From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Editor's Note: Gilbert M. Cuthbertson, 609 N. Esplanade, recently wrote a book review for the University Daily Kansan at Lawrence of Thomas N. Bonner's "The Kansas Doctor." Cuthbertson was impressed by the contributions of several pioneer physicians of Leavenworth. The following is his summary of early medical progress in Kansas, with its foundation in Leavenworth.
This year marks the centennial of the Kansas Medical Society. Leavenworth doctors actively opened this century of pioneering as Thomas N. Bonner reports in his recent book, "The Kansas Doctor" (University of Kansas Press).
Leavenworth doctors had established a progressive tradition of service both in medicine and political leadership ever since five doctors organized the original Leavenworth town company.
The struggles against the hardships of the frontier, disease and pestilence, of the "horse and buggy doctor" have inspired the modern physician of today's Kansas Medical Renaissance."
Early distinguished representatives from Leavenworth were Dr. Cornelius Logan, founder of the first medical society in Kansas; Dr. Tiffin Sinks, co-founder of the first medical journal, and Dr. Samuel Phillips, hero of the Ft. Riley cholera epidemic. Dr. J. W. Brock, a pioneer surgeon, introduced carbolic acid paste as an antiseptic shortly after Lord Lister's discoveries. Dr. J. A. Lane was among the first to recognize that brain and chest operations were "comparatively harmless."
Another early Leavenworth doctor wrote "I need hardly say...that it is almost impossible for us on the frontier, to furnish food for thought or enrich our profession by original investigations or weave fine spun theories...Let us rather strive to render perspicuous our labors as practical men..."
These "practical men" were instrumental in organizing the territory during the period of "Bleeding Kansas." The first governor, Dr. Charles Robinson, as well as the first lieutenant-governor, Dr. Joseph Root, and the secretary of state, Dr. John w. Robinson were medical doctors by profession. Dr. Charles Kob was active in the agitation of French and German settlers in Leavenworth for the North during the ante-bellum period.
Leavenworth's pioneering doctors organized the first medical society in Kansas in August 1858. This group, originally named the Leavenworth Medical and Surgical Society, later became the Leavenworth Medico - Chirurgical Society.
Much of the work of these early doctors was in combating epidemic diseases. Smallpox struck Leavenworth in 1862; cholera killed many throughout this area in 1865. The Leavenworth Medico-Chirurgical Society reported: "It sends detachments along the great lines of travel, never halting at any obstacles until every important community has been reached..." The newspapers urged cleanliness, boiling of water, and use of disinfectants.
Another wide-spread scourge was "ague" for which The Leavenworth Times prescribed hot coffee with the juice of one lemon. this disease was later recognized as malarial fever. During this period the Leavenworth Sisters were active in nursing victims of contagious disease. Many died in their attempts to save others.
Nonetheless, the doctors of Leavenworth were reported in the 1870's to be "a useless appendage, as no one ever thinks about getting sick in this country." Kansas was, on the whole, the healthiest state in the nation.
As Bonner states: "A Leavenworth fee bill of 1869 calls for a minimum fee of $2.50 doubled after 10 p.m., but like most such early fee bills, it probably represents the substance of things hoped for rather than their actuality...In their own defense, apparently, the Leavenworth doctors noted that this fee bill "is equitably adapted to the high price of everything in Leavenworth."
Dr. Cornelius Logan was probably the outstanding early Leavenworth physician. Dr. Logan founded the first medical society in Kansas; the first civilian Kansas hospital, St. John's, in 1864; the first Kansas medical journal "The Leavenworth Medical Herald" (1867-75). The theme of this publication was "wake up and seize hold of your pen...your practices don't require your whole time, if it does you have more patients than we do..."
In 1867, Dr. Logan introduced the clinical thermometer as a diagnostic instrument to the Medical Society.
During the 1870's Dr. Logan led the fight to situate the state medical school at Leavenworth.
He wrote: "It would be a great outrage to locate the medical department in a little town like Lawrence...That department can only succeed in Leavenworth and it would be robbing the medical profession of its heritage and the people of their money to plant a...medical school in a little fourth-rate Yankee town."
Dr. Logan's dedication is typical of the daily services rendered by lesser-known Leavenworth practitioners during the past century. The pioneering traditions which form the foundations of medicine in Kansas as well as in Leavenworth are being continued even today by many distinguished members of the profession. The pioneering spirit is still the motivating force behind the Kansas Doctor.