Prospectus for the Formation of a Medical Society

in about Warren

Date: 1765

Author: Cotton Tufts

“Gentlemen: You have enclos’d the substance of a paper that was not long since circulated amongst a number of physicians — In compliance with which there has been a meeting of a number of physicians who have confer’d upon the subject & have adjourned their meeting to ye first Wednesday in June at Gardiners on Boston Neck. The profession at present is not upon ye most reputable footing, and the want of conversation, candor and generosity very much obstruct the growth of medical knowledge and give great advantage to the ignorant and designing. It is hard to suggest any scheme that would remedy this evil until gentlemen of genius, years and experience adopt such a scheme and exert their influence to render it successful. Your concurrence in such a design I flatter myself would conduce greatly to answer this desirable purpose. To assist ye honr’d enquirer after truth & to lead mankind to ye acquisition of knowledge a benevolent mind & much satisfaction. That much good may be done in this way I have not the least doubt. . . .

Regulations drawn up and presented at ye meeting by Cn Tufts & Approv’d of:

It is humbly proposed by the subscriber, that the gentlemen meeting for the purpose of an association, do agree to form themselves into a society of promoting medical knowledge & assisting each other in the practice of physick. That a moderator pro tempore & a clerk for the year, be chosen. That the society meet in the months of April, July & November, particular time & place to be agreed on by the society. That as often as nay member makes any useful discoveries or meets with any thing curious or extraordinary in physick or surgery, anatomy, chymistry, botony etc. he may present the same in writing to the clerk of the society to be communicated at the next meeting, or if he chuses, he may personally communicate ye same. That certain subjects be determined upon from time to time to be discussed at ye meeting, upon which subjects any member may deliver his sentiments personally or in writing. That the society invite such others to join with them as they shall judge properly qualified. That the society agree upon some method for defraying its expenses.

That the society endeavour to support the characters of its members and discountenance quacks & pretenders in physick.

That all the members treat each other with respect, cautiously avoid calumnating or otherwise degrading each other in the esteem of mankind and propose good will & harmony in the practice of physick. . . .

That the following rules be observed:

  • That no one condemns the practice of another, untill he has heard the reasons of his practice and given him an opportunity to explain himself and then not to condemn him before the patient or people.
  • That as often as one member is calld to the patient of another (if purposely sent for) he does endeavour to have the standing physician present, if the circumstance of the case will admit of it, and if it happens that he be not present, that he leaves his advice in writing & otherways avoids prescribing unless the case requires immediate application.
  • That nostrums arcanums & uromancy as practis’d to deceive and filch ye populace be discountenanced.

That prejudice to particular medicine be removed from ye populace. That other regulations take place as occasion requires. All which is submitted By yr obdt servt Cotton Tufts”

See: Graph Iatroos, a pseudonym of Joseph Warren, letter of February 1765

Commentary: Attempts to organize medical societies in British colonial America occurred within Massachusetts; Connecticut; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and New Jersey. None succeeded until after the Revolutionary War.

According to medical historian Burrage: “[T]he most significant obstacle to their attempts was their lack of a sufficiently clear conception of what constituted adequate standards for training and competence. It was simply not enough to assert that doctors were men of science, when the quality of their own skills were insufficient to clearly distinguish them from ‘quacks’ and ‘empiricks,’ and when their economic interests in excluding non-licensed practitioners were so plainly evident to the public. Further, as members of a low status profession, they lacked the political skills to advance their interests effectively. Finally, the public remained skeptical of the value of science and, more broadly, of schemes to improve the lot of mankind by scientific means.”

“These problems would in large part be remedied over the next two decades. Physicians were actively involved in the revolutionary agitations and their service as medical officers in military units not only raised public opinion of their competence but, perhaps as importantly, they began to communicate with one another about subjects of common interest. Further, thanks to the activities of the Sons of Liberty and other voluntary associations connected with the movement for independence, such groups became both more familiar to Americans and less threatening. Even before the war had ended, efforts to establish professional societies were again being aggressively pursued.”

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