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

Part Eighth - Iowa Medical Journalism

page 167 - 184

Three events of fundamental importance to medical progress occurred in Iowa in 1850. We have already noted the beginning and growth of the Keokuk College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Iowa State Medical Society.

The organizing of the medical college, suggested the necessity of a medical journal as an aid to the interests of the institution. It is interesting to know that the leading men in all three activities were the same individuals: Dr. John F. Sanford of the State Medical Society, and Drs. Sanford, J. C. Hughes and McGugin of the Medical College and the Medical Journal.

The first number of the Western Medico Chirurgical Journal was published in Keokuk, September 1, 1850. In the editorial introducing the Journal to the medical public the editor says:

"This is the first medical journal ever issued west of the Father of Waters, north of the Missouri, in that boundless region, the commerce and power of which is destined to affect the American continent and which in its rapid, almost magical transition from nature’s wilderness to the cultivated fields; the flourishing villages and populous cities of civilized and enlightened men, presents a subject of reflection unsurpassed in interest in the annals of the world.”

The writer in a moment of prophetic enthusiasm expressed himself in rather stilted phrases, but those were days when the eyes of men were turned to the future and Keokuk being the gateway of Iowa, the editor felt justified in expressing himself in terms of his own. The writer goes on to say:

“With full faith that our medical brethren will respond to these sentiments and extend to our Journal, the necessary support we enter upon our duties with a pledge, that no pains or labor shall be wanting to make it worthy of their confidence.”

The Journal was conducted hy the Faculty of the Medical Department of the Iowa University, Dr. J. C. Hughes, editor-in- chief.

The first paper in number one, volume one of this pioneer medical journal, was by John Forest Dillon, M.D., of Farmington, Iowa. (Dr. Dillon soon gave up the practice of medicine, took up law and became a famous attorney, judge and professor of constitutional law in Columbia University, New York.)

The title of the paper was “A Case of Rheumatic Carditis; Autopsical Examination.” It appears that this man had been under the care of a class of practitioners—the lineal ancestors of a group that we have with us now and always will have with us. The doctors who treated the case were known as “Thompsonians, Beachitis, Electics and Homeopaths with which our Western country is so disgracefully flooded.” This man, it appears died after being treated by a Thompsonian doctor with large quantities of lobelia which was the favorite remedy with this class of practitioners in early days. Dr. Dillon performed the autopsy twelve hours after death.

Under the head of surgery, there is an article on nitrate of silver by Professor J. F. Sanford, who states;

“No remedy in the materia medical may rightfully claim a higher consideration from the surgeon than the nitrate of silver, yet we be lieve there are few so little appreciated by the general body of the profession.”

In the October number (1850), we are informed of a visitation of cholera which came upon the people of the Mississippi Valley, especially afflicting Burlington through the wisdom of Providence, for it is stated in these words: "It is not our purpose to write an extended article upon this terrible pestilence which in the wisdom of Providence has again visited us.” In Keokuk, so it is recorded, in the months of May, June, July, and August there were forty cases of cholera with twenty-five deaths. In Burlington, it is reported that during the same time or rather a little later, on the night of the fourth of July, the number of cases attacked from that time on to October, was between 400 and 500. The number of deaths from 80 to 100. This in a population of about 5,000.

It does not appear that the remedies used had much effect, although Dr. McGugin said, “in his opinion, Calomel was the sheet anchor; not given as a specific, but as a remedy which more frequently than any other, would excite the secretion of the liver, diminish the congestion of the viscera, determine the circulation to the surface and extremities and thus cure the patient.” The doctor recommended calomel in doses of from 20 to 30 grains and stated: “This was the course pursued by myself and several other physicians, and we saw no reason to change it, though of course, it was not successful in every case.”

Keokuk and Burlington no longer fear a visitatation of cholera, thanks to medical science, Almost sixty-nine years later another visitation came to Burlington in the form of an influenza and pneumonia; there were 2,500 cases with 500 deaths. If Dr. McGugin in 1850 had predicted that in a few years, cholera would disappear, forever would it seem less strange than to prophesy today that influenza likewise will disappear through the discoveries of medical science?

In the October number, 1850, is an editorial review of the first meeting of the Iowa State Medical and Chirurgical Society (Iowa State Medical Society) in which it is stated that;

"The proceedings of this Society, in the form of a neat pamphlet came to hand too late for notice in the first number of the Journal, but it gives us great pleasure now, to transcribe such items in connection with the organization of the Society as will be most interesting to our readers. Much effort has been expended by several eminent members of the profession in this state, during the past few years, in directing the minds of medical men to this important subject, but the call, issued in May last, was the first to which there has ever been a satisfactory response. We are happy to say, however, that, although the profession have been slow to move in reference to this matter, when they did assemble in convention at Burlington in June last, their action was praiseworthy and efficient. About twenty-five phpsicians met pursuant to this notice, and entered upon the duty of organizing a State Medical Society with commendable zeal.

“The discussions which eventuated in the fulfillment of this object, were conducted with dignity and ability, and inspired all those who were present, with confidence in the success and permanence of the Society. It will be seen by the synopsis of proceedings below, that the Society adopted a constitution and by-laws, and appointed several committees whose duty it will be, during the present year, to develop as far as possible, the scientific resources of our state, and collect such medical statistics and general intelligence, as will be a necessary basis for future action.

“The duty of the several committees appointed under these resolutions, can be performed but imperfectly without the cooperation of the profession throughout the state. It is all important, as an aid to the further enlightened action of our State Society, that the state of the profession in Iowa shall be actually known to them, in order that the obstacles to reform and progress may be seen and removed. A committee of three, however, occupying one or two localities, cannot extend their investigations into every portion of the state, and regular members of the profession, wherever situated, should manifest their zeal for the promotion of science, by communicating such facts as come within their observation, to the chairman or members of the various committees. Thus a report of the number of physicians in a particular county—the proportion of regular practitioners, of graduates, the principles which have regulated their intercourse, etc., etc., would greatly aid the committee under the first resolution, whilst a little attention to the meteorological phenomena, and the type of disease usually observed in particular localities, would constitute a valuable contribution to medical science, and facilitate the labors of the committee under the second resolution.

“Under the third resolution, a committee was appointed whose agreeable duty it will be to report upon the Medical Botany of Iowa. The floral riches of this beautiful and charming state, seem almost inexhaustible, and no one doubts that, amidst this profusion of nature’s eloquent and poetic beauties, mines of medicinal wealth exist, from which the balm to many an ill, incident to our country, may be bountifully drawn. Numerous as are the blessings which spring from the bosom of our mother earth, they may be greatly multiplied by the assiduity of the medical botanist, and we sincerely trust a larger propor tion of our physicians may be found devoting their attention to this subject. Our medical plants should be known and accurately classified in or der that we may resort to the great storehouse of nature—the fields and the forests—where no mercenary hand mingles with their life-giving principles, the seeds of death.

“The next meeting of the Society will be at Fairfield, Jefferson county, on the first Wednes day of May, 1851.”

The Medico-Chirurgical Journal (later Iowa Medical Journal) maintained a watchful care over Iowa medical interests in their infancy and the energies of the strong men of that day were unselfishly devoted to strengthening by voice and pen the professional activities they had set their hands to.

It has been noted in the editorial above referred to that high ideals were held by our first editorial writer. Seventy years have passed since the editorial was written and changes of immeasurable importance have occurred touching the dignity and character of the profession, and it is sincerely to be hoped that the Journal which represents the Iowa profession today has not fallen short in honest endeavor to maintain the same ideals.

It must be remembered that not more than one-half of the men practicing medicine in Iowa betwečn 1850 and 1870 had received a medical degree and the number who had received a literary degree was very small indeed, and the true professional spirit was confined to comparatively few men. The profession as such did not stand very high in public esteem, it being looked upon only as a bread-winning business, but the individuals we refer to in these writings were big men and much honored in the state.

We are informed that the next (second) meeting of the state medical society will be at Fairfield, Jefferson county on the first Wednesday in May, 1851.

A vigorous editorial protest is made in relation to an unethical offer by the Evansville Medical College to admit the “Sons of Temperance” at one-half the regular fees in consideration of an agreement to recommend the school as in every way worthy of public confidence.

It appears that in 1851 some plans were being considered for contracts with families to render professional services by the year. In the March number (1851), is an editorial condemning this practice as being “unethical, mercenary and unworthy of the members of a dignified profession and savoring too much of the dealer of matches, the butcher, the ice man, etc.” It does not appear that any movement materialized to establish this method of doing medical practice.

In the April, (1851) number, after giving notice of the meeting of the State Medical at Fairfield the editor asserts that

"No state in the Union is less cursed with empiricism (except in patent medicines) than this. Thompsonionism, Homeopathy, Hydropathy, Electicism, and other forms of quackery have not as yet, taken root in our soil; and if the medical profession will unite in such associations as will promote the development and dissemination of the true principles of our science, its future growth will be effectually arrested.”

In the June, (1851) Journal a rather exhaustive paper appears on “Medical Topography and Diseases of Iowa” by J. F. Henry, M.D. In those days the relation of climate to disease was regarded as very close, and climatic studies were much thought of.

It was during these early years that much jeolousy existed among the proprietary medical schools and found expression in many editorials in official, or in friendly journals and the Keokuk Journal did not fail in this respect.

In August, 1853, the name of the Journal was changed from the Medico-Chirurgical Journal to the Iowa Medical Journal, edited by the faculty of the Medical Department of the Iowa University. It is to be presumed that Dr. J. C. Hughes was editor-in-chief although his name does not thus appear until some years later.

The Iowa Medical Journal first appeared monthly printed at the Whig Book and Job Office, subscription price $2.00 annually in advance. Later the Journal appeared every alternate month, edited by Dr. J. C. Hughes, printed at the Gate City book and job rooms. Notwithstanding the announcement that the Iowa Medical Journal would appear every alternate month, numbers two and three, volume five, for January, February, March and April appeared in April, 1868 and number four, January and February, volume five, appeared in February, 1869. Numbers two and three, volume five, 1868, makes the first claim of being a real medical journal, as stated in the following language:

"Notice to exchanges: The fact that our first issue was an experiment and contained but little of medical interest having been used more particularly as a college circular, we did not present it for exchange to the medical journals of the country. Its publication now being a fixed fact, we most cordially ask our own and foreign journals to exchange with us. It is the only medical journal in the state and shall always be found ready to battle for the interests of science, the profession and its institutions.” In this number (2 and 3, volume 5, 1868), there are sixty pages of reading matter, including also six pages of advertising; five drug stores, two hotels and one jewelry store, all in Keokuk. Hughes’ Medical and Surgical Infirmary and Eye and Ear Institute use one page. In number one of the same volume (5) for November and December, twenty-two pages are devoted to the Transactions of the Twenty-first Annual Session of the Iowa State Medical Society and three pages to a paper on a “New Operation Upon the Shaft of Long Bones by which Elongation as well as Straightening May be Secured,” by Professor J. C. Hughes.

We are informed that with the completion of the fourth volume the Iowa State Medical Journal suspended for several years, probably for a period of ten years. The reason for the temporary suspension is given in the announcement for volume five in 1867:

"Gentlemen of the profession: Owing to the financial embarrassment of 1857-8 the Iowa Medical Journal, which had completed its fourth volume was suspended for want of material aid. The unsettled condition of the country since then, and my absence in Europe the last year, has prevented our embarking in the enterprise. As the country is safe, and the profession are again heartily engaged in the active duties of civil life, I propose, should I receive the necessary encouragement from my professional brethren of my own and the adjoining states, to continue what I have now commenced—the publication of the fifth volume of the Iowa Medical Journal. For the present, it will be a bi-monthly of thirty-two pages—not so large as formerly, but costing the publisher more. Its size will be increased as rapidly as the proceeds will justify; and we hope, with the aid of our professional friends, to make the Iowa Medical Journal a welcome visitor to every lover of medical science in the West. Send us your $2.00 at once. This encourages the printer, and is the pocket argument.

“Next in importance is your contributions, which will always be acceptable, if short and to the point, and more particularly if they contain facts and common sense.

“All letters and communications for the Journal may be addressed to J. C. Hughes, M.D., Keokuk, Iowa. Price $2.00 per annum in advance. If not paid before the issue of the second number, the price will be $3.00.”

The Journal makes the following announcement to advertisers:

We would call the attention of the profession and all others interested to the cards of our citizens who have so liberally aided us in this, the first number of our Journal. They are all men of business and integrity, and are prepared to accommodate the profession and public with everything in their line upon the most reasonable terms.”

The first number of volume five was for November and December, 1867; number 2, January and April, 1868; number 4, January and February, 1869. Notice appears in this last number that Dr. John F. Sanford, the founder of the Iowa State Medical Society

“...has abandoned his infirmary and is, we understand, about to with draw from the profession. The doctor has engaged in patent rights and life insurance. We know nothing of the company he represents, nor the patent lamp burner of which he is the author, but we trust that in his new sphere of action he will make it more renumerative than professional pursuits. The Doctor is well calculated to fill the new position, and we have no doubt of his financial success.”

The first number of volume 5 was issued in December, 1867, and number 4 of the same volume was issued in February, 1869. In this number, Editor Hughes writes rather despondingly, evidently the profession of Iowa was not quite ready for a local medical journal. Another factor had had its influence; the medical department of the State University had been established at Iowa City. It had been the fond hope of the Keokuk faculty that the medical department would remain permanently at Keokuk and that the Iowa Medical Journal would serve as an advertising medium for the medical school but now the Journal must exist as an independent organ with an uncertain support.

In number four the editor states that:

"We regret the irregularity that has thus far characterized the issue of the fifth volume of the Journal. But while we say that sickness of the editor and a want of proper support from the profession, has caused it, we may say but the truth. We again appearl to our friends to give us the proper encouragement, and we will try again. But if the profession expect us to edit it, pay for it, and take the curses which attach to the position, they will find an editor suddenly withdraw from the assumed honors fully convinced that glory of this kind will not pay."

The editor evidently kept his word for the Journal suddenly disappeared. Whether volume five was completed we do not know, for number four was the last number we have been able to discover. Editing a medical journal is not one of the most encouraging employment a man can engage in, and yet there is something attractive in it, that cannot be measured by dollars and cents. There is something in keeping in touch with a profession that the world cannot do without. It is probably true that well people say things, and do things about doctors, that are not always complimentary, or pleasant, but the time comes when almost every man and woman anxiously turns to the doctor as the best and most desirable of all human beings. Trade, commerce and all the world, depends upon medical science for health, safety and happiness in all their activities. It may be now, that the pills and powders of our first editor, are about to give place to health and welfare activities and organization which will render the personal attention of the Doctor in great measure unnecessary.

It must be remembered that when Dr. J.C. Hughes wrote the discouraging editorials, Iowa was thinly settled, transportation slow and uncertain, and not far from one-half of the medical profession had never even had the advantages of a two-term course of sexteen weeks medical college training and only a common school education as a preparation; mental culture was not then a weakness among the doctors as it is now, although we have seen a six months' supply of the state and national journals without the wrappers disturbed unless by cobwebs.

In 1895 the Iowa Medical Journal again appeared with Dr. J.W. Kime of Fort Dodge as editor. The first number bears the date April, 1895. The editor states:

"The plan of this Journal is somewhat unique in medical journalism. It will be edited in a number of independent departments, each having its own special editor and collaborators and will be expressly for the profession of Iowa, its columns being open only to the physicians of this state through colaboration will be made from every available source. The Journal will be edited in ten departments, practically covering the field of medicine and surgery.”

The first volume contained 710 pages and presented a very creditable appearance showing that the editor was well fitted for the undertaking. Dr. Kime in July, 1900 on account of other interests transferred the Journal to Dr. E. E. Dorr of Des Moines. The following announcement appears in the July number:

"The Iowa Medical Journal has changed hands. The new management has an ambition to make this publication a credit to the profession and useful to every patron. It hopes to make it the duty and the pleasure of every physician in the state to patronize it and take pride in its success. It will study the interests of legitimate practice and defend the right of the craft. It will strive to be useful in all ways to those who maintain it, keeping in mind always the public good as well as the interests of its class. It believes in the highest professional attainments and in most loyal citizenship, in professional duty and in patriotic effort. To these ends we will be glad to hear from those we aspire to represent, and will put the enclosures where they will do the most good.

“The Iowa Medical Journal is established. It has stood the test for six years, and is representative of Iowa progress. We propose to make it essentially an Iowa Journal for Iowa physicians, practical in every branch. The general practitioner whom we hope to make our friends are all busy men and find time only to read the medical journals between calls, so we take it that short, practical articles will be appreciated.

“This journal is non-partisan and non-scholastic, standing simply and alone for the broad interests of our beloved profession.

“Dr Walter L. Bierring of Iowa City, professor of pathology in the university, will correspond from the pathological department. His prominence in the profession and in the State Medical Society makes it unnecessary for us to introduce him.

“Dr. W. W Pearson of Des Moines will have charge of the eye, ear, nose and throat department of the Journal, and the readers are assured of an up-to-date department.

“Dr. E. L. Stevens will have charge of the department of medicine and those of you who have ever come in contact with the doctor will recognize in him a man who will furnish only the best and keep his department up-to-date.

“This will constitute the advisory staff of the Iowa Medical Journal at present. We ask your co-operation in this work so that the physicians, our neighbors, brothers, all of us, may be mutually benefited.”

The Journal remained an entirely independent organ until 1906 when the Iowa State Medical Society contracted with Dr. Dorr to publish its transactions for a period of five years assuming nominal control through a committee on publication.

At the close of the five year period the House of Delegates of the State Medical Society organized a Journal of its own in accordance with a plan generally adopted by State Medical Societies under the name of the Journal of the Iowa State Medical Society with Dr. Fairchild as editor. The Iowa Medical Journal continued as a private medical journal edited by Dr. E.E. Dorr until June, 1914, when it was purchased by the Iowa State Medical Society and merged with the Journal of the State Society.

The Iowa State Medical Reporter was organized in 1883 with Dr. F. F. Cruttenden of Des Moines as editor and publisher.

In the first or July number, 1883, the editor makes the following appeal to the medical profession of Iowa:

“With this number our medical staff feel that they are stepping forward with open hands, to every regular practitioner in the State of Iowa, inviting a cordial co-operation and asking for a personal interest in the object, in the welfare, and in the columns of the Iowa State Medical Reporter. Has the time come that we need it? Will it receive nourishment and live? These questions, touching the vitality of all new projects, have cast their shadows on us.”

In the June number, 1884, the editor announces the end of the first volume in an editorial not particularly encouraging. The financial returns did not warrant an increase in size, but hopes for something better in the future, and states: “During the coming years, the Reporter will be under the following management: editor and publisher, F. F. Cruttenden of Des Moines; associate editorial staff, G.M. Hobby, Iowa City; L. C. Swift, Des Moines; D. S. Fairchild, Ames; W. L. Allen, Davenport, and H. B. Young, Burlington.”

The first number bears the date July 1, 1883. The journal was published monthly and the twelve numbers contained 182 double column pages. The Reporter continued for a period of three years when it was discontinued on account of the demands of the private business of the editor, Dr. F. E. Cruttenden.

The Interstate Medical News, an independent medical journal of medicine, surgery and allied sciences. J. H. Talboy, M.D., editor; Charles M. Wade, M.D., associate editor, and publisher. A journal bearing the above title appeared in Sioux City, published quarterly. The first number appeared February 15, 1895 and contained thirty-eight pages. The announcement was a modest one, not even explaining its purposes or hopes. Two numbers appeared and then suspended publication, we assume for the want of financial support.

In 1900 Dr. Woods Hutchinson of Des Moines entered the field of Iowa medical journalism by editing and publishing an attractive journal bearing the title of Vis Medicatrix Nature. Notwith standing the skill of a brilliant editor the journal survived only nine months.

About this time another medical journal appeared in Des Moines edited by Dr. Overton. It did not appear regularly, or apparently have any definite purpose. It soon disappeared.

We have endeavored to trace in a brief outline, the history of medical journalism in Iowa. The difficulties were great and the financial returns small.

The Iowa Medical Journal first edited and published by Dr. J. W. Kime of Fort Dodge, was the first to take on the form and character of a real medical journal.

A reference to the first volumes of this Journal will reveal evidence of careful editing, admirable form and execution, but it proved then, and has proved since that local private medical journalistic undertakings involves a vast amount of work with small returns, if not actual loss. It is doubtful if the profession, realize how much work is involved in publishing a medical journal. The difficulty is not so great when the circulation is guarenteed as in the case of the state society journals. Even with the state journals, the rapidly increasing medical activities, the more complex economic relations of the profession and the complicated interests places the editor often in an unenviable position.


Return to the Table of Contents

Home to Iowa History Project