing may be done properly, and that harmony may prevail in our association. And we repeat again that on the meeting of the Board, we shall be glad to present your name and your claims to the chair of Anatomy.

We are anxiously waiting the arrival of Dr. Sanford, that we may have a full Board, and speedily arrange the matter as to filling the vacancy.

In the mean time we shall be glad to hear from you on the subject.

Respectfully yours,

Sam'l G. Armor

A.S. Hudson

The letter from Armor and Hudson was surely a heavy blow to Cooper, rescinding as it did the offer from Dean Sanford who seemed to say that the professorship of Anatomy at Keokuk was his for the asking. There is no further correspondence with the Keokuk faculty or comment on the subject among Cooper's papers, nor can related information be found in archival records at the University of Iowa College of Medicine in Iowa City. It is clear, however, that Cooper was denied the position. We do not know the reason that his application was turned down but there is evidence that there was dissension over the procedure followed at the school in filling the post. According to Weaver, who is an authority on the "country schools", "(w)hen Nichols Hard, of the Keokuk faculty died in 1851, Richards and Armor left the school because they could not endure the friction which arose among the faculty over the appointment of (Hard's) successor (as Professor of Anatomy)." By a strange coincidence, the paths of Armor and Cooper were later to cross again under far different circumstances. [54]

This second rebuff to Cooper's academic aspirations within eighteen months served only to increase his determination to devote his future to medical education. From this time forward his thoughts turned increasingly to California where the field was yet unclaimed, and full of promise for a pioneer who, like Brainard, had the vision to found a medical college on the frontier.

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