Celebrating 120 Years

Celebrating 120 Years

In 1903, 36 years after the arrival of the first physician in Wichita, the Medical Society of Sedgwick County was formed by 25 local doctors.

During the following years and decades, MSSC physicians treated the sick and injured, built hospitals, initiated public health campaigns and stopped epidemics. This work continues today.

MSSC is recognizing its 120th anniversary with historical items in the MSSC News throughout the year.

Nationally known artist created bust of pioneering Kansas physician

A bronze bust of pioneering Wichita physician Andrew H. Fabrique watches over the lobby of the MSSC offices at 1102 S. Hillside, starting conversations and sometimes startling employees with its lifelike scale and imposing features.

The 96-year-old artwork is more than a treasured piece of Wichita medical history. It also reflects the early genius of Bruce Moore, a local artist who would make a mark far beyond Kansas with his sculptures and drawings of human and animal figures.

Fabrique was born in Harrison County, Indiana, in 1842. He moved to Wichita in 1869 and started a medical practice. In those early days, he often traveled miles into the country on horseback to treat a patient or deliver a baby. Surgeries were often done on the kitchen table with crude instruments and kerosene lamps for light.

Over the years, Fabrique learned new medical techniques and developed close ties to the medical school at Northwestern University. Interns from Northwestern came to Wichita to work with Fabrique.

Howard C. Clark, MD, wrote of Fabrique in “A History of the Sedgwick County Medical Society” that “there is no doubt that he blazed the trail for modern medicine in Wichita – in fact, the State of Kansas – and did more than any man of his time to bring good medicine to his state.”

Moore, born in Bern, Kansas, moved with his family to Wichita at age 12 and was encouraged by local artists such as Ed Davison and C.A. Seward before winning a place in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at 17.

Moore is best known in Wichita for his ornamental exterior details at North High School and his lyrical “Girl and Fawn” outside Mark Arts. But he also designed the snarling bronze tigers on the Princeton campus and the “General Billy Mitchell” statue at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. His work includes the 30-foot Columbia figure at the National Memorial of the Pacific in Honolulu and bronze doors at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. He also designed pieces for Steuben Glass, including cups and vases for Queen Elizabeth II and President Eisenhower.

Moore was just 21 in March 1927 when the Medical Society, meeting at the Lassen Hotel, named a committee to explore the idea to commemorate the life and work of Fabrique. In the MSSC minutes, “statue” is crossed out and “Bronze Bust” written in.

Just two weeks later, “the doctors had raised more money than was needed for the Bust,” according to the minutes. No price was noted.

That April, the Eagle reported that Moore had opened a studio at 1st and Broadway where he was working on a bust of Fabrique that “even in its early stages strikingly portrays the massive, rugged head of that veteran physician.” The doctor reportedly urged Moore to capture how a “drunken and wounded cowboy” once had taken a shot at him and “nipped off the top of an ear” – a noticeable detail.

The plaque on the pedestal says the bust was created by Moore for “Fab’s Boys” – the young interns drawn to Wichita to work with the self-made physician who had helped establish St. Francis hospital. He died May 10, 1928.

Over the years, Moore taught at the future WSU and in New York City and Maryland. He died in 1980. Four years later, WAM and the Art Association honored him with a retrospective exhibition of more than 240 of his sculptures, drawings and lithographs. Noting Moore’s ability to capture the living spirit of whatever he was portraying, a Smithsonian curator once told the Eagle: “He was a sculptor’s sculptor.”

MSSC was not the first medical society in Wichita

Though MSSC was founded 120 years ago, it was not the first medical society in Wichita. Pioneering physician Andrew H. Fabrique organized the Wichita Pathological Society in 1888. Various other societies also were formed soon thereafter, including the Wichita City Medical Society, the South Kansas Medical Society and the Wichita Academy of Medicine.

In 1903, an organizer for the American Medical Association came to Kansas to reorganize the Kansas Medical Society and county societies. According to “A History of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County,” the organizer “met with several physicians in Wichita and declared that the Academy of Medicine was most unreasonable, and that it had more friendly enemies than he had seen in similar setups in other cities.” There were frequent disputes between physicians associated with the city’s two hospitals at that time, Wichita Hospital and St. Francis Hospital.

The Wichita Academy of Medicine met and debated whether to create a new society. Though some members objected and threatened to sue, the majority agreed to form the Sedgwick County Medical Society.

There were 25 charter members of the society, and 19 new members joined during the first year. Dues were $3 per year, and weekly meetings were held at the Chamber of Commerce. After each meeting, the members adjourned to a back room for “a smoker.” Meeting minutes showed approval for the keg of beer consumed at the previous meeting.

MSSC doctors led war on dirty milk in early days

MSSC has looked out for citizens’ health throughout its 120-year history. One big fight was over “the awful menace of dirty and diseased milk,” as the Wichita Beacon put it.

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt’s surgeon general had attributed most childhood deaths to impure milk. By 1915, Wichita parents sought pure milk for their babies, and had trouble finding it.

Doctors wanted to require, among other rules, that udders be washed with clean water before milking, that bottles and cans be sterilized between uses, that milk be analyzed regularly for bacteria, and that manure be piled away from barns. Violators would be fined $20 or more for each offense.

“No milk should be sold from cows diseased in any way,” said Dr. Fred Williams, speaking on behalf of the society.

A pro-ordinance petition drew 1,500 signatures in one morning. The city physician, Leon Matassarin, called for pastors to speak about pure milk from their pulpits, and said he “would like to see 500 babies brought to City Hall” for the city commission vote.

A sign posted in MSSC’s downtown building went further: “War! Call to Arms. All true and good citizens should join our army for fresh air, pure water, pure and clean milk, pure food sold in sanitary grocery stores, pure and wholesome food cooked and served in clean restaurants by clean and healthy cooks and waiters.”

Dairymen and their defenders on the city commission expressed doubts that cases of typhoid fever and tuberculosis were due to impure milk and argued that required dairy upgrades and testing would hike milk prices. “Which is worse? The chance of starvation or chance of germs?” asked one producer.

The ordinance passed Nov. 18, 1915, but without physicians’ insistence that cows be tested for tuberculosis once a year.

One city commissioner said the amount of bacteria in milk didn’t matter to laymen. Matassarin was fired amid the dispute, during which physicians described the city commissioners as “mossbacks” and “double crossers” who belonged to the stone age.

Milk pasteurization, a heating process to destroy pathogens, would become routine by the 1920s. MSSC members would help draft and pass a stricter ordinance in 1932.

MSSC building also has a long history at site and in service

As MSSC’s 50th anniversary approached in the early 1950s, the society sought a building of its own, and would follow physicians in moving out of the downtown core.

A building committee scouted the near-east side of Wichita and settled on an offer by the Sisters of St. Joseph to lease the land at what would become 1102 S. Hillside. Membership dues were increased by $50 a year to help cover architect Robert Mayberry’s estimated $65,000 project. Ground was broken in February 1954.

MSSC took pride in the opening of its home that Oct. 24, touting in newspaper ads and articles that its auditorium was equipped to show both movies and slides and its medical library was stocked with 15 tons of periodicals going back 35 years.

“It is not unusual to check out to a doctor as many as 15 different articles on a single subject,” reported the Wichita Eagle.

When the 5,400-square-foot building was new, at an eventual cost of $100,000, MSSC had 285 active members and 23 standing committees assigned to such diverse concerns as tuberculosis and venereal disease control and disaster readiness.

Much has changed about the facility as well as the society. The library and meeting hall were converted to office space for MSSC and its multiplying affiliates. The active membership is up to more than 1,000 and the committees down to six.

What was its Medical Service Bureau has become Cairn Health, a separate nonprofit now at 1514 N. Broadway that helps poor and uninsured clients with prescription and optical vouchers and other resources.

Four years ago, MSSC’s homeownership became complete when it bought the property at 1102 S. Hillside and further updated the facility.