In 1850, there were 20 physicians in the city of Quincy and 30 who practiced in other communities in Adams County. In March of that year a committee meeting was held by six physicians with Dr. Samuel W. Rogers presiding. They sent out a call to physicians to establish the Adams County Medical Society. Those attending this second meeting on March 28, 1850 were: Drs. Warren Chapman, James Elliott, J.W. Hollowbush, F. B. Leach, Joseph N. Ralston, M. J. Roeschlamb, M. Shepherd, Louis Watson, and Isaac T. Wilson. A constitution and by-laws were written and approved at this meeting.
Dr. Ralston was elected as president. He arrived in Quincy in 1832 and was one of two doctors during the first cholera epidemic in 1833. Cholera came again in 1849 and during that epidemic; the need for physician cooperation and mutual help was greater than ever, hence the need to organize a society.
According to article two of the constitution, “the objects of this society shall be the advancement of medical knowledge – the elevation of professional characteristics – the protection of the interests of its members – the extension of the boundary of medical science and the promotion of all measures adapted to the relief of suffering and to improve the health and protect the lives of the community.”
The society intended to meet three or four times per year. Due to the large distances the physicians traveled in their practice, and the small number of members, it was often difficult to establish a quorum to hold a meeting. Several years had no meetings and the group only began to hold regular meetings in 1856. It was incorporated by the Illinois Legislature in 1859.
To be a member, physicians had to provide a medical diploma, pay dues (originally 50 cents), and practice by a code of ethics. The society expected the physician to produce a diploma or a license when joining. A candidate had to sit for an exam given by three officers of the society if you learned medicine by apprenticeship with another physician and did not attend a university. These officers were called the Board of Censors.
The first code of ethics adopted by the group was from the American Medical Association. This association was formed in Philadelphia in 1847 as the first medical society in the world. In Illinois, the State Medical Society was formed three months after Quincy in June 1850 in Springfield, Illinois. Later, the Adams County Medical Society chose to adopt the state code of ethics.
The society meetings were always educational and followed the usual order of business. After the call to order, minutes were read, correspondence accepted, the president gave an address, reports of committees, and then an educational paper would be read or perhaps reports of unusual cases. If you were appointed to read a paper and failed to do so, you could be fined up to $5.00. The proceedings and the list of members were published in the newspaper after each meeting.
Although for many years, the Adams County Medical Society claimed to be the oldest in Illinois, it is actually the third oldest after The Aesculapian Society of the Wabash Valley and the Rock River Medical Society, both founded in 1846. The Aesculapian was a regional society covering counties in Illinois and Indiana and was the first medical society west of the Allegheny Mountains. Their meetings were usually two days as their members traveled many miles to attend. Other early medical societies were organized and reorganized several times in Illinois. They were of short duration and were usually established to deal with a health crisis.
Few meetings were held during the Civil War as 16 (some sources say 24) of the 57 members of the society at that time were in the service of the union. Three physicians were killed in that war; Bartow Darrach, Samuel W. Everett, and A. M. D. Hughes.
The society was instrumental in establishing the Board of Health in 1865, and its reorganization in 1869. They also worked with the Quincy and Adams County officials to establish fees for autopsy’s, and trial testimony. In 1860, a skirmish occurred between the society and the Board of Supervisors. Each group sent position papers to the newspapers airing their disagreement over fees. According to the physicians, the supervisors refused to pay when the coroner asked a physician to appear in court saying in the Quincy Daily Herald, “…after long and sad experience, justice and fairness could not be expected at the hands of the Board of Supervisors.” The Board threatened to jail the physicians if they refused to appear at an autopsy or be a witness in court. To which “D. S.” replied as a member of the society, “…the Board has violated the rules of gentlemanly courtesy, disregarded its own dignity and manifested its ignorance of the laws of its own state.”
During the first 20 years of the society, two members were expelled. One was expelled for unprofessional conduct, based on an accusation by another member and the other for having falsely presented himself as a graduate of a medical institution. Expulsions were not quickly done, allowing the physician time to prepare a defense or produce the necessary documentation. The latter case began in 1857 and was still talked about in the newspapers in 1866.
In 1865 another group, the Quincy Medical Society organized and was incorporated by the legislature. The newspaper published their member lists and the proceedings of their meetings, which were identical to the Adams County group. The organization had fewer members but was recognized by the Illinois State Medical Society. It included the two expelled physicians. One of the discredited physicians had subsequently obtained his medical degree, but the Adams County group would not reinstate him. In 1866, another expelled physician from the Adams County Medical society was chosen as a delegate to the American Medical Association annual meeting by the Quincy Medical Society. He was denied status on a complaint by the unforgiving Adams County Medical Society.
Adams County Medical Society. “A Century of Health Progress (1850-1950)” Quincy, IL: Official Program, 1950.
“Adams County Medical Society.” Quincy Daily Whig, May 20, 1865, 2.
Collins, William H., & Perry Cicero F. Past and Present of Adams County. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1905.
“Drs. Ralston and Hollowbush,” The Quincy Daily Whig, October 15, 1850.
“In Memoriam,” Quincy Daily Whig, June 23, 1909, 4.
Kawlings, Isaac D. The Rise and Fall of Disease in Illinois. Springfield Il: The State Department of Public Health, 1927.
McReynolds, Ralph. “Adams County Medical Society of Illinois, 1850-1945.” Mississippi Valley Medical Journal 67, no. 1 (1945) 19-33.
“Minutes, March 28, 1850.” Adams County Medical Society. Blessing Health System Archives, Quincy, IL.
“Minutes, November 11, 1850.” Adams County Medical Society. Blessing Health System Archives, Quincy, IL.
“Minutes, February 8, 1858.” Adams County Medical Society. Blessing Health System Archives, Quincy, IL.
Montgomery, E. B. “A Brief History of the Adams County Medical Society. Quincy Medical Bulletin, 2, no. 5 (1925) 25-29.
“Quincy Medical Society.” Quincy Daily Herald, August 18, 1867.
“State Medical Convention.” Quincy Whig, June 18, 1850, p 2.
“The Medical Society and the Board of Supervisors of Adams County.” Quincy Daily Herald, January 13, 1860, 2.