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From 1934: Physician’s historical research reveals existence of a La Crosse medical school


The Wisconsin Medical Society’s strong history with the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is undisputed. But what may not be as widely known is the Society’s connection with a lesser known medical school—the La Crosse Medical College.

The history of the “The La Crosse Medical School” was recounted in a 13-page article published in the January 1934 issue of WMJ. According to William Snow Miller, MD, of Madison, the article’s author, the La Crosse Medical College was a legally chartered medical school for almost 20 years during the latter half of the 19th Century. Doctor Miller spent five years researching the college and its founders.

On April 18, 1864, the La Crosse Medical College was granted a charter by the Wisconsin Legislature. Like the Society, the medical college could hold property, make its own bylaws and have a common seal.

The La Crosse Medical College’s governing body, its Board of Trustees, consisted of five practicing physicians, a chemist/druggist and a lawyer. According to the charter, the Board had the authority to confer degrees and give diplomas under the school’s seal, thereby granting the person receiving the diploma “the immunities and privileges, which by usage or Statute, are allowed to the possessor of similar diplomas granted by Universities and Colleges.”

All seven members of the Board of Trustees also were the school’s founders, including Dugald D. Cameron, MD, who became a Society member in 1856. Doctor Cameron also was elected president of the college and named professor of anatomy and physiology. Five other incorporators of the college were made professors: P.S. McArthur, MD, surgery; William L. Kennett, MD, materia medicia and therapeutics; W.T. Wenzell, chemistry and pharmacy; Augustus Brummel, MD, obstetrics and diseases of women and children; and lawyer Ewen H. McMillian, medical jurisprudence.

The college occupied rooms in the Inland Printing Company building in downtown La Crosse. This included a dissecting room where dissections did take place, but from 1864 to 1881 the college existed mostly on paper, according to Dr. Miller.

“No candidate for a medical degree was ever enrolled at the La Crosse Medical College; the only person now known to have made inquiries in regard to courses in medicine did so after its activity had lessened, if not ceased,” Dr. Miller wrote.

The college did, however, issue three diplomas. These were granted to Wenzell and McMillian, the college’s only non-physician faculty, and to Lafayette H. Bunnell, who was a hospital steward during the Civil War.

Click here to read the full article by Dr. Miller, which includes more information about the college and the city of La Crosse, as well as bios on four of the founders and Lafayette H. Bunnell.

Test your knowledge!

Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson signed a major piece of tort reform related to medical malpractice in 1995. What was it about? If you know the answer or would like to take a guess, e-mail Jennifer Wieman by Wednesday, June 29, at noon. Good luck!

Thomas Zoch, MD, correctly answered last week’s question, which was the raid by the state of Wisconsin on the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund. In October of 2007, the Society took the state to court, challenging the constitutionality of the state’s raid of the fund. In 2010, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered the state to return $200 million, plus interest, to the Fund, overturning an earlier decision of the Dane County Circuit Court that upheld the raid. The State Supreme Court, in its decision, also issued an injunction on the state that prevented it from transferring money from the Fund in the future.

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