pg 87,120, 121, 155 & 249, mention; and pg 246-248,
In 1868 Dr. W.F. Peck appeared before the board of
trustees in the interest of a new school to be located in
Iowa City. This was the beginning of the present medical
department of the State University. (pg 87)
attended the eighteenth annual session of the Iowa State
Medical Society in Des Moines and was elected as a
delegate to the American Medical Association. He also sat
on a committee on order of business & was appointed
to another committee to draft a bill to restrain
quackery. (pg 120 & 121)
Dr. Peck was a member of the Scott County Medical
Society and sat on a committee to revise the society
by-laws and constitution in 1855. (pg 155)
Dr. W.F. Peck
One of the most interesting characters in the medical
history of Iowa was Dr. W.F. Peck of Davenport who for
many years was a dominating figure in the medical
profession of this state.
Dr. Peck was born in Galen, Wayne county, New York,
January 22, 1841. Received a common school education, and
with this slender preparation for a distinguished medical
career, entered Bellevue Hospital Medical College and
graduated in 1863 with high honors.
Dr. Peck was distinguished in early life for his
energy, indomitable courage, self-reliance and persistent
determination to accomplish his purpose of rising to a
high place in his profession.
After supplementing his medical college course with a
year of hospital service in New York City, he opened an
office in Davenport. It was not long that Dr. Peck had to
wait for a living practice; her personal advantages, his
energy, practical ability and self-reliance attracted the
attention of the foremost citizens of Davenport and
brought a wide circle of admirers. Dr. Peck was not long
satisfied being only a practicing physician and surgeon.
There were public professional duties to be performed.
From being secretary of the Scott County Medical Society
in 1866 he developed the thought of a medical department
of the State University. The medical school at Keokuk had
for many years claimed a loose affiliation with the State
University as its medical department but Dr. Peck
believed there should be a real medical department at
In 1868 Dr. Peck submitted some definite plans he had
formed in relation to a medical school to Judge John F.
Dillon who approved them and lent his cooperation. It was
fortunate at this time to have the support of Judge
Dillon whose name carried great weight, who was hiimself
a graduate in medicine and at one time was a practitioner
of medicine. The same year the medical department
proposition was submitted to the regents and was
approved. Through the influence of John P. Irish an
appropriation of $50,000 was granted and in 1870 $54,000
After many discouragements the medical department of
Iowa University was founded with Dr. Peck as dean and
professor of surgery, a position he held until he retired
in 1891; his death followed the same year.
During the twenty-one years of his connection with the
medical school he ruled its destinies with a firm hand.
Dr. Peck was much respected by the faculty, the older
graduates remembering him with affection and pride as the
leading spirit in the medical profession of Iowa of his
Dr. Peck's activities in a public way were not
confined to the University Medical School but were
extended to the development of a Sisters Hospital at
Davenport and at Iowa City. In 1869 Mercy Hospital was
organized at Davenport and a little later at Iowa City.
At both of these hospitals he was the leading influence
until his death, in 1891.
At the end of Dr. Peck's first year of practice he
returned to his native state and was united in marriage
to Miss Maria Purdy of Butler, Wayne county, New York, a
most admirable lady and generous helpmate.
Dr. Peck was a courageous and resourceful surgeon and
was for many years recognized as the leading operator of
his state. A curious and interesting fact may be
mentioned in this connection. To the last days of his
life he refused to accept antiseptic and aseptic surgery
and opposed the germ theory of infection. He was an
avowed adherent of the teachings of Lawson Tait, that
cleanliness and rapidity of work were essential but not
antiseptics or sterilization.
Dr. Peck was president of the Iowa State Medical in
1876; was a vice-president of the American Medical
Association and at one time chairman of the Section on
Surgery of the American Medical Association; and for many
years chief surgeon of the C. R.I. & P. Ry. Co. and
of the Soldiers' Orphans' Asylum at Davenport. His
influence in the latter institution was of importance in
establishing sanitary relations and helpful treatment to
a class of unfortunates supposed to need sympathetic and
sentimental considerations more than anything else of
Dr. W.F. Peck and Dr. J.C. Hughes were charter members
of the American Surgical Association. (pg 246-248)
Dr. Peck was closely associated with Dr. W.D.
Middleton, who succeeded him as chief surgeon of the
railroad. Dr. Peck and Dr. Middleton will always be
associated as members of the same medical family, not
only in relation to the Rock Island railway and the State
University, but also as leading factors in the
professional life of Davenport and the State of Iowa. (pg
pg 93 & 95, mention; and 337-348, full text
Dr. Priestley was one of the organizers of the Medical
College in Des Moines, 1874/5 (pg 93)
Was a member of
the 1882 faculty of the Iowa College of Physicians and
Surgeons of Des Moines; professor of Anatomy. (pg 95)
James Taggart Priestley, M.D.
Born July 19, 1852
Died December 11, 1925
JAMES TAGGART PRIESTLEY, M.D. OBITUARY
James Taggart Priestley, M.D., one of Iowa's most noted
physicians died at his home in Des Moines, December 11,
1925, of heart disease, after an illness of more than a
On July 19, 1922, Dr. Priestley celebrated his seventieth
birthday and his fifty years of practice of medicine. At
this time his friends arranged a complimentary dinner as
an expression of appreciation of his long and
distinguished services as a practitioner of medicine in
Des Moines. Dr. Priestley himself felt that this was an
opportune time to retire from active practice of medicine
and to employ the residual time allotted him in travel
and reading, and thus enjoy the fruits of the long years
of service rendered to an appreciative state and city.
But it was not long before he began to suffer the effects
of the years of unremitting and anxious work of a general
practitioner. The organ which is so sensitive to the
influence of such prolonged and exacting labor, began to
show signs of failing and the anticipated days of
happiness were clouded by periods of cardiac distress,
which, to one familiar with the dangers of such
manifestations, was a constant source of depression and
apprehension. Notwithstanding this constant menace, Dr.
Priestley maintained a cheerful exterior and a constant
interest in his profession, as manifested by his frequent
attendance at the meetings of his county medical society.
The October, 1915, number of the Journal of the Iowa
State Medical Society was a Festschrift number in honor
of Dr. Priestley, who had completed forty years practice.
The contributors were his professional associates. One of
the contributors was Dr. Walter L. Bierring, who, under
the title of "James Taggart Priestley, Historical
and Personal", presented an outline of Dr.
Priestley's life work, which we reproduce.
Dr. Priestley was born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania,
July 19, 1852. His great grandfather was Joseph
Priestley, who discovered "pure dephlogisted
air", later named "oxygen" by French
chemists. Joseph Priestley was born in England in 1733,
came to America in 1794 and died in Northumberland,
Pennsylvania, in 1804. He was an intimate friend of
Benjamin Franklin who urged him to locate in
Philadelphia. He was offered the chair of chemistry in
the University of Pennsylvania, but preferred the quiet
life of a small town where he established a laboratory.
Joseph Priestley was a minister and accepted the position
of pastor of a small Unitarian church. Dr. James Taggart
Priestley's father was a veteran of the Mexican War.
Scientific study and the practice of medicine had an
attraction for the Priestley family. Sir William O.
Priestley, a member of the family, was a celebrated
Following Dr. James Taggart Priestley was his son Dr.
Crayke Priestley, a young man of great promise, who died
early in his professional career, and the two grandsons
are now attending the Medical school of the University of
Dr. James Taggart Priestley located in Des Moines in 1876
and devoted himself to internal medicine. At that time
there were but few specialists and, in our country,
medicine and surgery were joined, but in a few years, by
a process of election in centers of population, men
became physicians or surgeons. Dr. Priestley believing
there was a wider field in internal medicine, elected the
latter and consistently adhered to his choice which
brought him honor and distinction. He once stated to the
writer that he had sustained at one time or another, the
relation of the physician or consultant to every Supreme
Court Justice of Iowa, which he held as a distinguished
appreciation, a sentiment in which we fully concurred.
HISTORICAL AND PERSONAL
It seems most difficult to add a personal note to an
estimate of the friend and colleague, as he lives in our
midst, without having the strong feelings of regard
present a picture that will not be a true measure of the
man and his work. It is but right that a man should be
judged by his own work, and not by the deeds of his
forefathers, but if only for the sake of history, it is
interesting to recall that the name of Priestley has been
honored by his fellowmen in preceding generations as well
as in this. That the direct lineal descendant of Dr.
Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen and one of the
most remarkable characters of his period, has labored
here in the interest of Iowa medicine these forty years,
seems worthy of notice.
In this day of specialized labor, and remembering the age
in which Joseph Priestley lived; 1733-1804, it is
difficult to appreciate the unusual combination of
theologian, scientist, and politician. When we consider
again the crude state of knowledge of the physical
sciences of that period, it seems indeed remarkable that
one, who was trained for the ministry, should after
middle life become an acknowledged authority on the
chemistry of the gases, the friend of Dr. Benjamin
Franklin, and the contemporary of the great Scheele of
Sweden and Lavoisier of France.
Priestley's reputation as a man of science rests upon his
numerous and important contributions to the chemistry of
gaseous bodies; to form a just estimate of his work, and
the extent to which it advanced the knowledge of fact and
the development of sound theoretical views, we must
reflect what chemistry was in the first half of the
eighteenth century. The vast science which now passes
under the name had no existence. Air, water and fire were
still counted among the elemental. bodies; and though
VanHelmont, a century before had distinguished different
kinds of air, and Boyle and Hales had experimentally
defined the physical properties of air, no one suspected
the existence of the numerous totally distinct gaseous
elements which are now known, or dreamed that the air we
breathe and the water we drink are compounds of gaseous
In his autobiography Joseph Priestley states that he
first became interested in chemistry in Leeds where he
moved in 1767 while living next door to a public brewery.
He amused himself with making experiments on the fixed
air which he found ready made in the process of
fermentation. Following this he discovered more new gases
than all his predecessors had done, in spite of the fact
that he was without the careful scientific training of
his contemporaries, and compelled by reason of his
limited income as a minister, to create his own
apparatus. He laid the foundation of gas analysis; he
discovered the complimentary action of animal and
vegetable life upon the constituents of the atmosphere;
and finally he crowned his work, in 1774, by the
discovery of the "pure dephlogisticated air" to
which the French chemists subsequently gave the name of
oxygen. Its importance as a constituent of the atmosphere
which disappears in the processes of respiration and
conbustion, and is restored by green plants growing in
sunlight, was proved somewhat later.
For these brilliant discoveries the Royal Society elected
Priestley a Fellow and gave him their medal, while the
Academies of Paris and St. Petersburg conferred their
membership upon him. Edinburg had made him an honorary
doctor of laws, at an early period of his career, and it
is interesting to note that because Priestley's tenets of
religious faith were not in harmony with the established
church of England, he received no recognition from the
universities of his own country.
It was because of religious controversies that he was
compelled to flee from Birmingham in 1793, where during a
riot his property, apparatus and much valuable scientific
material were destroyed. For a short time afterwards he
was in charge of a small church in a suburb of London,
but then he decided to emigrate to America where his
three sons had preceded him the year before.
While evidently a man of radical views in matters of
religion and politics, he was a sincere seeker after
truth, and all records refer to him as a man of
unblemished reputation and irreproachable moral
character; Huxley further states that Joseph Priestley
was no gloomy fanatic, but as cheerful and kindly a soul
as ever breathed, the idol of children, one who charmed
away the bitterest prejudices in personal intercourse,
who never lost a friend, and the best testimony to whose
worth is the generous and tender warmth with which his
many friends vied with one another in rendering him
substantial help in all the crises of his career.
The arrival of Joseph Priestley in America in 1794, and
his frequent presence among the men of science of that
day, greatly stimulated scientific studies.
Benjamin Franklin, who had been his friend in England,
made strenuous efforts to have Priestley locate in the
City of Brotherly Love, but he chose to take up his
residence in the small town of Northumberland,
Pennsylvania, on the Susquehanna river, where he fitted
up a chemical laboratory. Extensive efforts were made,
with some success, to found a university at
Northumberland, of which Doctor Priestley was to be
There is preserved an interesting bit of correspondence
between Dr. Benjamin Rush and Dr. Joseph Priestley in
reference to the chair of chemistry in the University of
Pennsylvania. In the minutes of the trustees of the
university is a record of November 11, 1794, which states
that Dr. Joseph Priestley was unanimously elected
professor of chemistry. For personal and family reasons
he felt compelled to decline this honor, to which he
refers in a subsequent letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, but
he attended frequent meetings in Philadelphia, and.
delivered several short courses of special lectures, so
that he contributed extensively to the literature of the
period, and filled an important place in developing the
science of chemistry in this country.
During his ten years of residence in this country he was
in charge of a small Unitarian church in Northumberland.
He died on February 6, 1804, from the effects of a
chronic digestive disorder, at the age of seventy years.
He was born March 24, 1733.
On the 25th of January, a few days before his death, he
wrote the following to Dr. Logan: "By means of
various illnesses I am reduced to a state of extreme
debility; and if the swelling that began in my feet,
which has now reached my knees, should continue to
advance as it has done, my continuance here can not be
long. But I have lived a little beyond the usual term of
human life, and am content and thankful. Few persons, I
believe, have enjoyed life more than I have done.
"Tell Mr. Jefferson that I think myself happy to
have lived so long under his excellent administration,
and that I have a prospects of dying in it. It is, I am
confident, the best on the face of the earth, and yet, I
hope to rise to something more excellent still."
His theological and miscellaneous works and memoirs and
correspondence were collected and edited by John T. Rutt,
the former in twenty-six volumes (London 1817-32), the
latter in two volumes (ib. 1831-32). The edition contains
over one hundred and thirty separate works, varying in
size from short pamphlets to four volume treatises, and
the subjects treated of covered almost the whole ground
of human knowledge and speculation.
The best estimate of Dr. Joseph Priestley is given in the
address of Thomas Huxley delivered at the presentation of
the statue of Priestley to the town of Birmingham on the
first of August, 1874, the hundredth anniversary of the
discovery of oxygen. In his closing he states: "If
the nineteenth century is other and better than the
eighteenth, it is in great measure to him and such men as
he that we owe the change. If, the twentieth century is
to be better than the nineteenth, it will be because
there are men among us who walk in Priestley's footsteps.
Such men are not those whom their own generation delight
to honor, such men in fact rarely trouble. themselves
about honor; but ask in another spirit than Falstaff's,
"What is honor? Who hath it? He that died
"But whether Priestley's lot be theirs, and a future
generation in justice and in gratitude, set up their
statues; or whether their names and fame are blotted out
from remembrance, lheir work will live as long as time
It was my privilege to enjoy a recent visit to
Northumberland among the kinsfolk of Doctor Priestley, to
be in the home built by Dr. Joseph Priestley in 1794 on
the banks of the beautiful Susquehanna, where he lived
during his ten years residence in this country. Here he
died in 1804, ,and in a nearby cemetery is his grave.
Through the courtesy of the daughters of Joseph T.
Priestley, M.D., great grandson of the above, who lived
in Northumberland, 1819 to 1883, many interesting
mementoes of Dr. Joseph Priestley were permitted to be
examined. Here is preserved the old microscope with
single lens, microscopic slides mounted in peculiar
boneframes, each containing a series of five or six
preparations; his old telescope, and of particular
interest, the magic lantern with colored slides mounted
in series of six or eight in wooden frames, crude but
artistic, and mostly scenes of home life, which were used
for the entertainment of the children of the family at
Christmas and other special days.
Most of the chemical apparatus used by Dr. Priestley is
preserved in the museum of the University of Pennsylvania
and the Smithsonian Institute at Washington.
It was a privilege to see and examine the original
manuscript of his autobiography written in 1795; also his
signet ring; further, a medal with portrait and wedgewood
likeness of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, both being personal
In this home is kept the portrait painted by Stuart, from
a copy of which the accompanying plate has been prepared.
Among these many relics of Priestley is a memorial album
presented by the chemists of America, while in session in
Northumberland at the centennial of the discovery of
oxygen, August 1, 1874, which contains the photographs
and autographs of all chemists present. On the last page
is a copy of the resolution "that this album be
presented to the family in memory of the distinguished
ancestor, and that it be preserved until the next
centennial August 1, 1974, when the chemists of America
are again to meet in Northumberland."
Across the way is the house in which our Dr. James
Taggart Priestley was born, spent his boyhood and
subsequently studied medicine under the preceptorship of
his uncle Dr. Joseph T. Priestley.
James Taggart Priestley was the son of Marks John Biddle
Priestley (1823-1898), a great grandson of Dr. Joseph
I met several gentlemen who were playmates of James
Taggart Priestley and heard the usual reminiscent tales
connected with those who have attained greatness.
The physicians in the generations following Joseph
Priestley in this country seem all to have been closely
affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania. As
mentioned before, Joseph Priestley was offered the chair
of chemistry in 1794. Dr. Joseph T. Priestley, a great
grandson, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania
in 1844, subsequently studied in Paris and then located
in Northumberland, and later became the preceptor of
James Taggart Priestley, who graduated in 1874; then his
son Crayke S. Priestley left the same institution twenty
years later in 1894, whose untimely death in 1904, on the
threshhold of a useful and most promising career, brought
such keen regret.
Sir William O. Priestley (1829-1900), the English
obstetrician and pupil of Simpson, who was the discovered
of the anesthetic properties of chloroform, was a
grandnephew of Dr. Joseph Priestley.
Dr. James Taggart Priestley has been a member of the Iowa
profession during forty years, and it will be difficult
for one person to present a comprehensive appreciation of
his active career. It is needless to say that to have
known Priestley for half that period has been one of
life's privileges, and in another sense a liberal
education. It has taught that we live largely by precept
and example, and by the influence of personality in its
molding impress on character.
In the history of all successful careers there is usually
a period of struggle, and that of Doctor Priestley has
not been an exception, yet with his ability, training,
hard work, and devotion to high ideals, he has come to a
place of highest regard in his profession. One of the
interesting stories that has come down from the early
period of Priestley's medical life is told by Dr. Addison
C. Page about his father and Dr. Priestley who were
associates. When the outlook seemed most discouraging, a
Northwestern Railway accident yielded a fee of fifty
dollars to each, which they promptly spent in each
purchasing a horse. From this incident dated the success
If the special characteristics of Priestley are recalled
all will agree that the striking feature is his
versatility. The rare faculty of adapting himself to all
conditions in every circle, lay or professional, cultured
or illiterate, is his; he easily dominates by the charm
of his personality. Travel has been his hobby, and there
are probably very few regions of the globe, open to the
traveler, witp. which he is not familiar. His knowledge
of human nature and broad culture have been strong
elements in his development as consultant and physician.
He always has entered into the medical life of his city
and state with great interest and influence. In 1903 he
was honored by the presidency of the State Society. There
are few who enjoy a wider acquaintance at meetings of the
American Medical Association. He served the section of
practice of medicine as secretary in 1896-97, and from
1894-1900 he was on the board of trustees of the
association, being instrumental in framing the articles
of incorporation under its present plan of organization.
As a teacher he is a clear and forceful lecturer, and the
practical hints in his clinical talks are a distinct
feature of his discussions at medical conferences.
Doctor Priestley has had an unusual opportunity in
developing the medical service of life insurance
companies, and the present high plane of thIs department
is largely due to him.
He has made his impress on medical colleagues, and above
all he has taught Des Moines physicians the value of
promptness in meeting appointments. When Dr. Priestley
makes an appointment at eight-fifteen, it requires no
timepiece to determine if the meeting is on time.
The cordial fraternal spirit that prevails in the medical
profession of Des Moines and delightful "esprit de
corps" among fellow workers, in large measure due to
Doctor Priestley. His handling of anecdote and story has
charmed many an audience, and his rare quality of
fellowship have endeared him to a host of friends.
During the years that Doctor Priestley has practiced in
Des Moines, medicine has made perhaps the greatest
strides in its history, and although he, as he says,
"has seen all of them come, and most of them
go", yet, he has ever been in the forefront, and we
are glad today to acknowledge him the most progressive
among us. In this spirit, The Festschrift is offered to
James Taggart Priestley as a testimony of the love and
esteem of his fellows.
--WALTER LAWRENCE BIERRING. (pg 337-348)