A Brief History of the Kane County Medical Society

1. Origins as the Fox River Valley Medical Association

The predecessor of the Kane County Medical Society was the Fox River Valley Medical Association. This was a district or regional medical society whose members were generally drawn from the mid-Fox Valley region of northern Illinois but also from the contiguous counties in the area. Its first 39 members initially met, organized and approved its constitution on September 1, 1864; most were from Elgin, Aurora and the Geneva area although other members were from Big Rock, Marengo, McHenry County, Ottawa, Naperville and Plainfield.

The Fox River Valley Medical Association was not the first medical society of the area; the Aurora City Medical Society was started in 1855. This Society requested the formation of this new larger association; the specific reasons are obscure and will require further study. It is clear that the effort was instigated by the Aurora society with the new association adopting many of its bylaws, organizational structure and fee schedule. The Aurora City Medical Association seems to have died out by the mid 1880’s.

2. Purposes of the Fox River Valley Medical Association

The Fox River Valley Medical Association had several purposes and goals: definition of a physician, economic interests and education.

A. Definition of a physician

In the mid 1860’s, local, state or federal governments had little interest in regulating the medical profession. Since there were no professional standards, it was permissible for almost anyone to “hang their shingle” and declare themselves a “doctor” with little or no education or training.  It is difficult today with the current rigorous premedical and post medical school training to believe there was a time individuals such a phrenologists, mesmerists and occults could call themselves physicians. Hence local physicians were left with the task to define their professional role and duties and approve their members as competent individuals to practice the medical arts. The Association had a Board of Censor to review the qualifications all applicants; not all were accepted and many were rejected for having training at “eclectic” medical colleges. Members were required to uphold the Code of Ethics of the American Medical Association.  The Fox River Valley Medical Association and other medical societies, of which there were many in the state, became a measure of quality, advertising to the community doctors who were competent to practice the healing arts. Early in its history it of spoke out publicly against “charlatans”; the first instance recorded was the mistreatment of leg facture of civil war veteran shortly after the end of the conflict.

B. Economic interests

By defining what it meant to be a physician, the Association naturally viewed itself as type of a guild. Not only by would it define and help educate its physician members but also promote their economic interests. Fee schedules for services as well as ranges of professional fees deemed to be reasonable were promulgated. While this practice is illegal today and shocking to current sensibilities as “monopolistic” such practices at the time were legal, and common in many commercial ventures such as banking, transportation, oil and steel. While minimal fees were set to prevent a “race to the bottom” in prices charged to protect Association member’s incomes, there was also a ceiling of fees an Association member could charge.

C. Continuing education as response to poor medical training

Continuing education of its members was an important role of the Association. Most physicians were in solo practice but often worked with their colleagues to assist them on difficult cases. Thus sharing of new ideas and information was an extension of the collaborative nature of their practices but also reflected a need to correct a fundamental problem in medical training of this era.

The current standard of a four year medical education followed by several years of further specialty training did not become a reliable hallmark of American medical education until the 1930’s. Prior to this, education was by two methods, an apprenticeship model or attendance at a propriety medical school.

In the apprenticeship model, an interested candidate would learn from a locally recognized physician and spend time with him (and on occasion, her) to learn medicine. After an appropriate period, usually about three years, the successful candidate would receive the approval of the preceptor to practice.

A second method would be to attend a propriety medical school. These were “for profit ventures” usually with no university affiliation, compromised of a small faculty offering classes in the medical arts and sharing the profits from class instruction.  Medical training in these schools was usually only 16 weeks, often with inconsistent course work and lacking clinical or “hands on” instruction in patient care.

This insufficient medical education was recognized at the time and lended the need to check the skills and education of an Association member. With the best medical education only available in Europe and with limited training locally, many physicians of the day felt ill prepared to take up their duties in healing. Thus education and sharing of ideas for patient care would be a natural desire for Association members. The minutes of the Association over the years note a wide variety of medical topics discussed by its membership to help fill this educational deficiency.

3. Women physicians and the Fox River Valley Medical Association

While the acceptance of first woman physician in many areas of the country was controversial matter, this seems not to have been the case locally. The first woman accepted into the society was Julia Blackman in 1874. She was the in first graduating class of the Woman’s Medical College (Chicago) in 1871; her husband was a founding member of the Fox River Valley Medical Association. Other women soon followed; the Association’s first woman President was Catherine Brown Slater elected in 1884. The women physicians appear to have been well respected and accepted by their male counterparts; they gave lectures on medical topics at membership meetings of the Association and served as delegates to the Illinois State Medical Society and the American Medical Association.

4. Division of the Association in to the Kane County Medical Society 

In the early 1900’s, the recognition of the need to further professionalize medicine by the government and physicians and the political needs that would engender, began the current system of county and state medical societies as one type of representative structure of physicians. In 1903, the Kane County Medical Society as well as the McHenry County Medical Society and the DuPage County Medical Society were formed as direct descendants of the Fox River Valley Medical Association. All of these organization are still are still active today.

The Kane County Medical Society continues the tradition of education, help for local physicians to practice, and counseling our legislators about healthcare affairs.

Wayne Polek, M.S.,M.D.
Historian, Kane County Medical Society
March 21, 2010 

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