Iowa History Project


History of Medicine in Iowa
by D.S. Fairchild, M.D., F.A.C.S.
reprinted from The Journal of the Iowa State Medical Society, 1927
transcribed from the original book for the Iowa History Project by S. Ferrall


Dr. Parker
pg 137, mention
Of Keokuk. Was a member of the Lee Co. Medical Society when it met in July 1858.
R.J. Patterson
pg 271-273, full text
[March 1861, following the completion of the Hospital for the Insane at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, the trustees] .... selected Dr. R.J. Patterson of Ohio [to be the first superintendent]. Dr. Patterson had ample experience in the department of medical practice to which he was called. He had been for several years assistant physician in the State Lunatic Hospital of Ohio; afterward, for several years, the superintendent of the Hospital for the Insane of the State of Indiana; and at the time of his appointment to this situation, superintendent of the Asylum for Idiots and Imbecile Youths of the State of Ohio.

In the printed report of December 1, 1865, the trustees have to report a serious cause of regret in the retirement of Dr. Patterson from the office of superintendent.

Immediately after leaving Mount Pleasant he moved to Batavia, Illinois, where he remained the remainder of his life. In 1867 he established the Bellevue Place Sanatorium. with thirty-six beds, for nervous and mental diseases, which is still in operation. Among his notable patients was the widow of Abraham Lincoln. He was frequently consulted by the physicians of Chicago, and did some work in the courts. He wrote but little in connection with his specialty, outside of lectures which he delivered at the Chicago Medical College, but was wholly absorbed in the work of teaching and practicing. The clause in the Illinois law for the commitment of the insane, which provides for the appointment of the medical commission by a judge of the court, in lieu of a jury trial, was entirely owing to his strenuous efforts.

He was a large man, five feet and ten inches high, and of heavy build. His hair brown; his eyes hazel; his manner very quick. He was a good and ready talker, but seldom told stories. A little anecdote of his childhood, however, he was fond of narrating. One Sunday morning he ran away from the church and caught a fine string of trout. Not daring to bring them home on that day, he hid them. Monday the time still looked suspiciously close to Sunday, so he waited still longer. Tuesday he decided it would be all right to bring them home. Alas! the fish were spoiled. This very deplorable fact led to inquiry and detection. His parents dealt with him after the manner of the real New Englander of that time, and, as the doctor himslf was wont to say, in all the affairs of his subsequent life he was inclined to give particular attention to "prognosis."

He was exceedingly fond of driving fast horses. "I take my exercise," said he, "vicariously." He made friends quickly and was fond of children, but very seldom played with them. He married Lucy Clark of Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1848. He died of pneumonia in Batavia, Illinois, April 27, 1893.

W.W. Pearson
pg 99-100 & 181, mention
Of Des Moines. Contributor & member of the advisory staff of the Iowa Medical Journal c1900, he had charge of the eye, ear, nose and throat department of the Iowa Medical Journal. (pg 181)

He was elected Dean of the Drake University Medical School in 1909. At the time, the work of organization [of the school] had been completed but there was much to do in perfecting the details and the filing of important positions and in providing means for the expenses which were rapidly increasing. Dr. Pearson with great energy and skill rapidly increased the efficiency of the work and if a sufficient endowment could have been secured, Drake University medical school would have become an institution of much importance and influence. With the close of the session of 1913, it was announced the Drake Medical School would be discontinued and would merge with the Medical Department of the State University of Iowa at Iowa City. In the last years of its existence under the administration of Dr. Pearson the facilities, equipment and thoroughness of instruction had reached a high degree of efficiency and bid fair to equal the best of the smaller colleges. (pg 99-100)

W.F. Peck
pg 87,120, 121, 155 & 249, mention; and pg 246-248, full text
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)

Dr. Peck 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
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 Iowa City.

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 was added.

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 generation.

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 Davenport.

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 249)

Dr. Plumley
pg 146 & 147, mention
Dr. Plumley, of Hartford, Iowa was a charter member of the Polk Co. Medical Society in 1851.He served on the committee to report a constitution for that organization.
F.W. Porterfield
pg 317, mention
Of Atlantic, Iowa. He presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Iowa State Medical Society, Creston, April 1895 entitled "The Treatment of Diphtheria with Antitoxin Serum", reporting 7 cases with 2 deaths.
Dr. Potts
pg 137, mention
Of Keokuk. Member of the Lee Co. Medical Society in 1858.
F.M. Powell
pg 330, mention
Early in 1882 Dr. Archibald resigned as superintendent of the Iowa Institution for Feeble-Minded Children at Glenwood and Dr. F.M. Powell of Glenwood was elected to fill the vacancy. In 1903, Dr. Powell died and Dr. George Mogridge, the present superintendent, was elected.
C.H. Preston
pg 155, mention
In 1876, Dr. C.H. Preston was sectretary of the Scott County Medical Society.
J.T. Priestley
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.
James Taggart Priestley, M.D.
Born July 19, 1852
Died December 11, 1925

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 year's duration.

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 English obstetrician.

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 Pennsylvania.

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.

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 elements.

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 president.

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 o'Wednesday"?

"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 endures."

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 gifts.

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 Priestley.

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 of both.

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.

O.H. Prizer
pg 46, mention
Dr. O.H. Prizer came to Brighton [Washington co.] in 1845.

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