Excerpts from an article written by Joseph M. Miller, M.D. marking the centennial of the Baltimore County Medical Association in 1997.
Five doctors from Baltimore County were in the founders’ group of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of the State of Maryland in 1799, well before the birth of the county society. Dr. Charles M. Ellis, in his presidential address at MedChi in 1898, noted the disparity between a city and a country practice. The city physicians had hospitals and dispensaries and could take advantage of post-graduate courses, consultations, and libraries.
The practice of medicine must have been difficult in Baltimore County early in the 1890s. Specialists did not exist, there were no hospitals, and transportation was most limited. Most doctors had little formal learning experience after medical school although a few had internships. Thus, many of these men felt the need of further medical education for the treatment of diseases for which they, as individuals, had little to offer.
To change their particular medical environment, a small group of Baltimore County medical practitioners, persuaded of the advantages of the diffusion of knowledge and the cultivation of friendly relations, constituted themselves an association for the above purposes. They agreed to be governed by an adopted Constitution and Bylaws, in addition to the Code of Ethics of the American Medical Association.
The start of this century-old group was far from auspicious. Upon the invitation of five of their colleagues, 18 men assembled on April 15, 1897 in the Grange Hall at Towson. Subsequently, 41 members agreed to abide by the adopted rules by affixing their signatures to the agreement. The Association decided to meet in Towson or some other town in the county, which was accessible by steam or electric cars, on the third Thursday in each month at two o’clock p.m. from October to May. The dues were two dollars a year.
One of the prime objectives of the new society was the promotion of public health. Dr. Jackson Piper, who became its first president at 69 years of age, tremendously aided this endeavor. At the July, 1897 meeting of the society, a resolution was passed calling attention to the fact that the health of Baltimore County residents was jeopardized by the presence of leaking cess-pits. The society requested county legislation to forbid the construction of cesspools that were not watertight.
The size of the society has paralleled the increase in population of the county. The number of inhabitants rose to almost 700,000 in 1990. In 1961, the Association had 219 members and now, in 2012, the society numbers 1,112. Hospital growth has also been comparable. In an area that once did not have a hospital bed, now four community hospitals offer more than 1,200 beds.
The period following World War II was turbulent in many aspects. African-American physicians had repeatedly been refused admittance to MedChi, and it was not until April 1949 that the House of Delegates voted to admit African-Americans as full members. In a letter to MedChi, from the Baltimore County Medical Association, it states that as of March, 1953, Joseph H. Nichols, Joseph A. Thomas, and William C. Wade, all African-American, were members. In 1969, African American physician, Theodore C. Patterson, a general practitioner in Dundalk, was elected president of the BCMA.
Public service continued to be a hallmark of the society at mid-century, exhibiting the strength and integrity of its founders. The members continue to fight for improvements in the practice of medicine in an era of managed care where outside forces have a greater and greater influence on how physicians must practice.
The Baltimore County Medical Association truly embodies its motto:
“Physicians Working Together For a Healthy Community.”