Alarmed by the growing number of quacks and charlatans promoting their "remedies" and cures on a trusting general population in the early 19th century, local physicians saw the need to formally band together to distinguish their efforts and expertise. On September 26, 1817, the 16 founding members of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia met at Tennison's, a hotel and tavern on Pennsylvania Avenue, and founded the Medical Society of the District of Columbia. Organized medicine had begun in Washington, DC.
|Capitol Under Construction, 1860.
Source: National Archives and Records Administration (ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 530494)
In 1819, the Medical Society of the District of Columbia claimed the distinction of being the first medical society in the country to be granted a Congressional charter, which was signed by President James Monroe and Speaker of the House Henry Clay. Sixteen physicians were listed as incorporators. The charter said that the Medical Society of the District of Columbia was to confine itself to the "promoting and disseminating of medical and surgical knowledge."
MSDC's Early Leaders
MSDC's early leaders were trained physicians and leaders in their community. The original founders of the Medical Society were
Founders of the MSDC
James H. Blake*
Benjamin S. Bohrer*
Joel Y. Gustine
James T. Johnson*
George W. May
John T. Schaaf
Nich. W. Worthington*
*The 16 original founders of the unchartered Medical Society in 1817.
One early Medical Society leader was a US Surgeon General. Joseph Lovell, MD, was an early member of the Medical Society of DC and a founding member of the Medical Association of the District of Columbia, which eventually combined with MSDC. Dr. Lovell graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1811, with the first class to receive the degree of MD. At the time, war with Britain was eminent and in May of 1812, Dr. Lovell was appointed major and surgeon, 9th US Infantry Regiment. He advanced quickly and, in 1818, at less than 30 years old, he was named Surgeon General. Dr. Lovell’s annual salary was reportedly $2,500, or approximately $57,000 adjusted for inflation.
Dr. Lovell was esteemed during his tenure due to his extensive schooling and drive for quality and efficiency. He fought the age-old battle for physician autonomy. According to the US Army Office of Medical History, he was "concerned about control over medical logistics, believing that his greatest problem would be preventing interference in medical procurement by commanders outside the Medical Department who were subject to influence by private contractors and were often overcharged." Dr. Lovell served as Surgeon General for 18 years until he succumbed to pneumonia. His grave, pictured to the left, is at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.
MSDC's Impact on the Medical and Social History of the USA
From the Medical Society’s earliest days, the MSDC has been a major player in the remarkable medical and social history of the country.
>Members were active in the improvement of the District’s water supply and the control of contagious diseases in the early years and worked to to eliminate polio and to improve standards for the licensing of nursing homes in the 1960s
>MSDC has supported anti-smoking legislation and bills aimed at providing health insurance to the District’s uninsured, and spearheaded a major city-wide campaign to vaccinate infants and children and create an AIDS Task Force.