A History of the Illinois Surgical Society
by Jack Gibbs, M.D.

The Illinois Surgical Society had its origins in the friendship of two Illinois surgeons. Disparate in geographic location, but together in a passion for their craft, they desired to develop an organization that would bring together surgeons from both academia and the practicing community; to bring together surgeons of all ages from city and country, upstate and downstate whose common bond was a desire for learning opportunities and social exchange.

Karl Meyer was the Superintendent and Surgeon-in-Chief of Chicago’s Cook County Hospital for 53 years [1914-1967]. At its zenith, CCH was a major stand alone institution, and its fifteen dollar a month postgraduate positions were prizes for which competition was intense. A world class surgeon and administrator, Dr. Meyer was also one of the founders and President of the Cook County Graduate School of Medicine. His bibliography included 106 publications, thirty four of those on gastric surgery. [It’s ironic that he died of an obstructing duodenal ulcer].

Everett Coleman, a contemporary, was Chief of Surgery and President of the Staff of Graham Hospital, a 220 bed facility in Canton, a 15,000 population community in west central Illinois. He had joined his father in practice, founded the Coleman Clinic and developed one of the largest referral surgical practices in downstate Illinois. Unusual for a non-academic practicing surgeon, he belonged to several national surgical organizations and had 50 publications to his credit. A founding member of the Trauma Society, he also served two terms as President of the Illinois State Medical Society and one as President of the Western Surgical Society.

Through contacts in organizations of which they were both members, Karl and Everett became good friends with a great deal of respect for one another. [When Everett developed gallstones in the 1940’s Karl drove to Canton to do his cholecystectomy.]

Prior to the development of down state medical schools and training programs, there was little opportunity for downstate surgeons to be involved academically in surgery, or to get to know their counterparts who were doing the research and teaching. Likewise, down state surgeons had little opportunity to share their needs, knowledge and experience with academia and their Chicago colleagues. Karl and Everett felt the best way to address their goal of enhancing information exchange and personal contact between these two groups was to have an organization whose membership would be drawn equally from metropolitan Chicago, and the rest of the state.

At that time the Illinois State Medical Society, in attempting to provide continuing education to its physician members at its annual meeting, had a section on General Surgery which was poorly organized and poorly attended. Dr. Coleman saw an opportunity to strengthen the offerings of the ISMS section while at the same time realizing the goals of the new organization. In the spring of 1955 the new organization, initially named the Illinois Academy of Surgery, assumed the responsibility for the ISMS general surgery section program. This arrangement continued after the ISMS merged its annual meeting with the Chicago Medical Society and the Midwest Clinical Conferences, but these relationships were terminated in l978 following which the Illinois Surgical Society operated as an independent entity.

The first clinical program in 1955 included ‘wet clinics’ at Cook County Hospital organized by Karl Meyer. The surgery was done by a stellar cast of Cook County attending surgeons who were listed in a report of this meeting in the June 1955 Illinois Medical Journal. The wet clinics were followed by a didactic portion, including papers, panels, and a guest speaker, and held at the hotel site of the ISMS annual meeting. The meeting was a great success and established the meeting format that continues to this day.

Immediately following this first clinical meeting on May 16, 1955, the Founders met at the Cook County Graduate School for the formal organizational meeting. Those present were Everett Coleman, Canton, Wm Mcmillan, Chicago, Wm. Lawler, Chicago, Kenneth Schnepp, Springfield, H. Sloan, Bloomington, Wm. Johnson, Galesburg, W. C. Blair, Monmouth, J.Callahan, Chicago. Other founding members, unable to attend, included Karl Meyer, Charles Puestow, Lester Dragstedt, and James West, all of Chicago.

At this meeting, chaired by Everett Coleman, discussion regarding the name of the organization was the first order of business. It was agreed that the name should be changed from the Illinois Academy of Surgery to the Illinois Surgical Society.

From the minutes of this first meeting it was obvious that the intent was to have the initial 100 members be in a Founders group. This afforded entry to membership to some older well respected surgeons, mainly downstate, who had neither board certification nor published papers, but who, according to Dr. Coleman were “good men” who deserved to be part of the base group. Although there were at that time some allusions to ‘cronyism’, most would attribute the action to Everett’s sense of fair play. As the organization quickly grew in stature it became a non-issue, and for subsequent applicants board certification and publications were important criteria for membership. For all applicants, report by the local surgical community of unethical practices such as fee splitting was cause for applicant rejection.

The total membership was set at 125. Applicants could not be over the age of 70 but applications were encouraged from all the surgical specialties. It was not until after l975 that membership was limited to the disciplines of General and Thoracic Surgery. After applications were approved by the BoG, the Executive Committee had the final decision. At this time the BoG makes the final decision on acceptance or rejection. Acceptance requires a two thirds majority of voting members present, but no candidate was accepted if there are three or more negative votes.

To maintain the 50/50 membership ratio that was envisioned, it was decided that the Chicago Metropolitan Area would include Lake, DuPage, and Cook counties and everything else would be considered down state. There was to be a ten member Board of Governors with five each from downstate and the Chicago area. Originally downstate and upstate had separate election of officers which then alternated in office. Now the total Board elects the officers with the Presidency alternating between the contingents. Everett Coleman was elected the first President with Wm. McMillan the Secretary-Treasurer. It was agreed that the Secretary’s office should remain in the Chicago area. Raymond McNealy was elected to the office of President-Elect.

The initiation fee was set at twenty-five dollars and the annual dues at twenty dollars. The frequency of meetings was set at one per year with the possibility of additional meetings being called at the discretion of the BoG. Over the years the BoG has vacillated on this issue but in more years than not there has been a Spring meeting with ‘wet clinics’ in Chicago and a Fall meeting either downstate or out of state with the first out of state meeting being with the Minneapolis Surgical Society in 1959.

For the first seventeen years all ‘wet clinics’ were held at Cook County Hospital. In l972 it was suggested that the five Chicago medical schools might be involved on a rotating basis. This suggestion was met with a good deal of enthusiasm from both the membership and the schools and has been a beneficial collaboration for the past twenty five years. The Department of Surgery from Loyola was the first to be involved, followed by the University of Illinois, Northwestern, University of Chicago, and Rush.

From its inception, social events for members, spouses, and guests were combined with the scientific and surgical programs, making it a well rounded and enjoyable program for all. A dinner-dance is a traditional function at all Spring Chicago meetings [Tickets for the affair in 1965 were $8.50 per person with cocktails at .85]. The Fall meetings have been held in downstate communities such a Peoria, Springfield, or Champaign. The upstate contingent has been appreciative of the exposure to the rest of the state with its varied history, local charm, and rural vistas, while the Chicago meetings provide for participation of all the members in the cultural offerings and excitement of a truly great city.

Often the Fall meetings have been held in resort areas either in or out of state. When held out of state, the scientific program is usually hosted by another state surgical organization or the surgical department of a medical school of the state visited. Historically, among the highlights of the fall excursions was a 1970 trip to New Orleans where the Society was the guest of LSU, Charity Hospital and Department Chairman Isadore Cohn. Two Pullman cars of the Panama Limited from Chicago were reserved for the membership, who not only boarded in Chicago, but at cities along the way in down state Illinois. The 1971 Fall meeting was held at the Mayo Clinic and in l976 the Society was the guest of Francis Moore and the staff of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Other sites have included Hilton Head, Bermuda and Sea Island, Georgia, where the Surgery Department of the Medical College of Georgia assisted with the Scientific Program.

Throughout the history of the ISS, the guest speakers have been premier surgeons and educators who are usually surgical Department Chairmen of major institutions. Often personal friends of our own academic community, they have included, to name a few, Francis Moore, Tom Shires, Frank Spencer, Curtis Artz, Seymour Schwartz, James Hardy and Chester McVey. Starting in 1966 each speaker was presented with a plaque of honorary membership in the Society. They have all contributed greatly to the stature of our Society and the knowledge of our members.

The decisions made by the Founders of the Illinois Surgical Society have proven to be sound ones. The meeting format has been so successful that it has withstood the test of time. Its membership allocation and the ‘Wet Clinic’ portion of the meeting may be unique among currently active surgical organizations. Changes that have taken place over the years of its existence have been minor ones such as increases in membership to its present level and occasional necessary adjustment in dues and its activity fees.

In reviewing the history of the ISS via past Board minutes, reports of Program Chairman and the many communications between officers of the organization, one cannot help but be impressed by the caliber and commitment of the men involved. The degree of commitment is appreciated by a note in the February 1969 minutes. “It was determined that all members of the Board, the Trustees and Officers would be reimbursed for loans made in July 1968 unless they request some other arrangement.”

The ongoing success of the organization is due in large part to those dedicated members who willingly give of their time and talent. The Society was fortunate in the election of George Block to the office of Secretary in 1965. George brought order out of chaos. The succession of able Secretaries from that time to the present have only added to the order and stability of the organization. May it continue to grow in scientific endeavor and to multiply in warm friendships.

Jack L. Gibbs, M.D. Canton, Illinois. March 1998.