The 1918 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons was cancelled because of the influenza epidemic. College founder Franklin Martin, MD, FACS, reports in his autobiography that he had an "unreasoning aversion to changing an important routine." Further investigation into the reasons why it was cancelled and the people who were most responsible for making that decision may eventually be found in College administrative records.
Nevertheless, it is clear that for the previous eight years, a small contingent of world-renowned surgeons had been in attendance at each Clinical Congress, making the event an international meeting ground for surgeons.
It is likely that Dr. Martin was responsible for initiating the invitation to war internists and surgeons from Europe to attend the Clinical Congress in the year that the war ended. Dr. Martin, or a College representative, approached the war offices of Great Britain, France, and Italy to request that one or more of these physicians, who until the World War, had been leading civilian doctors in their respective countries, be sent to the meeting. Woodrow Wilson's Council of National Defense General Medical Board, of which Martin was the Chairman, made the primary invitation as a strategy to aid the US Government in encouraging medical men from civilian life to enroll as officers in the US Army and Navy.
The surgeons had already departed Europe when the decision was made to cancel the Clinical Congress. But in spite of the meeting's cancellation, much publicity accompanied the group of surgeons. The itinerary of this delegation of surgeons included consultations with leaders of the American College of Surgeons, with the Council of National Defense, with members of the President's cabinet, and with President Wilson, himself. They traveled to Camp Greenleaf outside of Chattanooga, TN, where they spoke to about 1,300 young medical officers, medical students, and others and received honorary memberships in the ACS, all within days of Germany's surrender, marking the end of the war.
For more information about the delegation of visiting surgeons from abroad from Franklin Martin's viewpoint, as well as much more material about the role of the ACS during WW I, see Dr. Martin's autobiography, Joy of Living, and the Martin Papers in the ACS Archives.
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