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 Fifth - The Iowa College of Physicians and Surgeons
of Des Moines and the Medical Department of Drake University

pages 93-102

Toward the end of the period of new private medical college enterprises the profession of Des Moines began to consider the question of establishing amedical school in that city. Des Moines had become the capitol of the state, the political center, and promised much in the way of commercial prosperity and growth. It was apparent that the city would outgrow all other cities in the state and under conditions then existing in relation to medical education, Des Moines was the logical place for a medical school in Iowa. No one at that time could foresee what the requirements for a medical education would be in the near future.

In 1874 or 1875 Dr. A.G. Field began to agitate the question of a medical school in Des Moines. Dr. J.F. Kennedy soon became interested and also Dr. J.A. Blanchard. Numerous conferences were held in which Dr. J.T. Priestley, Dr. D.S. Fairchild and others participated. The discussions were not materially different from those which marked the organization of other infant industries with small capital; would the financial returns warrant the investment in the face of the existing competition? Every important city in the United States had one or more medical colleges. All presented certain attractive features according to location, but all agreed on one very important feature, and that was that the courses should be conducted with such skill that few candidates for graduation would fail. With such attractive features it was yet a serious question if enough students would matriculate to pay current expenses. To give the necessary time as a teaching faculty was something but in addition to give money was more. However, in 1881 the plans were perfected for opening the regular session in 1882 under the name of the Iowa College of Physicians and Surgeons.

In those comparatively early times various reasons were given for the organization of a new medical college, generally a "long felt want." Sometime a sense of loyalty to the growing city. It was sometimes said by those outside, that these enterprises grew out of a desire on the part of ambitious men to become professors; that it was a modest way of advertising. There was perhaps some evidence in support of this view. In older centers of population when the existing schools could no longer supply enough professorships for all the ambitious practitioners of the healing art, new schools were brought into existence. In the Western states, state universities were not thought to be complete without a medical department regardless of the size of the town or the natural facilities for such work and no city with possibilities could afford to be without a medical school, or at least, that was the way the local profession looked at it.

The first course of lectures opened at the Des Moines school in October, 1882. Dr. D.S. Fairchild was selected to deliver the opening address the week before formal lectures commenced. The address was delivered in the main lecture room on the third floor of a building adjoining the Old Register building on Court avenue.

The faculty consisted of J.A. Blanchard, M.D., Principles and Practice of Medicine and Dean of the Faculty; A.C. Simonton, M.D., Surgery; J.F. Kennedy, A.M., M.D., Obstetrics and Diseases of Children and Secretary of the Faculty; W.H. Ward, M.D., Gynecology; J.T. Priestley, M.D., Anatomy; L.C. Swift, M.D., Physiology; T.E. Pope (Professor Chemistry Iowa State College Ames), Chemistry; D.S. Fairchild, M.D., Ames; Pathology, Histology and Microscopy; E.H. Hazen, M.D., Eye and Ear; F.E. Cruttenden, M.D., Diseases of the Throat and Nasal Passages; Judge C.C. Nourse, Medical Jurisprudence, and C.M. Colvin, M.D., demonstrator of Anatomy.

The requirements for graduation were three years with a preceptor including two courses of lectures of four months each, the last of which must be in the Des Moines school. No special admission requirements were made at that time, but it was understood that a teacher's certificate would form the basis of literary preparation. there were now three regular medical schools in operation in Iowa and these three schools soon became centers of medical factions which in a few years entered the State Society and created no little discord.

The standards adopted by the Iowa College of Physicians and Surgeons were similar to the standard adopted by nearly all the schools in the United States. Very imperfect indeed, but the competition for students was such that no school up to that time had the courage to raise the standard of admission, or extend the course of medical instruction. Rush Medical College, the largest and most influential of the Western schools in its announcement for 1883 states as follows: "The annual course of lectures commences on Monday, December 4 and will continue sexteen weeks. The requirements for graduation are three years study with a reputable physician. Two courses of lectures, one of which must be in this institution (or two years practice in lieu of one course)" etc.

Dr. J.A. Blanchard was the first Dean and served two years. When he resigned Dr. D.S. Fairchild was elected president of the school which office he held until the school was taken over by Drake University in 1886 when Dr. Lewis Schooler was made Dean.

The Iowa College of Physicians remained a purely private school until 1886-1887 when it became the medical department of Drake University, and began to assume some of the dignity of an university school as much as least as was warranted under the circumstances of an empty treasury with very remote possibilities. Drake University which had been expanding by organizing professional schools to become more distinctly a university, made up a medical department by bringing together a group of electic physicians to constitute a medical faculty. It was believed by the scholarly men who made up the official body of the university that the term electic meant a broader conception of medicine than any other system and more in accordance with a devoutly religious faculty.

But in the course of three years the university medical faculty meetings became so discordant that on occasions it became necessary for the police to preside. Finally the character of the discussions, the language used, the broken chairs and other things became so abhorant to the board of trustees that the electic medical department was discontinued. It now came about that negotiations were commenced by which Drake University was to absorb the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The affairs of the latter were placed in the hands of Dr. Lewis Schoolers who concluded the negotiations, became dean of the medical department and professor of surgery. During the foregoing period of the history of the college the institutionwas able to pay its rent and other expenses and was in good standing with all American medical colleges. No salaries were paid the faculty, and Drake continued the same policy. The affiliation with Drake University was only nominal and but for the persistent energy of Dr. Schooler the medical school would not long have survived. In 1903 the question of final abandonment was under serious discussion; it was then that President Bell and Governor Drake (the founder of the university) began an earnest effort to revive the medical school. Dr. D.S. Fairchild was appointed to the position of dean, and professor of surgery. Up to 1893 no regular clinic had been held. The only hospital in Des Moines up to that time was a small private residence which had been converted into what was known as Coltage Hospital, although added to from time to time it contained only a few beds. The clinics were irregular. The instruction was therefore chiefly didactic. With the building of Mercy Hospital Dr. Schooler was able to arrange for a regular surgical clinic and Dr. J.T. Priestley who was professor of medicine now organized a fairly good medical clinic.

In 1903-1904 the university was able to secure about $20,000 for a building to provide for the clinical faculty. The laboratories and anatomy, physiology and chemical departments were provided for in the science building on the university grounds. The clinics were held at Methodist and Mercy Hospitals and with the erection of the new college building a fairly good dispensary clinic was developed.

With the reorganization of the medical school in 1903, the first two years students were placed under the direction of Dr. F.J. Smith as junior dean, the first time freshman and sophomore students were able to avail themselves of the instruction of full time teachers.

It may be said therefore that in 1903-1904 Drake University School of Medicine began to take on the character of a real medical school. The course of instruction included four years of thrity-six weeks each with an entrance requirement of an approved high school course with two years in college. Previous to this time the school followed the requirements of the State University but now it boldly adopted the more advanced requirements and petitioned the state board of examiners to require of candidates for examiners the high school and college entrance requirements and the four years of thirty-six weeks each of medical school work which was soon accepted by the board and has been the rule since.

The full requirements stated above were not put in operation at once in 1903-1904 but were germinating, and did not actually come into operation until two years later. In 1908 the Keokuk medical school realizing that a medical school without considerable financial resources was impossible and that student fees alone fell far short of meeting certain fixed expenses, opened negotiations with Drake to take over the equipment of that school and merge the two intitutions at Des Moines under the name of Drake University School of Medicine including the dental school. The merger was accomplished and the session of 1908 opened under rather encouraging conditions. But the dean of the school who was in close touch with medical school sentiment as it existed in the council of medical education was thoroughly convinced that Drake University did not possess sufficient financial resources to continue in operation many years and hold high rank among medicanl institutions, requested to be relieved. Dr. Fairchild who had completed twenty-five years of uninterrupted service without money compensation and with the prospect of further financial assessment and the devotion of a large part of his time to the work of the department felt that the time had come to transfer the position of dean to other hands, but was induced to continue another year and in 1019 at the close of the session presented his resignation which was accepted and Dr. W.W. Pearson was elected dean.

The election of Dr. Pearson was fortunate. The work of organization had been completed but there was much to do in perfecting the details and the filling 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.

We believe it may be fairly said that few instances can be recorded of greater devotion and self-sacrifice to the cause of medical education than was exemplified by a small group of the medical faculty of Drake Medical School. Many changes in the faculty occurred. During the periods of apparent prosperity when it seemed that permanent success was assured, men were easily found who were willing to serve. But during the dark days Drs. Schooler, Priestley, Fairchild and Smouse and a few others were staunch and made many personal sacrifices. The graduates have generally held responsible places in their respective communities and some have reached marked distinction. The general average certainly ranked high, no so much perhaps because of their medical learning, but because of their ideals. 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, but the day finally came when the school must end its existence and in an honorable manner by candidly and generously admitting that the necessary endowment could not be secured to maintain a modern medical school. It may fairly be admitted that the medical school organized in Des Moines in 1882 had a beneficial influence on the profession of the city. At no time in the history of the institution did it encourage or even tolerate irregular or questionable methods of securing students or permit members of the faculty to use the school for private advantage or gain, except such as was incidental to the position held in a medical college. Those who have known the school during the period of its existence can bear witness that its methods were ethical. It will be granted we believe, that its influence was for higher standards of medical practice and in some measure at least the most prominent practitioners of the city gained an inspiration which has been and will continue to be helpful in future years.

In tracing the development of better preparation for entrace and graduation Drake followed the course of other medical schools. It was generally recognized that the average medical student sought the school that would bring him into the profession in the shortest time possible and one school watched the other for any signs of better management or the introduction of more attractive features. It may be said that higher entrace requirement and longer courses of sutdy were not regarded as attractions. The providing of endowments for medical schools led to the some experiments in this direction and public professional opinion came to the aid of medical colleges which would likke better conditions. Finally one school bolder than another demanded three courses of lectures and to the surprise of many instead of loosing apparently gained in strength. Soon the length of the term was increased and four years of medical study was required with longer lecture courses; then a four years high school course was recognized as the necessary minimum entrace requirement. This was followed by one year in a college of liberal arts, then two years and at last two years of college work and four years of nine months each in a medical school and now we may expect that the addition of a hospital year which has been adopted in a few states will be the standard requirement.

In the earlier years of reform in medical education the council on medical education came into existence to stablilize and standardize medical education and has been a most potent factor in promoting progress in this direction, and finally there came into existence the national examining board which will gradually obliterate state lines and will lead to but one examination to practice in all the states and foreign countries.


Return to the Table of Contents

Home to Iowa History Project