Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Charles Wiesenthal & The Original Medical Society

Before the Medical & Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland was founded in 1799, there was actually a previous medical society, but it didn't last long. 

In 1785, Dr. Charles F. Wiesenthal, Dr. Elisha John Hall of Frederick, and other physicians on the Western Shore gathered to discuss medical reform and the prevalence of quackery in the State. A plan was outlined to form a society, but rejected because of "present circumstances."
But Dr. Wiesenthal petitioned the state to create an early board of three physicians whose duty would be to examine and license all applicants. Fees paid would be used to create a library and later, perhaps, a medical college.

Dr. Wiesenthal had already established a small medical college, operated out of his home on Fayette, east of Gay Street. The "school" was a two-story building, about 70x20 feet, and had the materials to conduct dissections. However, that presented a problem when students from the school were given a corpse who arrived by boat. Even though the body was that of a murderer, the local populace was up in arms, and didn't think that the body should be dissected, so they "kidnapped" it.

Physicians in Baltimore were already loosely organized, and Dr. Wiesenthal had been elected President in 1788. They wanted to present a new law to the legislature that all physicians were to submit to examination and licensure. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of objection to this proposal. But before  much more could happen, Dr. Wiesenthal died in 1789. 

Soon afterward, Dr. Wiesenthal's son, Andrew, returned home from London where he had been studying medicine, and was ready to take over what his father had started.

But by the spring of 1790, the Medical Society was riven with dissatisfaction and disaster, and soon was dissolved. Andrew continued with the medical school, and a course of classes was announced for 1790-91, but soon after, the school met the same fate as the society, and probably for the same reasons. However, Andrew continued with lectures for private students until his death in 1798. 

The seeds for a medical society had been sown, and it would only be another year before the organization of physicians from each county in Maryland came together, and the legislature passed the bill creating our current organization.

Sadly, there are no contemporary documents or letters regarding the first medical society, save a medical diary and notebook from Professor Nathaniel Potter, one of the original faculty members at the medical college established in 1807, now the University of Maryland's School of Medicine.
All of this stems from an article that was published in Vereinsnachrichten, the newsletter of the German Society in Baltimore (Issue 116, January 2020), which was kindly given to me by the historian, Wayne Schaumberg. 

Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

National Women Physicians Day

Oops! I forgot to post this last week. But regardless, we celebrate all of our Women Physicians every day!

Unfortunately, we are not exactly certain who our first woman member was, but in 1882, the Faculty changed its by-laws to read "members" instead of "gentlemen." By that time, women and African Americans were attending medical school and wanted to join their fellow physicians at the Medical & Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland. 

In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the United States' first licensed woman physician after having been famously allowed to attend medical school as a joke. February 3 is National Women Physicians Day, to honor the birthday of Dr. Blackwell. 

Although admitting women was a requirement to get the funding to open Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the University of Maryland's School of Medicine only admitted women in 1919

However, the Women's Medical College existed at the time in Baltimore and was solely for women. 
 One of the most famous early woman physicians, at least in Baltimore, is the art collector, Claribel Cone.
Gertrude Stein, who attended Johns Hopkins, never actually graduated, and she and Sir William Osler were mortal enemies. 

We know that women are known for "getting it done" and this Eastern Shore physician took to her horse to see patients during the fuel crisis of the early 1970's. 

We are thankful for all of our physician members who are women (and the men, too!).