History, Department of


Date of this Version

March 2003


Published in The Annals of Iowa 62 (Spring 2003), pp. 151–200. Copyright © 2003 The State Historical Society of Iowa. Used by permission. http://www.culturalaffairs.org/shsi/publications/annals/annals.html
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the Nebraska State Historical Society for the loan of their copy of this publication.


IN JUNE 1850, twenty-five physicians met in Burlington, Iowa, to establish the Iowa Medical and Chirurgical Society. John Sanford, the organizing force behind the new society, had attended the third annual meeting of the American Medical Association in 1849 and had been inspired by the call for physicians to organize state, district, and county associations. Physicians needed to band together not only to improve medical knowledge and practice by giving papers and discussing their experiences among their peers, but also to promote their professional interests through political and social action. The founding members of the Iowa society expressed their anxieties about the status of medicine in the new state when, as one of their first resolutions, they created a committee "to report on the causes which have contributed to depress the science, dignity and influence of the medical profession in Iowa."

The "science, dignity and influence of the medical profession in Iowa" is the focus of this article, the first of three that together offer an overview of the history of medicine in the state through World War II. This study centers on physicians, medical institutions, reforming rhetoric, and legal developments. Its limitations are clear: other medical practitioners and healers, including midwives, nurses, and itinerant peddlers of cure-alls are shadowy figures; the details of medical treatments and the reactions of patients to their doctors are fragmentary; behindthe- scenes nuances of political alignments are under-explored; how events and attitudes in Iowa compare with those of other midwestern states are sketchy at best. These areas beg for further research, especially into local archives and personal papers, that may help us grasp individuals' experiences with health care and the formation of health policies at the town and county level. Until researchers define comparative projects among midwestern states, moreover, answering questions about historical similarities and divergences among Iowa and its neighbors will have to wait.

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