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 Fourth - Medical Department of
Iowa State University at Iowa City

pages 84-92

The history of the organization of the medical department of the State University at Iowa City has some intricate points that we have from several sources been in the main able to solve. As all the active participants are dead we have little fear of contradiction unless some one seeks the same sources of information, and places a different interpretation on the facts, which it will not be easy to do.

The medical department of the Iowa State University laid the first stone of its foundation December 7, 1848 when Dr. J.M. Vaughn and Mr. Stephen Whicher, an attorney, appeared before the board of trustees to present a statement of the "Condition and Wants of the Medical Faculty of the State of Iowa". It appears that on December 6 a convention of physicians was held in Iowa City to consider the organization be recognized as the medical department. The convention that met on December 6 left no record of its proceedings or agreements, only the records show that on the following day, December 7, the "Convention" was represented before the board of trustees by a physician and a lawyer to make certain arrangements with the board concerning a medical department without any claim on the funds of the university. It is a peculiarity of university trustees to be generous to professional men who will gie valuable services when there is no money consideration, in sight at least.

In January, 1849, a block of land was donated by the legislature to the medical department on condition that within two years the faculty and officers erect a building thereon at a cost of not less than $1,000. No steps were taken to organize a medical school at Iowa City, beyond a movement to unite with the State University by designating seven of the gentlemen representing the "Convention" as members of the faculty by the board of trustees, all but one of these instructors had alrady been designeated. It was provided that these acting together should constitute the medical faculty and were empowered to fill vacancies and arrange the details of administration. It was futher provided that the expenses of this organization should not be a charge on the funds of the university and that such reports as the board might demand should be promptly submitted following the opening of the fist course of lectures, which, as authorized, was to begin on the first Monday in November, 1849, and to continue for a period of sixteen weeks, but no medical school appeared in Iowa City.

The facts were, that the "Convention" of physicians seeking to organize a medical school as a department of the State University represented the faculty of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Upper Mississippi, then located at Davenport, but the next year, 1850, moved to Keokuk to become the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Keokuk. The purpose was to secure recognition as the medical department of the State University and not to organize a medical school at Iowa City, as is shown by the appearance of the same Mr. Whicher before the board of trustees with a memorial requesting the recognition of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Davenport as the medical department of the Iowa State University. The members of the faculty to retain the power of filling vacancies but subject to the approval of the university trustees.

The constitution of 1857 permanently established the university and all branches and departments at Iowa City, nevertheless the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Keokuk, claimed to be and was generall recognized as the medical department of the State University until 1870 when the medical department was organized at Iowa City. The constitutional difficulties were recognized by the Keokuk school and in 1858 the faculty presented a memorial to the legislature then in session "requesting an interpretation of the relations of that institution to the State University under the provisions of the new constitution." The memorial was submitted to the judiciary and the opinion was, "that although all appropriations of funds from university resources were clearly to be confined to the one institution at Iowa City, it was not believed that the medical department at Keokuk was cut off from all connection with it. Since it had been so connected for about eight years and was a recognized department at the time the constitution was adopted, and since there was no specific provision severing its connection with the same, nothing seemed to prevent its continued nominal connection and no further legislation was needed to define its relation."

During the session of the legislature that fixed the status of the Keokuk school a loan of $15,000 was secured from the common school fund for the institution. The loan was originally fourteen years. An inquiry made by the legislature of 1879 showed that no part of the $15,000 had been paid. Suit was instituted and judgment obtained in Lee county against the Keokuk Medical College with a loss to the state of $10,000 and interest on $15,000 for thirteen years.

The first attempt to organize a medical department for the Iowa State University in December, 1848, was in fact, in the interest of the school which arranged to hold its 1849 session at Davenport and in 1850 at Keokuk. During the twenty years following, efforts were made from time to time, to secure permanent recognition by the state and to secure appropriations of money. About $20,000 in all was appropriated and at last, when it was discovered that the legislature had given money unlawfully, an attempt was made to recover the $15,000 borrowed from the common school fund, about $5,000 in 1848 from the sale of land granted by Congress for university purposes was vetoed by Governor Grimes. An attempt to pass the bill over the governor's veto failed by a vote of 32 to 27, 8 less than the constitutional requirement.

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. Final arrangements for organization were mede in 1869.

Old South Hall then occupied by Professor Parvin as a residence was remodeled by an expenditure of $3,000 for the use of the medical school. The school was opened in 1870. the fees were fixed at $80 for lectures, $5 for matriculation and $30 for graduation. An effort was made in the legislature to abolish the new medical department. The senate passed the bill but was indefinitely postponed in the house. When the Regents took up the final arrangements it was proposed to suspend the medical department for the reason that its continuance would not be to the advantage of the University, but the movement was defeated by a margin of one vote.

Beofr eth eadjournment of the 1870 session another attempt was made to postpone opening the medical school, for the reason that it would require a large sum of money and that adequate accommodations could not be secured. Four of the nine Regents believed that a medical department would be contrary to public demand, and that the expense of equipment would be against the best interests of the University. Many reasons were urged in favor of postponing the organization of the school. Notwithstanding the objections offered by the legislature and the Board of Regents the school was opened in 1870 under discouraging conditions.

The faculty was organized by establishing seven chairs, each chair to be filled by an instructor who should depend for compensation and expenses upon the fee paid by students. The following June a resolution was presented to the Board of Regents declaring; "that in as much as the medical department had been struggling along throughout the previous year without means of support, it was not expedient to continue it; and although it was recognized as having done remarkably well, under the circumstances it was recommended that the work be suspended until the legislature should make suitabl eappropriations for that specific purpose."

With our present day views of medical schools the wisdom of such a proposal would not be challenged, but at the time when the Iowa City school was struggling for an existence, a few professors, a few benches and a roof was felt sufficient for a beginning. We can in this struggle see afar the hand of the able Keokuk group.

In June, 1872, $500 was appropriated by the Regents for a department library. It was not until March, 1873, that any provision was made for a hospital. It was proposed to turn over the Old Mechanics hall for hospital purposes providing the faculty would bear the expense without help from the University. Seventy students attended the 1872-73 session.

The legislature manifested small interest in the department and had it not been for the arnest work and sacrifice on the part of the faculty the school would not have been continued. In 1875 the school made an effort to secure recognition from the Royal College of England but recognition was made to depend upon the character of the entrace literary requirements and the Iowa City school could not qualify. Notwithstanding the efforts of Professors Peck, Schrader, Clapp and Henrich no entarce examination requirements had been made and no better accommodations could be secured. It was not until 1879-1880 that a preliminary entrance requirement was published.

The regular course of lectures began in October and extended to the holiday vacation, called the fall term. The winter term ended in March, or twenty weeks of school work including lectures. The students were required to take two such courses of lectures or forty weeks altogether for the degree of Doctor of Medicine. These were the requirements generally in fource everywhere in the United States. There being no legal standards in force fixing the educational requirements for the practice of medicine there was free commercial competition among the medical schools throughout the country. If the doctor was not an educated man in those days the fault was not altogether his.

In 1876-1877 an optional three years' course was urged but the movement was thought premature.

In 1882 the legislature granted the first appropriation to erect buildings for the accommodation of the medical department; up to that time the medical school had occupied Old South Hall previously referred to.

The courses of lectures as established in 1876 continued in fource until 1889-1890 when the courses were extended to three years of six months each. There was established the junior, middle and senior years and an entrance examination in certain specific subjects of an English education unless the candidate held a degree from some college or secondary school.

It now became apparent that increased hospital facilities were of paramount importance and in 1887 a propaganda was started to secure an appropriation for the construction of a University Hospital. In 1890 some relief came from an enlargement of Mercy Hospital But the idea of a University Hospital was never lost sight of and after many years and at various periods the present excellent hospital was completed and equipped.

In response to an increasing demand for better training of medical students, the medical department, beginning with the session of 1891-1892, the course of instruction was again extended by requiring four years, one with a preceptor and three years of six months each in college. In 1896 the college course was increased to three years of eight months each and one year under the direction of a practitioner. In 1901 it was announced that the course would soon be extended to four years of thirty-six weeks each.

The question of better preliminary training for the study of medicine began to ge agitataed by medical teachers and in 1901 the admission qualifications to the medical department of Iowa State University included three years of secondary work from an accredited school, provided the course included one year of Latin. This was extneded to a full high school course and in 1909 to one additional year in college and in 1910 it was provided that a student entering on a medical couse should be required to take two years in college following a four years high school course.

We have thus briefly outlined the inception and growth of the medical department of the Iowa State University. We have pointed out the skillful maneuvering of a private medical school to secure recognition and financial support and the equally skillful management of Dr. W.F. Peck and his associates in securing the organization of the Iowa City school. It is indeed to be regretted that none of the first faculty lived to see the fruits of their early efforts and sacrifices. It was not given them to know that the department, frowned upon by the legislature and even looked upon with suspicion by a stong influence in the board of regents; with a couse of study which included only two course of lectures of twenty weeks each; lodged in a faculty private residence vacated for the purpose, and persistently refused essential appropriations in its most trying years, should in a generation become a stong and fully equipped medical college of the most approved type.

(We have in many respects followed Vol. IV, Anners' History of Education in Iowa published by the State Historical Society.)


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