Historic Medical Society Papers Donated to USC Upstate Library Archives of the Upstate

June 15, 2011 at 8:16 am

Spartanburg, S.C. — Early records, including membership lists, minutes of monthly meetings, and other documents from the Spartanburg County Medical Society offer an informative glimpse into the roles physicians have played in the health of the community over the past century.  Now, as a result of an agreement between the Medical Society and the Library of the University of South Carolina Upstate, those records will be archived and preserved. 

The Spartanburg County Medical Society was chartered in 1878 by the South Carolina Medical Association.  According to their website, the Medical Society serves as the professional organization for “ethical qualified physicians practicing primarily in Spartanburg County to promote the science and art of medicine and the betterment of public health.”  The charter granted Dr. Lionel C. Kennedy the authority to convene and organize a local chapter in Spartanburg.  Preliminary analysis of the collection identified minutes dating as far back as 1923, revealing a fascinating glimpse into topics of current medical and scientific interest, the business of practicing medicine, volunteer medical charity efforts, public health issues, and efforts to educate the public about preventive measures such as periodic health exams and vaccinations.

Susan A. Hodge, senior director of Community Engagement at USC Upstate, has begun the process of assembling, organizing and indexing the Medical Society’s oldest documents, now housed in the USC Upstate Library. Plans include possible digitization and electronic access.

“The records from the Medical Society, together with the University’s collection of memorabilia reflecting the study and practice of nursing in the region back to the late 1920’s, add a wonderful richness to the Medicine and Healthcare area of the Archives of the Upstate,” Hodge says. “The Medical Society’s leadership in preserving the history of medicine in our region sets a wonderful example, and we hope others with historical materials related to any area of healthcare will consider adding them to the collection that the University is building,” she adds.

Robert Conner, executive director of the Medical Society, added, “We knew that these early materials were fragile, and it was time to consider how to preserve them. The Society’s board members were interested in working with the university to put them in safekeeping, so that future researchers will be able to learn what was important to Spartanburg’s medical community.” 

The Society’s early minutes document routine parliamentary procedures such as voting to accept new members and collecting membership dues.  Early membership lists from the 1920’s include Spartanburg’s first female physicians, Dr. Rosa Gantt, and Dr. Katharine R. Collins, director of the laboratory at Spartanburg General Hospital.  The materials, according to Hodge, offer a wealth of description about medical issues facing the physicians.  Members and guests presented scientific papers at the monthly meetings on such diverse topics as tuberculosis, infantile paralysis, asthma in children, x-ray diagnostic methods,  infections of the mouth and teeth, head injuries, pernicious anemia, hook worm disease, digitalis therapy, endocrine disturbances, tumors of the larynx, prenatal care, breast-feeding, and pellagra.  Prominent guests who presented scientific papers included Spartanburg dentists and visiting physicians from other states as far away as Pennsylvania and New York. 

These notes, according to Hodge, reflect the early development of medical specialties such as orthopedics and pediatrics.  Physicians also dealt with malpractice insurance, the role of nurses, and – a topic still very relevant in today’s discussions of healthcare legislation – the ability of patients to pay for medical services. Concerned about improving the medical care available to the African American community at the time, the Medical Society called for the establishment of The Colored Hospital (as it was then called) as part of Spartanburg General Hospital.

“The library is enthusiastic about the addition of these documents to our growing collection of medicine and healthcare archives,” says Frieda Patrick Davison, dean of the Library. “The University was founded in 1967 to educate nurses, and in its 44-year history, our graduates and faculty have been an integral part of the development of the medical profession in this region.  Our archives add documentation from other healthcare sources.  This collection from the Medical Society fits perfectly with the Archives’ mission to document the history of healthcare in the 10-county Upstate region,” she adds.

Hodge notes that prior to the establishment of the Archives of the Upstate last fall, several local families contributed nursing memorabilia that included caps, diplomas, state nursing licenses, and photos. These are now part of the Medicine and Healthcare area.  Other areas of the Archives include the region’s history of education, military service, and religion.

To contribute books, documents, photographs, personal memoirs, or research in any of the areas mentioned above, contact Susan Hodge at (864) 503-5275 or shodge@uscupstate.edu.