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The Pulaski County Medical Society (PCMS), founded in 1866, is Arkansas’s largest and one of the state’s oldest county medical organizations for regular physicians (meaning those within the medical mainstream.) (Although sources identify the PCMS as the “first medical organization chartered by the state of Arkansas,” an earlier organization, known as the Crawford County Medical Society, was established in the early 1840s.) The PCMS supports physicians and promotes public health.
In nineteenth-century America, regular physicians formed professional organizations to advocate for themselves. In 1866, a group of Little Rock (Pulaski County) physicians, including Philo Oliver Hooper and Roscoe G. Jennings, formed the Little Rock and Pulaski County Medical Society. The PCMS, whose members were required to be American Medical Association (AMA)–recognized medical school graduates, promoted not only medical science and ethics but also “harmony and fraternity” among physicians. Before his murder in 1866, Dr. Albert Williamson Webb of Little Rock briefly served as the first president of the PCMS. The PCMS condemned Webb’s murder and eulogized him as “a good citizen [and] efficient presiding officer.” The PCMS’s second president was Dr. Lorenzo Gibson of Little Rock.
Internal division soon wracked the PCMS. In 1872, Claibourne Watkins of Little Rock nominated Almon Brooks of Hot Springs (Garland County) for membership in the PCMS. Watkins’s action provoked a dispute over ethics that split the PCMS and eventually led to the dissolution of the Arkansas State Medical Association. In 1873, Hooper, Jennings, and other anti-Brooks PCMS members withdrew from the organization and formed a nearly identical county society known as the College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPS). The PCMS and CPS remained separate organizations until 1886. In that year, PCMS and CPS members, motivated by their mutual support for the Arkansas Medical School (now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences), reunited within the PCMS.
In the late nineteenth century, PCMS members worked in support of public health. In the early 1890s, PCMS members James A. Dibrell Jr., Augustus L. Breysacher, and Lorenzo P. Gibson (who was a son of former president Lorenzo Gibson) served on the unofficial state board of health. Between 1891 and 1893, as part of the Little Rock city council’s efforts to address the safety of the city’s drinking water, an investigation led by J. A. Dibrell Jr. determined that the water was safe. But that was not the end of the water issue.
In 1907, PCMS president Dr. Edwin R. Dibrell, who was a younger brother of J. A. Dibrell Jr., informed the Little Rock City Council that the city’s drinking water was unsafe. In 1908, Alderman Fred Holder of Little Rock introduced an ordinance designed to revoke the city water company’s franchise. In December 1908, after much debate, the city council voted to refer Holder’s ordinance to the PCMS. In 1909, the PCMS formed a special committee, which included Lorenzo P. Gibson, to investigate the water issue.
In 1911, the PCMS committee reported that the city’s water, although it sometimes smelled and tasted bad, was not hazardous, and it recommended the passage of an ordinance establishing a “standard of [water] purity.” Following the committee’s report, the Little Rock board of health adopted a resolution authorizing the city health board president and the city physician to conduct water tests. In 1912, the Arkansas Gazette reported that weekly safety testing showed that Little Rock’s water was “satisfactory.”
The Pulaski County Medical Society News (formerly the PCMS Bulletin), which is the society’s newsletter, was first published between 1924 and 1926 before resuming publication in 1961. In 1925, PCMS members’ wives established the PCMS Women’s Auxiliary. In the mid-1960s, more women physicians began to join the PCMS. In the early twentieth century, African-American physician George William Stanley Ish of Little Rock was a member of the PCMS.
In the 1930s, the PCMS—following the lead of the AMA and the Arkansas Medical Society (AMS)—opposed compulsory health insurance, which organized medicine viewed as a threat to the fee-for-service system. In 1931, the physicians of Trinity Hospital in Little Rock, who were PCMS members, provoked controversy within the society by implementing a health maintenance organization (HMO). PCMS president Joe Sanderlin argued that the Trinity HMO was unethical because it constituted a form of contract practice in which physicians provided unlimited services for a fixed fee. Censured by the PCMS, Trinity’s physicians resigned their membership in the society. In 1948, following the merger of the Trinity HMO with the new Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield voluntary health plan, the remaining Trinity physicians rejoined the PCMS.
From the 1930s until the 1970s, the PCMS organized childhood vaccination campaigns. In 1972, the PCMS co-sponsored a program that provided free measles vaccinations to children.
In the 1980s, the PCMS responded to the prevalence of teen pregnancy and the health threats of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). In 1987, the PCMS passed a resolution calling for required sex education in schools, which would include emphasis on AIDS prevention, and resolved to support efforts to address teen pregnancy.
In the twenty-first century, the PCMS continues its advocacy on behalf its members and the health of the public. Established in 1963, the Pulaski County Medical Exchange provides emergency medical answering services exclusively for PCMS members.
For additional information:
Baird, W. David. Medical Education in Arkansas, 1879–1978. Memphis: Memphis State University Press, 1979.
“City Council Holds Very Warm Session.” Arkansas Democrat, December 8, 1908, p. 5.
“County Medical Society Defended.” Arkansas Gazette, August 6, 1931, p. 1.
“Inoculations for Measles Continuing.” Arkansas Gazette, March 3, 1972, p. 41.
Mann, Edwina Walls. “The Introduction of Prepayment Medicine to Arkansas: the Trinity Hospital Experience.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 1 (Spring 1983): 3–26.
“Medical Society Elects Officers.” Arkansas Gazette, December 15, 1908, p. 7.
“Plan to Better Health Conditions.” Arkansas Gazette, October 4, 1912, p. 7.
Pulaski County Medical Society. http://pulaskicms.org/ (accessed August 28, 2018).
“Pulaski County Medical Society Constitution and Bylaws, 1869.” Pulaski County Medical Society Records, Box 1, File H1. Historical Research Center, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Library, Little Rock, Arkansas.
“Pulaski County Medical Society Wives Meet.” Arkansas Gazette, October 26, 1925, p. 4.
“Pure Water Is Their Purpose.” Arkansas Democrat, October 22, 1907, p. 7.
“Resolutions Are Adopted by Society.” Arkansas Gazette, February 8, 1987, p. 4A.
“Urge that Council Define Pure Water.” Arkansas Gazette, March 21, 1911, p. 9.
Melanie K. Welch
Last Updated 8/28/2018
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