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Society hires George Crownhart as its first CEO

For more than 75 years, the day-to-day operations of the Wisconsin Medical Society were handled by members of the Society who were elected to the office of secretary. In 1923, the Society added another tier in its leadership hierarchy with the hire of a full-time executive secretary, a young journalist from Madison named Jesse George Crownhart. At the time, Virginia and Ohio were the only other state medical societies to employ a full-time executive secretary who was not also a physician.

According to the Society bylaws, some of the secretary’s responsibilities included attending all general meetings of the Society and the House of Delegates (HOD). He was in charge of all record books and papers belonging to the Society; keeping account of and turning over to the treasurer all Society funds; aiding the councilors (Board of Directors) in the organization and improvement of the county medical societies; and making an annual report to the HOD. Before Crownhart’s arrival, Rock Sleyster, MD, of Waupun, served as secretary for 10 years.

In his annual report to the House of Delegates in 1922, Dr. Sleyster said it was time for a full-time executive secretary to take charge of the Society’s affairs. The new secretary would oversee the business management of WMJ, serve as its managing editor and “look after the legislative and other interests of the Organization.”

In February 1923, Crownhart was introduced to the membership by Society President F. Gregory Connell, MD.

“Our new secretary, Mr. J.G. Crownhart, has a big pair of shoes to fill but we feel sure of his best efforts and I would bespeak the earnest cooperation of each individual member, during this period of transition, which will effectively assure a successful year,” Dr. Connell said.

Crownhart, who went by his middle name “George” would be with the Society for the next 18 years.

According to a 1992 WMJ article, he utilized his journalistic background to start a weekly news service that supplied press releases on public health topics to Wisconsin’s daily newspapers and launched a radio service. He also sent physicians to attend public hearings where health proposals were being discussed.

Following George’s death in 1941, Charles Crownhart succeeded his brother as executive secretary and remained with the Society until 1970.

Test your knowledge!

When George Crownhart was hired in 1923, his office was located in the Wisconsin Anti-Tuberculosis Association (WATA) headquarters in Milwaukee. Who was the executive secretary of WATA at that time? If you know the answer or would like to take a guess, e-mail Jennifer Wieman by noon, Wednesday, May 25.

The correct answer to last week’s question is Tosha B. Wetterneck, MD, of Madison. Doctor Wetterneck is related to Charles and George Crownhart through her husband, who is the grandson of Charles.

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