In the late 1700s, the Louisiana Territory was growing as a region for trade and water transportation. New Orleans was becoming a center for this new commerce. It was also becoming a center for medical care due to a burgeoning population and the maladies that came along with growth and activity. In these early years, a number of French and English-speaking medical societies were formed on the belief by these early medical practitioners that there was a need for close professional association. However, usually due to cultural and political differences, these societies came and went; as soon as one would disappear, another would be formed to fill the void.
There was interest as well in other parts of the state in organizing local medical societies. The first parish is said to have been formed in St. Francisville in 1845 and was called the West Feliciana Medical Society. Over the next 30 years, a dozen other local societies were formed, most of which did not survive.
The first suggestion to form a state organization appeared in an editorial in the New Orleans Surgical Journal in 1846. The Attakapas Medical Society — consisting of the parishes of St. Mary, Lafayette, St. Martin and Vermilion — joined with the Physico-Medical Society of New Orleans in 1849 to form the first state medical society. The problems of travel and communications made statewide coordination impossible at this time, and after six annual meetings, the society ceased to exist.
Almost 25 years passed before interest in a statewide society was rekindled. Two local resolutions emanating from Shreveport and Plaquemines Parish called attention to the need for a statewide society. Thus, in 1878, a time that saw a renaissance in Louisiana with the birth of a new state constitution, 80 representing 15 parishes gathered in New Orleans on January 14-16 and formed the Louisiana State Medical Association. The name would later be changed to the Louisiana State Medical Society (LSMS). Since its inception in 1878, the LSMS has worked for a singular purpose: to advance healthcare in the state of Louisiana.
A look at the agendas and actions taken by these pioneering societies might surprise today’s physician, not so much for their novelty and quaintness, but for their amazing similarity to important issues that confront the profession to this day. A committee was appointed to consider and report on bills submitted to the state legislature regarding health. Another would look into medical issues, such as the rapid spread of disease and compulsory vaccinations. And a need was voiced to examine the possibility of establishing examining boards, answering questions of a judiciary nature and developing a code of ethics. Early practitioners also appeared to be cognizant of the importance of public relations.
For years following the Civil War, too many untrained and poorly educated individuals were practicing medicine. In response to this problem, the LSMS led the long fight that ultimately established the first effective licensure law in the state in 1894. This would prove to be the first of many significant issues for which the Society would be the leader for change to protect the public interest.
The functions and responsibilities assumed by the early medical pioneers are still recognized today. However, as medicine and the practice environment have changed, the LSMS has faced more challenges, responsibilities, and concerns and added many new programs during its evolution. The seeds of social consciousness planted by those medical forefathers, however, pass on a tremendous responsibility to the physicians of today — and it is that responsibility which keeps the Louisiana State Medical Society a vital and respected organization.
The material for this brief history of the LSMS was taken from the Rudolph Matas History of the Louisiana State Medical Society, Volumes I and II. In 1926, the president of the LSMS, at the direction of the House of Delegates, formed a committee to prepare a history of the LSMS and appointed Dr. Rudolph Matas as the Chair. Additional information on medicine in Louisiana can be found in the Rudolph Matas History of Medicine, Volumes I and II. To purchase a copy of either Volume, contact email@example.com.
In 2014, as a continuation of medical history in Louisiana, volunteer members of the LSMS began recording conversations with past presidents through a partnership with LSU Library's T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History. .
LSMS Past Presidents