It was 215 years ago this week that the Maryland General Assembly and the Governor of Maryland signed into legislation an act to “prevent the citizens (of Maryland) from risking their lives in the hands of ignorant practitioners or pretenders to the healing art”. More than 100 physicians from the lower Eastern Shore to the mountains of Western Maryland were involved in helping this legislation come to fruition. The first official meeting of the Faculty wasn’t held until June of 1799.
Among the early leaders of the organization were Upton Scott, the first president of MedChi, who was the last Royal Physician of Annapolis, and an elder statesman of the medical community. He was also the uncle of Francis Scott Key, the author of the Star-Spangled Banner.
The original 100 “incorportators” formed the backbone of the Faculty, and represented the best of medicine at the turn of the century. Most had been taught at the medical schools of Europe, including in England, Scotland, France and Germany.
Here’s how they are described as they came together to enact the legislation:
There we may fancy the founders preparing to sit in council, grave and reverend seigniors, deliberate in act and speech, still clad in the antique style: wig, cue, frilled shirt, high-necked coat with large brass buttons, knee breeches, stockings, shoe buckles and not least, the gold headed cane.
Much of our early information comes not from written documents of the time, but by orations of physicians who came later, especially near the 50th anniversary of the Faculty. However, we do have some early documents, including this order for sheepskins, parchment and paper from 1807.
Upton Scott, who was then 77 years old, served as President for one year and was succeeded by Philip Thomas, who was married to the daughter of the President of the Continental Congress, John Hanson. We have two portraits of Philip Thomas, and this is the far better of them! In 1801, it was decided to locate the headquarters of MedChi in Baltimore City, since, essentially, all roads lead to Baltimore, and it was accessible more easily than Annapolis to a greater number of people. The debate still lingers as to whether our HQ should remain in Baltimore.
From the original 100 members, MedChi is now an organization of more than 7,500 physicians and affiliated members across the State of Maryland, and still continues to work for physicians in Maryland.