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

page 2
page 1

Abel C. Roberts
pg 143, full text
Abel C. Roberts, M.D., came to Keokuk from Ft. Madison, in 1862, as a contract surgeon, and took charge of one of the government hospitals. His reputation as a thorough going practitioner of medicine had preceded him, and he was at once elcted to the chair of principles and practice of medicine in the medical college. In this position he displayed remarkable ability, delivering two courses of lectures that were considered models of completeness and scientific accuracy. Commissioned as a surgeon of the 21st Missouri, he went to the field of action, and remained with his regiment until mustered out in 1866.

Returning home, the doctor resumed his practice in civil life with success, but in consequence of exposure during his army life, he was incapacitated for very active duties and he assumed the editorialship of a daily newspaper, which he filled very creditably. A few years ago he passed over to the great beyond, full of honors, possessed of "troops of friends" and his mantle worthily carried by his son, Dr. F.C. Roberts of Ft. Madison.

F.C. Roberts
pg 143, mention
Of Ft. Madison. Son of Dr. Abel C. Roberts of Keokuk.
George L. Roberts
pg 283, mention
Of Des Moines, he was a Member of the first State Board of Health, organized in 1880. Served as secretary of the temporary organization of the Board of Medical Examiners (ca1886)
Charles M. Robertson
pg 353-356, full text

Dr. Charles M. Robertson
Dr. Charles M. Robertson

Dr. Chas. M. Robertson
The history of the Robertson family constitutes the most interesting chapter of Iowa medicine. Dr. J.M. Robertson came to the Iowa Territory and located in Burlington in 1838. In 1852 his son, W.S. Robertson, entered his father's office and together they practiced medicine until Dr. W.S. Robertson's death in January, 1887, a period of nearly fifty years. Dr. J.M. Robertson had practiced narly ten years when he came to Iowa and the two generations had covered a period of sixty years. Thus from the standpoint of the practice of medicine, the only change was the growing experience of additional years. Typhoid fever was typhoid, malaria was malaria, and so on. There was, of course, the increasing skill in application of standard remedies, physical injuries, including fractures and dislocations, were treated in accordance with standard methods of increasing skill, but the time was near at hand when this would all be changed. It would not be merely the increased skill in application, but the involvement of new thought and new ideas which whould have their inception with the third generation of the Robertson family.

In 1888, when Dr. Chas. M. Robertson, representative of the third generation, entered upon the field of medicine, scientific methods had been well introduced, sufficiently so to have become a partly established routine of medical practice, but typhoid fever was yet to undergo changes as to a knowledge of origin and development, malarial fever was to change from the standpoint of transmission and treatment, and many other diseases were to pass from the standard treatments of the two generations to a complete and definite knowledge of scientific cause and sequence under the eye of Dr. Chas. M. Robertson. The methods of treatment of the prevalent diseases of the first two generations were to be continued, but the control and management was to be completely changed, and so in the third generation we have an almost complete revolution in the management of disease. To make the story complete from a medical point of view it is necessary to consider the evolutionary changes which have taken place under the eye of Dr. Chas. M. Robertson during the period of thirty years or more.

It is to be borne in mind that the fifty years we have been considering under the eye of two generations of Robertsons was the standard medical management of disease of the Mississippi Valley of that period, but there is much more to be said: the building of the state, the building of roads, homes, farms, villages and methods of local government, and many other things. Drs. J.M. and W.S. Robertson were not merely witnesses to the transition of fity years, but were active participants; none contributed more, none made greater sacrifices; these men were not silent actors in contributing to the welfare of the sick and afflicted, but the active workers in the great upbuilding process.

Dr. Chas. M. Robertson was born at Columbus City, February 1, 1865. In 1869 his parents moved to Muscatine, where he received his school and high school education. In September, 1882, Dr. Robertson entered the State University at Iowa City, in the scientific course, graduationg B.S. in 1885. In March, 1888, he graduated in medicine and in June received his M.A. degree; practiced medicine in Muscatine for a year and then became an assistant to Dr. C.M. Hobby, head of department of eye, ear, nose and throat at Iowa City. In 1891-92 studied under the masters in department of eye, ear, nose and throat in Vienna, Paris and London. On returning home Dr. Robertson settled in Davenport, where he practiced his specialty until he was elected professor ear, nose and throat in Chicago Polyclinic in April, 1901. While still practicing in Davenport he was appointed chief occulist and aurist of the Rock Island RAilway Comany in 1892, serving in that capacity for nine years. While still in the academic department of the State University Dr. Robertson was Adjutant of University Battalion. On August 1, 1890, was appointed major surgeon of the Second Regiment of Iowa National Guard, which was mustered into the service as the 50th U.S. Volunteers, serving as major surgeon; served with the 30th U.S. Volunteers until July, when he received an appointment as chied surgeon of volunteers with a rank of division major. Resigned from army September 1, 1898, on account of typhoid fever. Was elected professor of ear, nose and throat in State University in 1894 and served until he moved to Chicago in 1901.

As already stated, Dr. Robertson was elected professor ear, nose and throat in Chicago Polyclinic, April, 1901, which position he has held continuously until the present time and has served as a trustee for ten years, and treasurer for six years.

In 1906 he was elected associate professor in otology in Northwestern University, which position he held until 1912. Was appointed collaborator on the International Archives of Otolaryngology of France in 1908 and served in that capacity until the World War in 1914. At present is abstractor for the Archives of American Oto-laryngology for French and Spanish.

Dr. Robertson is a member of the A.M.A.; Ilinois Medical Society; Chicago Medical Society; Chicago Ophthalmic, Chicago Laryngologic; American Otologic; American Otologic, Rhinologic and Laryngologic; American Academy of Ophthalmol, Rhinolog, Otolog and Laryngol; charter member of the Military Surgeons of the U.S. During the World War was captain of M.C.U.S.A., doing research for the government on the medical aspect of avaiation.

Is a member of the staff of the Henrotin Memorial Hospital, Polyclinic Hospital, Alexian Brothers Hospital, Highland Park Hospital, Waukegan Memorial Hospital (president of staff).

Was married June, 1915, to Mary Van Houton of Eagle Pass, Texas, by whom there were three daughters born, Anita, Martha and Mary Moore, fifteen months old. Lives at HIghland Park, Chicago.

James Moore Robertson
pg 21-23, full text; and pg 150, mention
The Louisa County Medical Society was organized April 24, 1852, at Wapello. A this the first meeting of the society, Dr. J.M. Robertson of Columbus City, was elected president. (pg 150)

In examing the records of the Iowa State Medical Society and other documents pertaining to Iowa history the name of Dr. J.M. Robertson not unfrequently appeared but was unable to gather data enough to frame a biographical sketch.

I regretted the loss from our records of so valuable a man and eminent physician and publicist, when one day it occurred to me to appeal to Dr. Charles A. Robertson of Chicago a grandson of Dr. J.M. Robertson for help and it so chanced that on this very day and moment Dr. Charles appeared and in his bluff and friendly way assured me I should have what I desired.

James Moore Robertson, M.D.
James Moore Robertson, M.D.
Born October 14, 1804
Died December 31, 1878

James Moore Robertson, M.D. was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, October 14, 1804. Died in Muscatine, Iowa, December 31, 1878. Dr. Robertson was a son of Peter Robertson, a native of Scotland, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in his youth and who died when James was six years old. His mother was Jane Moore, a native of the United States of English ancestors. His mother died when he was sixteen years old and he was reared from that time by Dr. William Stephenson of Cannonsburg, Penn., who was a friend of his father. Dr. James M. Robertson received his literary education at Jefferson College, Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania, and his medical education from Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, from which institution he graduated in 1827. He entered practice at Georgetown, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where he remained six years. In the spring of 1833 he removed to Franklin County, Ohio, where he practiced five years and then removed to Burlington, Iowa, or Iowa Territory in 1838. After a few years practice in Burlington he moved to Columbus City which he helped to plat and where he practiced his profession until 1870 when he removed to Muscatine where he continued practice up to his retirement in 1874, after forty-seven years of extremely arduous service in his profession. It was now given him four years of rest until the final close of a most useful life at the age of seventy-four years.

While in Burlington and Columbus City, Dr. Robertson did a practice extending from Cedar Rapids to Keokuk mostly on horseback with an expenditure of strength and energy and with an endurance that can scarcely be appreciated by the practitioner of today. Dr. Robertson did much to help organize a new country and make treaties with the Indians whose language and customs were well known to both himself and his son William. He was a member of the Iowa State Medical Society, later vice-president and treasurer. He was a member of the Ohio State Medical Society & the Louisa and Muscatine County Medical Societies. In 1865 he was elected state senator and served four years. He was married to Maria Armstrong of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and had one son, William Stephenson Robertson.

Dr. James Moore Robertson was a man with many friends but no enemies. In politics he was staunch Republican. In religion a devout Presbyterian and for many years an elder in the church.

In personal appearance Dr. Robertson was tall and erect, wore a tall hat and blue broadcloth clothes. In appearance and address he was the type of a medical gentleman. The stong ancestral Scotch-English blood of Dr. Robertson made itself manifest in the son, Dr. William S. Robertson and in the grandson, Dr. Charles A. Robertson all of whom were eminent physicians of whom Iowa may well be proud. (pg 21-23)

J.W. Robertson
pg 152, mention
When the Muscatine County Medical Society was reorganized on June 12, 1874, Dr. J.W. Robertson was elected president.
[transcription note: this may be the same man as J.M. Robertson]
William S. Robertson
pg 151, 326 & 329, mention; and 185-188, full text
April 19, 1856, Dr. W.S. Robertson, Columbus City, was admitted to membership in the Louisa County Medical Society (pg 151)
In 1873 Dr. W.S. Robertson of Muscatine became impressed with the number of idiotic and imbecile persons in Iowa, commenced a series of investigations to ascertain their number, condition and needs, which he embodied in his presidential address before the Iowa State Medical Society in 1874. This is probably the first public plea in the interest of feeble-minded in Iowa. Without accurate census data Dr. Robertson estimated that in 1873 there were at least 1200 idiots and imbeciles in Iowa. (pg 326)
On March 15, 1876 Dr. W.S. Robertson of Muscatine was elected a trustee of the newly established Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children at Glenwood (pg 329)

Dr. Wm. S. Robertson
Dr. Wm. S. Robertson

William Stephenson Robertson
Dr. Wm. S. Robertson of Muscatine was for many years one of the most interesting figures in Iowa medicine. He came to Iowa when the state was young and developed a vigorous manhood which together with a sense of honor gave him an influence and leadership which continued through a long and useful life. Dr. Robertson was full of physical, moral, and intellectual courage, sound judgement and skill in directing the means of treatment as known in his day.

His work was replete with opinions of European medical men and as a student of letters he was a diversified reader as he read Latin and Greek as well as he did English. The only literature now open to him in medicine was from the German but this he got through the Lancet which was and is one of the greatest medical reservoirs.

Dr. Robertson possessed a cheerful and optimistic spirit which fitted him for the trials and difficulties confronting the pioneer. He possessed an unusual personal magnetism and with a fine physical organization he became easily a leader and a worthy successor of his distinguished father, Dr. J.M. Robertson.

Dr. Robertson's sense of public duty led him every early in life to advocate a public health service in Iowa and probably to him more than any other was due the legislative enactments creating the Iowa State Board of Health of which he was the first president.

When Dr. Robertson first came forward with a plan for a Public Health Service but little thought had been given to the subject, and he was met everywhere with an indifference which cannot at the present day be fully appreciated, but his courage, his earnestness and devotion at last prevailed, and a beginning was made in a line of service which will stand foremost in the medical activities of future years. In this struggle, the experience Dr. Robertson had gained as a state senator, and the influence he had acquired in pubic life, was of great advantage.

Dr. W.S. Robertson was born June 5, 1831 in Georgetown, Pennsylvania. When a boy his father, Dr. J.M. Robertson, moved to Burlington, then the most important city of the southwestern section of Iowa. His preliminary education was obtained in the public schools of that day, later he matriculated in Knox College, Illinois, but before completing his course his health became impaired and he was obliged to abandon his college course. In 1852, he entered his father's office as a medical student. In 1854, he attended his first course of lectures at Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, from which he graduated March 8, 1856.

In the meantime, and even before he began the study of medicine, his father moved from Burlington to Columbus City. Immediately after receiving his diploma Dr. Robertson entered upon the practice of medicine with his father, which continued until the breaking out of the Civil War.

It is to be said of Dr. W.S. Robertson that his interests and activities extended beyond the routine of the practice of medicine, as was true of many of our earlier practitioners. He was more than a practicing physician and surgeon; he was active in all that related to civil life, he was the type of the man of his generation who was able to meet every condition with understanding, firmness, and courage. During the early days of practice, the conditions in a new country demanded a readiness to meet dangers and exposure unknown to men of this day. Beside the risk of medical practice, the country was infested with outlaws, particularly horse thieves. In certain sections along the Mississippi, they were extremely active. The personal exploits related of Dr. Robertson in hunting these pests of civilization and bringing them to justice, read like the frontier stories that filled our youthful imagination.

In 1858/9 Dr. Robertson joined a military company and devoted time to the study of military science, which prepared him for great usefulness in the days near at hand. With the breaking out of the Civil War, there was pressing need of men of courage, resolution and knowledge to lead our soldiers. Dr. Robertson's training and character fitted him for this service and on July 13, 1861 he was mustered in as major in the 5th Iowa Infantry. This regiment was called into service at the battle of New Madrid, March 4, 1862. Major Robertson was honorably mentioned by his commanding officer on this occasion in his official report.

After two years active service, Major Robertson resigned on July 23, 1863 and resumed practice at Columbus City. In 1869 after a winter of graduate study in New York, he moved to Muscatine.

When the medical department of the Iowa State University was organized at Iowa City, Dr. Robertson was elected chief of the department of the theory and practice of medicine, which position he held to the time of his death, January 20, 1887.

For many years he was a leading member of the Iowa State Medical Society, of which he became a member in 1861, and was elected its president in 1873. During his many years of service as a member of the State Medical Society and as a professor in the state university, the doctor gained a body of friends who mourned his loss in a most affectionate manner. The writer recalls the session of the state medical society at Sioux City the year next following his death when a special meeting was called to participate in a memorial tribute of affection and regard.

In 1873 while acting as county physician, Dr. Robertson gave his attention to the sad condition of the feebleminded children being cared for in the County Poor Farm. Upon visiting other counties he found similar conditions existed. This caused him to bring the matter before the Iowa State Medical Society. He was appointed chairman of a committee to present this subject to the state legislature with the effect that he drafted a bill "Plea for the Feebleminded Children of the State of Iowa". This resulted in the state institution which now is housing 1000 patients at Glenwood.

Dr. W.S. Robertson died at Muscatine, Iowa, January 20, 1887. (pg 185-188)

Dr. Robinson
pg 262, mention
Early physician in West Union, Iowa; practicing there as early as the close of the Civil War days.
J. Robinson
pg 105, mention
Dr. J. Robinson, of Fairfield, was a charter member of the Iowa State Medical Society, in 1850.
William R. Ross
pg 18 & 25, mention
Located in Burlington in 1832. Dr. William R. Ross with Benjamin Tucker laid out and platted the City of Burlington. Dr. Ross brought a stock of goods & it is probable that his time was more occupied with trade than with the practice of medicine. A few settlers only had crossed the Mississippi and they were not of the kind who needed medical services.
W.H. Roussean
(Rosseaueau *)
pg 46, full text; pg 105, mention
Dr. W.H. Roussean was born in Kentucky in 1816, came to Washington in 1844, read medicine with Dr. W.B. Stone. Later graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Keokuk; married Electa Atwood in 1845. Practiced in Washington until his death in 1893. (pg 46)

Dr. W.H. Rosseau, of Washington was a charter member of the Iowa State Medical Society, 1850. (pg 105)

E.P. Russell
pg 158, mention
Dr. E.P. Russell, University of Vermont, 1866, was an original member of the Council Bluffs Medical Society
H.A. Russell
pg 164, mention
An original member of the Madison County Medical Society when it was organized in 1873.
S.A. Russell
pg 202, mention
Was noted in the bio of A.G. Field to be practicing medicine in Des Moines in the mid-1860's
Dr. Rust
pg 286, mention
Dr. Merrill Otis was for a time associated with a Dr. Rust in Tabor. (ca1866)

*Transcribers note: throughout the book there were instances of a physician's name being given slightly differently from one mention to another; whenever I was positive they denoted the same man, I have included the alternate name or spelling, not knowing which is the 'correct' one.

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