A History of the Ohio Academy of Medical History

Extracted from a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Ohio Academy of Medical History on March 22, 2004, by Patsy Gerstner

The Ohio Academy of Medical History was founded in 1952 under that name, but had its origin in 1937 as a subsidiary committee of the Ohio Historical and Archaeological Society, today’s Ohio Historical Society. It was called the Committee on Medical History and Archives and was the outcome of a flourishing interest in medical history within the state.

The founders of the Committee included Jonathan Forman, M.D. (1887-1974), who was teaching the history of medicine at Ohio State University and had published several papers on Ohio’s medical history, as well as a book on the first 100 years of Ohio State University’s College of Medicine. Under Forman’s editorship, the Ohio State Medical Journal published occasional articles on medical history, and he introduced a regular feature to the Journal in 1936 called “The Historian’s Notebook", a feature that survived in every issue for more than 30 years. In Cincinnati, David A. Tucker, M.D. (d. 1958) was professor of medical history at the University of Cincinnati’s Medical School and had also published extensively on the subject. Robert G. Paterson, Ph.D., executive secretary of the Ohio Public Health Association and Professor of Social Administration at Ohio State University, also published extensively on the history of medicine and especially on the history of tuberculosis in Ohio and elsewhere. Together these men played the key role in the creation of the Committee on Medical History. It was Paterson who actually made the overture to the Historical Society about creating a medical history committee within the Society. The idea was quickly welcomed by the Society and Forman was appointed Chairman. Harlow Lindley (1875-1959), secretary and librarian of the Historical Society and editor of their journal, was appointed secretary.

The initial meeting of the Committee was on the afternoon of May 12, 1938, and was held in connection with the annual meeting of the Ohio State Medical Society. It is not clear that any papers were given in this session, but plans were laid and a program committee appointed to prepare for the following year, when the Committee would begin annual meetings with the Historical Society. Programs were held each April through 1942, but the 1943 meeting was cancelled because of travel restrictions imposed by World War II. Although most of the early members were physicians and historians, the Committee stated clearly in 1939 that "all citizens who are interested in any way in the history of the Ohio physician and Ohio medicine are most cordially invited to attend.”

Two major goals of the Committee were to encourage the study of Ohio's medical history and to publish the results. The success of the former is evident in the active and ever growing number of members and the papers given at each meeting. Efforts at publication were a major success. Forman’s position as editor of the Ohio State Medical Journal and founder of the “Historian’s Notebook” and Lindley’s position as editor of the society's journal, the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly assured ready avenues of publication. Before 1952, 72 papers on Ohio's medical history were published in the Historical Society’s journal, most if not all presented first at the meetings. One hundred and twenty two papers were published in the Ohio State Medical Journal's "Historian's Notebook." Another early goal, to collect materials related to medical history in Ohio, such as medical artifacts and archives, was unsuccessful.

In 1951, Dr. Linden Edwards, chairman of the Committee, presented a proposal to the membership for the formation of an organization separate from the Historical Society, and in 1952, the Ohio Academy of Medical History was born.

The constitution of the newly formed group repeated the ambitious aims of the earlier Committee, particularly in regard to research and publication. Although now an independent group, the constitution stated that membership was to be a joint membership with the Historical Society for annual dues of $2.50 payable to the Society, of which $1.00 would be returned to the Academy. Each member would receive a subscription to the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly. By the constitution, the Academy was to continue to meet at the time of the annual meeting of the Historical Society, although they occasionally had meetings with the Ohio State Medical Association. By 1960, a move toward more independence from the Historical Society was made when it was suggested that the Academy should meet independently of the Historical Society’s Annual Meeting and that potential members should have the option of paying dues directly to the Academy. Both suggestions were accepted. For many years following this, the Academy met for it's annual meeting in picturesque Granville, Ohio, and still returns there periodically for the annual meeting.

Since 1960, the Academy has followed a steady course. When it was founded as the Committee on Medical History in 1937, there were few organizations in the state dedicated to medical history, and the Committee provided both initiative and incentive for a study that had not yet come of age. Since that time, several organizations and academic venues have emerged to study, preserve, and make Ohio’s medical history available to everyone. However, the Academy remains an important forum in which all interested persons can come together, thus continuing to fulfill the goals of its founders.

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