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-- MG 209 Medical Society of New Jersey Records 1766 - 1887

MG 209

Medical Society of New Jersey Records

1766 - 1887

2.25 linear feet


Finding Aid

New Jersey Historical Society

Manuscript Collection 

Processed by:  Susan Chore,  May 1998


The records of the Medical Society of New Jersey date from 1766-1877 and total 2.25 linear feet.  The records were processed as part of a National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant project (1997-1998) to arrange, describe and catalog health care and social welfare-related collections. 


Historical Note  

The Medical Society of New Jersey, the first state medical society in the nation, held its first meeting on July 23, 1766 at Duff’s Tavern in New Brunswick, N.J.  Seventeen physicians had responded to an advertisement placed in the New York Mercury “to form a Society for their mutual Improvement, the Advancement of the Profession, and the Promotion of the Public Good…”  A constitution was voted on and officers elected:  Rev. Dr. Robert McKean, President, Dr. Christopher Manlove, Secretary and Dr. John Cochran, Treasurer.

The Constitution called for members to strive for the highest standards of treatment, consult with other physicians, share discoveries and improvements, treat the poor without fee, and “do all in its power to discourage and discountenance all quacks, mountebanks, imposters, or other ignorant pretenders to medicine.”

       Among the first issues considered were setting standard and minimum treatment fees, and restricting the practice of medicine to qualified physicians.  The fee bill caused controversy and was soon revoked, although other versions would be incorporated into future charters.  In the early 1770s, the Society lobbied for a law to regulate the right to practice medicine.  The law, passed in 1772, and revised in 1783, granted the state Supreme Court (with the aid of medical examiners) the authority to license physicians.  Society meetings were suspended from 1775 to 1781, during the Revolutionary War.  In 1790, the state legislature granted the Society a charter of incorporation for a 25-year term. 

The Society held no meetings from 1795 until 1807.  A variety of factors contributed to this temporary dissolution, including the difficulty of long-distance travel, November annual meetings, the high number of members required to pass measures, and the formation of a rival splinter society.  At a meeting in 1807, the by-laws were revised to remedy some of these difficulties:  annual meetings were changed to June, and a quorum reduced to nine.

The Charter of 1816 and its supplement of 1818 established district societies under the control of the state society and authorized them to license physicians.  The charter also set standards for medical education, requiring study under a regular practitioner, as well as attendance at medical college lectures.  The first county societies were organized in 1816:  Somerset, Essex, Cumberland, Middlesex, Morris, and Monmouth.  By 1829, all counties had established a district society.

In 1820 a Standing Committee was formed to gather reports from district societies on public health, epidemics, and innovations in treatment.  In 1825, the state legislature gave the Medical Society of New Jersey the authority to confer the Doctor of Medicine degree.  In May, 1847, the Society began its affiliation with the American Medical Association, when it sent representatives to the A.M.A.’s first meeting in Philadelphia. 

Beginning in 1847, the Society printed its transactions and other business in The New Jersey Medical Reporter, until 1859 when its transactions were published in annual volumes.  The new charter of 1864 discontinued medical licensing by the Society.  The Society lobbied the state legislature to create a State Board of Medical Examiners to set educational standards and to examine and license all medical practitioners in New Jersey.

In 1903, a new constitution replaced the Standing Committee with a Board of Trustees, and established special committees.  The publication of annual volumes of transactions was discontinued, with the formation of a monthly journal.


Roger, Fred B. and Sayre, A. Reasoner. The Healing Art: A History of The Medical Society of New Jersey, c1966, The Medical Society of New Jersey, Trenton, N.J.

 “Historical Narrative of the Medical Society of New Jersey from 1766 to 1866 read by Dr. William Pierson, at the Centennial Celebration, held January 24th, 1866, at New Brunswick, N.J.  Printed at the Daily Advertiser Office, 1866, Newark, N.J. – (pamphlet)

“An Outline History of the Medical Society of New Jersey to 1903” by Elias J. Marsh, M.D., Paterson. Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society. Vol. 60, No. 1. January 1942.  pp 1-17.


Scope and Content Note

 The records of The Medical Society of New Jersey (MSNJ), collected by Dr. Stephen Wickes (1813-1889) during his tenure as chairman of the Standing Committee of MSNJ (1856-1883), document the regular business of the Committee, as well as the Society’s formation, structure, membership, relationship to district medical societies and the Society’s efforts to professionalize the field of medicine.  The Standing Committee Chairman collected reports from District Societies regarding the general state of health of New Jersey citizens, epidemics, unusual cases, member deaths, and violations of MSNJ rules and regulations, and was also responsible for printing and distributing the Society’s transactions. 

Records span the years 1766 to 1887, with the bulk of the collection dating from 1859-1882.  Correspondence comprises the greatest part of the records.  The earliest years of the Society (1766-1850s) are documented only by the minutes.  Minutes are complete; gaps exist only for the years 1776-1780 and 1796–1806, when MSNJ meetings were not held.  Minutes focus on administrative business such as internal organization and regulations, membership and committees.

Also included are Wickes’ personal financial records and receipts, and a variety of printed materials from the American Academy of Medicine and local medical colleges, including catalogues, lecture schedules and addresses.

Records are organized in six series:  Minutes, By-Laws, General Correspondence, District Medical Societies, Financial Records and Printed Materials.  Formats in the collection include handwritten bound volumes and textual documents, printed catalogues, and pamphlets.  Types of documents include minutes, letters, circulars, by-laws, and medical college catalogues.

       MSNJ’s vigilance against association with “irregulars,” practitioners such as homeopaths, eclectics, Thomsonians or “quacks,” is documented in General Correspondence and the District Medical Societies series (Hudson County Medical Society controversy).  Its efforts to standardize education and license physicians is covered in Minutes and General Correspondence.  Ailments and methods of treatment are discussed in General Correspondence.

Much correspondence refers to the submission of district society reports on local health, society histories, and discussion of treatments.  The reports themselves are not included in the records, although some are summarized in the letters. 


Series Descriptions 

SERIES I:  Minutes, 1766-1775, 1781-1795, 1807-1887, 3 bound volumes; minutes recorded chronologically.

 Documents the business conducted at MSNJ meetings, as well as its philosophy, formation, constitution and by-laws.  Minutes include lists of members in attendance, examinations of applicants for membership, committee reports, presidents’ addresses, treasurer’s reports, by-laws revisions, appointment of County examiners (censors), and the setting of fees.

Volume 2 includes a list of 366 Records of Licenses with name of applicant, place of residence, date, and examining doctor (1816-1842), as well as copies of certificates of students commencing the study of medicine (1831-1862).

 Minutes in this collection are printed in The Rise, Minutes and Proceedings of the New Jersey Medical Society…. (Newark, 1875) and the Society’s Transactions.

SERIES II:  By-Laws, 1866. Printed booklet includes an Act to Re-Organize the Medical Society of New Jersey and sections on Title and meetings, order of business, officers, district societies, regulations concerning the doctor of medicine degree and form of diploma, honorary membership, elections, ethics, cooperation among physicians, the duties of physicians regarding vicarious offices, consultations, and fees.  Marked-up by Stephen Wickes.  Copy is incomplete; pages at back have been cut out.  See SERIES I:  Minutes for handwritten versions of by-laws and revisions.

SERIES III:  General Correspondence, 1859 - 1882, 1886 and n.d., arranged chronologically within subject.  Documents the business of the Standing Committee of the MSNJ.  Primarily the letters received by Chairman Stephen Wickes from MSNJ members re:  reports on district society status and activities; reports of local health conditions, epidemics, and unusual cases; notification of member deaths, often with biographical information; lists of members in district societies; and legislation.

Topics include:  cases of diphtheria, cholera, hay asthma, scarlet fever, and complications of pregnancy, with treatments administered; and the ethics of associating with “irregular” practitioners, such as homeopaths, eclectics and Thomsonians, as well as attempts to legislate against unlicensed practitioners.  Of note are letters pondering the ethics of consulting with a female doctor, and the report of a patient’s death due to a morphine injection by an “irregular” practitioner.  Several letters (1875) written by Dr. Charles Hasbrouck discuss his testifying in divorce proceedings that were initiated when a wife discovered her husband had given her syphilis.

Other correspondence is grouped by subject:  1) Letters that contain lists of New Jersey medical practitioners (“regulars,” “irregulars,” and women).  Some include descriptions of “irregular” doctors’ background and methods; majority list only names and location.  Several letters in General Correspondence contain similar lists.  2) Letters detailing the controversy initiated by Dr. Thomas Ryerson over Dr. Louis Sayre’s nomination as an honorary member (1878-1880).  Also includes extracts from minutes, circulars and a booklet that reprints all relevant documents, minutes and letters.

Also, copy letters and drafts written by Wickes.  Frequent correspondents include: Drs. Henry R. Baldwin, John Blane, J. Henry Clark, Richard M. Cooper, Thomas F. Cullen, William Elmer, Charles Hasbrouck, Ezra .M. Hunt, John Johnson, Samuel Lilly, Joseph Parrish, Thomas Ryerson, and H.L. VanDerveer.

SERIES IV:  District Medical Societies, 1873 - 1875, arranged chronologically. Documents the internal controversy in Hudson County Medical Society, initiated by the nomination and rejection of Isaac N. Quimby, an alleged homeopath, and which continued with alleged violations of the Code of Ethics, member expulsions, and internal political turmoil.  Includes printed booklet:  A Documentary History of Recent Dissensions in the District Medical Society for the County of Hudson, N.J., compiled by J.E. Culver, M.D.  Also, By-Laws & Constitutions for Morris and Atlantic Counties.

SERIES V:  Financial records, 1866 - 1879 and n.d., arranged chronologically.  Includes personal receipts, tax records and accounts of Dr. Stephen Wickes.  Of note are lists of materia medica and other medical supplies purchased.

 SERIES VI:  Printed Materials, 1876-1887.  Non-MSNJ printed materials, including medical college catalogues and lecture schedules, American Academy of Medicine addresses, member lists and by-laws, and government circulars.  Medical colleges represented:  Bellevue Hospital Medical College, College of Physicians and Surgeons (Baltimore), College of Physicians and Surgeons (N.Y.), Harvard University, Jefferson Medical College (Philadelphia), Medico-Chirurgical College (Philadelphia), University of the City of New York Medical Department, and the University of Pennsylvania.




Box        Folder                         Title                                                         Date


   1                               Minutes (Volume I)                                                 1766-1775, 1781-   1795, 1807-1815

   2                               Minutes (Volume II)                                                1816-1862

                                    Minutes (Volume III)                                              1862-1887


   3                1             Act of Incorporation and By-Laws                          1866

2             General Correspondence: Explanatory                    July 1, 1886

                                     Note regarding preservation of Medical Society of N.J. Records

                      3             General Correspondence                                         1859 - 1860

                      4                           “                                                                Jan.-Feb. 1861

                      5                           “                                                                Mar.-Dec. 1861

                      6                           “                                                                1862

                      7                           “                                                                1863

                      8                           “                                                                1864

                      9                           “                                                                Jan.-Oct. 1865

                      10                         “                                                                Nov.-Dec. 1865

                      11                         “                                                                Jan.-May 1866

                      12                         “                                                                June-Dec. 1866

                      13                         “                                                                Jan.-Apr. 1867

                      14                         “                                                                May-June 1867

                      15                         “                                                                July-Sept. 1867

                      16                         “                                                                Oct.-Dec. 1867

                      17                         “                                                                Jan.-May 1868

                      18                         “                                                                June-Dec. 1868

                      19                         “                                                                Feb.-May 1869

                      20                         “                                                                June-Dec. 1869


   4                 1             General Correspondence                                         Jan.-May 1870

                      2                           “                                                                June-Nov. 1870

                      3                           “                                                                Jan.-May 1871

                      4                           “                                                                June-Dec. 1871

                      5                           “                                                                Jan.-May 1872

                      6                           “                                                                June-Dec. 1872

                      7                           “                                                                Jan.-Apr. 1873

                      8                           “                                                                May-Sept. 1873

                      9                           “                                                                Oct.-Dec. 1873

                      10                         “                                                                Jan.-May 1874

                      11                         “                                                               June-Dec. 1874

Box        Folder                         Title                                                         Date


   4                 12           General Correspondence                                         1875

                      13                         “                                                                1876

                      14                         “                                                                1877


   5                 1             General Correspondence                                         1878

                      2                           “                                                                1879

                      3                           “                                                                1880                    

                      4                           “                                                                1881-1882

                      5                           “                                                                n.d.

                      6             Lists of N.J. Medical Practitioners                          1865-1866, 1873

                      7             Controversy re: nomination of                                1878-1880                                                       

Dr. Lewis A. Sayre as honorary member vs. Dr. Thomas Ryerson                    


               District Medical Societies

                      8           By-Laws & Constitutions                                   n.d.        

                      9          Hudson County Internal Controversy               1873

                      10                                “      (Folder 1 of 2)                            1874-1875

                      11                                “      (Folder 2 of 2)                            1874-1875

                      12           Building Contracts and Receipts                                    1868-1869

                      13           Financial Records and Receipts                              1866

                      14                                “                                                        1867

                      15                                “                                                        1868             



   6                 1             Financial Records and Receipts                              1869

                      2                                  “                                                        1870-1879                                  3                                  “                                                        n.d.

                      4             Printed Materials  (Folder 1 of 3)                            1876-1887

                      5                                  “      (Folder 2 of 3)                            1876-1887

                      6                                  “      (Folder 3 of 3)                            1876-1887

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