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Fascinating Facts from the College: Invitation to First Annual Meeting of the American College of Surgeons (1914)

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. Mailed by ACS founder Franklin H. Martin, MD, FACS, 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 of North America, which had begun meeting in 1910, preceded the 1913 founding of the College.

Invitation to First Annual Meeting of the American College of Surgeons (1914)

Invitation to First Clinical Congress

Dr. Martin states that at least 1,500 surgeons are expected at this first annual meeting of the College in 1914. More than 1,000 surgeons had been listed in the first Yearbook of Fellows of 1913, and another 1,065 were inducted into the College at the second convocation. At the third convocation another 646 surgeons became Fellows—more than doubling the College membership 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 until 1963.

The letter also documents that there were two convocations in 1914, the only year this ever happened, and that neither was held in conjunction with a Clinical Congress. The first convocation was held in Chicago on November 13, 1913, in conjunction with the fourth Annual Clinical Congress of Surgeons of North America. The second convocation was held in Philadelphia, PA, on June 22, 1914, and the third was held in Washington, DC, on November 6, 1914. In 1917, the Clinical Congresses merged with the American College of Surgeons, and all subsequent convocations were then held as part of the College’s annual meeting.

This invitation letter was addressed to William McIllwaine Thompson, 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. At this time, unfortunately, additional information about how his letter came to be preserved in the ACS archives is unknown.

For more previously unpublished information about the College’s earliest years, visit the ACS Archives to view the 29 notebooks of recollections and ACS history compiled by Eleanor Grimm, secretary to Dr. Franklin Martin from 1913 until his death in 1935. Miss Grimm’s many roles at the College included 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.