A sample of the invitation to the first annual meeting of the American College of Surgeons, in which the third convocation took place, reveals much about the early history of the College. Sent out by ACS founder Franklin H. Martin, MD, FACS, as General Secretary of the College, the letter documents several little known facts about the early history of the College and the sometimes confusing numbering of the Clinical Congresses, convocations, and annual meetings of the College. The Clinical Congress of Surgeons North America, which had begun meeting in 1910, preceded the 1913 founding of the College.
Dr. Martin states that at least 1,500 surgeons are expected at this first annual meeting of the College in 1914. Over 1,000 surgeons had been listed in the first Yearbook of Fellows of 1913, another 1,065 inducted into the College at the second convocation. At this third convocation another 646 surgeons became Fellows, making the College membership more than double in its earliest years.
The ACS letterhead on the invitation listed 30 N. Michigan Avenue as the College’s address, the personal office of Martin. On the agenda for this first annual meeting of the new ACS in November 1914, is discussion of a permanent home for the College, about which Martin said, “It is the judgment of your Secretary that the permanent home of the American College of Surgeons should be located in a city other than Chicago. Chicago is already the home of one of the strongest medical organizations in the country, and on the grounds of equity alone, another city should have the honor of housing this new and powerful organization—the American College of Surgeons.” However, the Board eventually decided that Chicago should be the home of the College and the Nickerson mansion became its headquarters in 1920, and remained so until 1963.
The letter also documents the fact that there were two convocations in 1914, the only year that this was to have happened, and that neither one was held in conjunction with a Clinical Congress. The first convocation had been held on November 13, 1913 in Chicago in conjunction with the fourth Annual Clinical Congress of Surgeons of North America. The second convocation was held on June 22, 1914, in Philadelphia and the third held in Washington, DC on November 6, 1914. It was not until 1917 that the Clinical Congresses merged with the American College of Surgeons and the convocations from then on were held as part of the College’s annual meeting.
William McIllwaine Thompson was an 1892 graduate of Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital in Chicago and a 1903 graduate of the Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago. He first appears in the 1914 ACS Yearbook with an office a few blocks from Franklin Martin’s. His last entry is in the 1935 Yearbook as a consulting surgeon, U.S. Marine Hospital, Chicago, and with an address in Arizona. No other information about how his letter came to be preserved in the ACS archives is available at this time.
For more previously unpublished information about the College’s earliest years, visit the ACS Archives and see the 29 notebooks of recollections and ACS compiled history of Eleanor Grimm, secretary to Dr. Franklin Martin from 1913 until his death in 1935. Among Miss Grimm’s many roles at the College during her career was meeting planner, chief credentials officer, editor of the Bulletin and the Yearbook, secretary to the Board of Regents, member of the Administrative Board of the College, and ultimately executive administrator of the ACS until her retirement in 1951 when she began compiling the history.
ACS Archives Highlights is a series showcasing the vibrant history of the American College of Surgeons, its members, and the history of surgery. For further information on our featured highlights, search the Archives Catalog or contact the ACS Archivist.