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The History of the KCMS

With more than a century of service, the King County Medical Society—founded in 1888 and incorporated in 1909—continues its founders’ vision of providing significant contributions to medicine and society, and advocating for the public health.

First President Gideon Weed

First President Gideon Weed

In 1852, the first physicians arrived in Seattle to serve the small community and help develop the new Washington Territory and the city of Seattle. Between 1851 and the 1870s, as the city’s population grew, a few physicians began raising awareness of serious public health issues, and some took up the cause of the indigent population, providing health services to those who could not afford it.

Seattle was fortunate to attract doctors from the best schools in America and Europe. Because of these highly educated, ambitious, and well-grounded physicians, high standards of practice and public health were achieved. Many of those physicians naturally fell into leadership roles in medical affairs in the community and other civic duties. They gave their services freely to uplift and advance their profession and to educate and protect the community. They worked consistently for measures to protect the public health. They fostered legislation designed to maintain a high standard in their professional ranks and to protect the public from being taken advantage of by fraudulent and ignorant practitioners.

Even before the Society was formally organized in 1888, some of the area’s founding physicians had already made significant contributions to medical practice in the Puget Sound region, and had been involved in political, social, and business activities that defined Seattle, King County, and the formation of the state of Washington.

Because hospitals at the time were primitive and the Territorial University did not have a science curriculum or medical school, the growing number of physicians coming to the region were eager for a professional and scientific community. Physicians in Seattle had begun meeting informally to read and discuss scientific papers and to present difficult and interesting cases.

During the summer of 1888, 23 Seattle physicians saw the need for an organization to assist the city in dealing with public health problems and decided to form a society to establish standards of medical practice in King County.

KCMS Records 2On Aug. 7, 1888, Dr. Gideon A. Weed and Dr. Thomas T. Minor, both having served terms as mayor of Seattle (1876-1878 and 1887-1888, respectively), joined a number of Seattle physicians to organize the King County Medical Society. The purpose of the Society would be to promote public health, to protect the growing population from questionable medical practitioners, and to provide a forum to share medical knowledge.

About a week later, on Aug. 13, at a meeting held in the offices of Dr. Thomas T. Minor and Dr. Lewis R. Dawson, a constitution and bylaws for the society were adopted and the following officers elected: Dr. Gideon Weed, president; Dr. F.V. Goodspeed, vice president; Dr. J.B. Eagleson, secretary; and Dr. L. R. Dawson, treasurer. The formation of the King County Medical Society was official.

In one of its earliest meetings, the organization took steps to outlaw professional advertising—a time-honored means of protecting the gullible from the many charlatans on the frontier—and began presenting scientific programs to help the community’s doctors keep up to date with such new medical concepts as bacteriological diagnosis and British surgeon Joseph Lister’s strange new procedures for antiseptic surgery.

The personal stories of these founding physicians go well beyond their daily medical practice. Some of our founders’ significant civic and professional contributions included: participation in the Washington State Constitutional Convention; election and appointment to political offices that shaped the future of Puget Sound and state health policies; founding of state and regional medical libraries and medical publications; establishing hospitals; and introduction of the latest medical advances, such as the state’s first bacteriology laboratory and the first regional X-ray machine.

The accomplishments of the Society, for the betterment of professional standards and for the public welfare over the last 125-plus years, rarely made headlines but have been very real indeed.