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Stanford University School of Medicine and the Predecessor Schools: An Historical Perspective
Part I. Background History & E.S. Cooper's Midwestern Years

Chapter 6. The Zealous Anatomist of Peoria

At the time of the Blackhawk War in 1832 Peoria, Illinois, was a small frontier settlement consisting of only 15 to 20 log cabins and two frame houses. Thirteen years later in 1845, Peoria was incorporated as a city and at that time had attained a population of 1,619 souls. It had all the advantages of a strategic location at the geographic center of the State on a beautiful site where the Illinois River widens to form a broad lake before flowing southwesterly to join the Mississippi.[1] In 1844 Elias Cooper, aged 24, gave up a thriving medical practice in Danville, Illinois, to move 120 miles west to Peoria where he shrewdly foresaw better prospects for advancing his surgical career. His nephew, Levi Cooper Lane, who then lived in nearby Henderson, Illinois, later wrote the following memoir of his uncle's life in Peoria:[2]

Within a year after his settling in Peoria, he opened a dissecting room, secured a class of students and a number of medical men of the place, to whom he delivered lectures upon Anatomy, accompanied with demonstrations upon the dead subject. His life, as I well remember, was, at that time, a constant gala-day of enthusiasm, - whilst his genius seemed to be ever enlivened by the selectest influences of the brightest stars of hope, which, mingled with their animating inspirations of a lively ambition, painted the future in all those gorgeous tintings which hold in rapture the youthful heart. At that time, he seemed to be almost wholly neglectful of the present, and to live with an eye only to the future. For, during the first three years after his locating in Peoria, he gave but little attention to private practice, his time being mainly devoted to a careful study of the great principles of Medicine and, more especially, to that branch of it, Surgery, which he had chosen as his future sphere of action. During this time, I am able to bear witness that, in no case, have I ever seen such devotion as a student. Day, as well as the greater portion of the night, one might ever find him within his study, or analyzing the textures of the cadaver. When fatigued from the confinement of study, his habit was to rise up, and pace the room for some moments, and sing with great vivacity some lively song; - the happy energy which pervaded his manner at such times, showed that his ardent genius was constantly feasting upon the inspirations which were furnished by his studies and researches. At this time, he usually retired between three and four in the morning, and rose between seven and eight, apparently as much refreshed as those who spend the whole night in sleep. The motto which he had inscribed on the wall, at his bedside, was that of the old Greek painter Appelles - Nulla dies sine linea (No day without a line).

The zeal with which Dr. Cooper pursued his researches in Medicine and Surgery, early indicated him as one who would soon win for himself the highest laurels which can be awarded in our profession; his reputation at Peoria was at once established by a brilliant series of operations for the removal of deformities of the eye and face, of which each case was crowned by success. His first operation was in a case of strabismus, in which he was entirely successful. Now, as is usual, the sight of one so rapidly outstripping his peers, soon created a jealousy on the part of the older members of the profession towards him. As it was at once seen that nothing in his profession could be brought to bear against him which would sully his reputation, or obstruct his upward advancement, so it seems to have been decided, on the part of his enemies, that the vulnerable point in which they might most advantageously assail him, would be in respect to his dissections. At first, the aid of the press, with its many arms, was brought to bear against him. Article after article of a sensational character, appeared daily, until, finally the worse passions of the public were kindled to such a pitch, that a popular move was set on foot, the aim of which was to compel him to leave the city. For this purpose, flaming handbills, headed with the title, "Rally to the Rescue of the Graves of Your Friends," etc., were posted in all parts of the city, calling for an indignation meeting of the people. Nowise daunted by the threatening aspect of affairs, the Doctor himself attended the meeting, accompanied by a few of his friends; by a management of some of the latter, a gentleman was selected as Chairman, who was publicly recognized to be of the opposition party, but who, in reality, was a "Cooperite," as his friends were then called. This gentleman, by assuming to be partly intoxicated and the use of a large fund of Irish wit, soon wrought so much upon the risible faculties of the audience, that few felt like taking any violent measures. One old gentleman, the post-master of the city, thinking the matter of too great gravity to be disposed of in so light a manner, made a motion that, as the President did not appear to be in a condition suited for discharging, with due decorum, the duties of his office, that Mr. Mc--y be requested to resign his place, and that another should be chosen in his stead. Mr. Mc--y, with that intuitive readiness of reply that is so characteristic of his nation, rose up instantly and said, "A drunken man may get sober, but a native-born fool will never have any sense, by G-d." The audience, who had already become properly prepared for the enjoyment of such a scene, now burst into a deafening roar of laughter, which turned the whole affair into a mere farce and matter of ridicule, so that the audience broke up and went home, in the most perfect good humor.

As every effort to sully the doctor's reputation, or damp his enthusiasm in the prosecution of the profession which he so passionately loved, had proved wholly abortive, - the press, in all its attempts to injure him, so far from reaching its object, had tended rather to increase his reputation, - the next resort on the part of his enemies, was to invoke to their aid the strong arm of the law against him. In hunting up evidence as grounds for a legal prosecution, there was an amount of energy and malevolent bitterness on the part of his opponents which certainly would have succeeded in its purpose, had it not been directed against one of that class of minds whose innate courage and self reliance ever gathers force co-equally with the circumstances which strive to oppose them. Though prosecution after prosecution during the space of three years, were at the meeting of each court being waged against him for dissecting, - as quick as one indictment failing to be sustained, another, without delay, being brought forward on other grounds, - still, all this availed not: no charge ever brought against him was proven to the satisfaction of the jury, by whom, in all cases, he was honorably acquitted. The unwavering steadiness and singleness of purpose with which, amidst all these harassing circumstances, he continued his professional pursuits, now wrought a change among his opponents, so that, soon afterwards many who had borne towards him an intense malevolence and bitter antagonism, gradually, one by one, became his friends, and, by their subsequent strong devotion to him, they seemed to wish to make amends for their previous injustice to him. He meanwhile, on his part, so far from keeping awake a remembrance of past hatreds, seemed to blot at once from his memory the previous course of his enemies, and as soon as they made advances towards him, he received them with as much openness and cordiality, as though of their past acts he were wholly unconscious.

In the City of Peoria, he established an Infirmary for the treatment of diseases of the eye and ear, and the removal of deformities of the lower extremities, especially club-foot. In six months after opening his institution, the applications for admission were so numerous, that his building, though a large one, was quite inadequate to contain them, so that he purchased a second one, and the two buildings were constantly crowded with patients. His reputation as an oculist and orthopaedic surgeon soon extended into the adjacent States of Indiana, Kentucky and Iowa, so that his practice became, at once, very lucrative.

Near the period when he opened this institution, I recollect an incident or two illustrative of his cheerfulness and constant good humor, which I will mention. Being summoned into an adjacent county to perform a surgical operation, I accompanied him. Our route, at one place, lay through a deep forest, of some miles in width; when part of the way through this, the road divided into two branches, when, as we afterwards found, we took the wrong one; this we pursued for some miles, when, at length, it disappeared, whereupon, the doctor, with his characteristic happy laugh, remarked: "We have at least learned two points, - the first is, that this road does not lead to the place of our destination, and, secondly, that we have made the discovery of its termination" On another occasion, he was called into the country, to operate for a deformity of the eye; the distance was long, and the day bitterly cold; on arriving at the farmer's house, a panic seemed to have seized on the family, and they had decided to defer the operation. After arriving home, upon my remarking that the results of our day's work were anything but encouraging, he replied, that he was very well satisfied with it, and that never did he allow himself to be discouraged in the case of failure of any undertaking, where he was conscious of having used all proper endeavors for its accomplishment.

As I have remarked, he had secured on extensive and lucrative practice in the West, yet this did not satisfy his ambition; money, with him, was but a secondary object, - he had yet a fonder, a more darling thought at heart, - this was, connection with a medical school, and one at the laying of whose cornerstone he had mainly assisted.

In 1854, he visited Europe, and though in ill-health at the time, he made the acquaintance of most of the eminent medical men in Edinburgh, London and Paris; he also made many observations in respect to the institutions pertaining to Medicine located in these cities. Immediately after his return from Europe, in May, 1855, he came to California, and located in San Francisco.

According to the above reminiscences of Levi Cooper Lane, "(w)ithin a year after his settling in Peoria, (Cooper) opened a dissecting room, secured a class of students and a number of medical men of the place, to whom he delivered lectures upon Anatomy, accompanied with demonstrations upon the dead subject". We have assumed from other of Lane's recollections that Cooper moved from Danville, Illinois, to Peoria in 1844. This means, chronologically speaking, that by 1846 Cooper had set up a laboratory for dissection, acquired a dead body or two, and begun some teaching. Given the obstacles to dissection in a small town like Peoria, success in such a venture would be a considerable achievement for an inexperienced, 24 year-old practitioner without a medical degree. We have, therefore, sought to obtain information from sources other than Lane regarding Cooper's practice of dissection and teaching of anatomy. Our findings support Lane's account of Cooper's accomplishments as an anatomist.

Cooper's Office and Dissecting Room in Peoria in 1846

Our first collateral information confirming Cooper's early devotion to anatomy comes from Dr. O. B. Will, a Peoria physician, who wrote to Professor Rixford of Stanford in 1923 about his memories of Dr. Cooper:[3]

My own personal recollection of the Doctor is necessarily limited to very youthful impressions since I was but a boy at the time (when) I was compelled (by some ear trouble) to be one of the Doctor's patients My mental picture (of him as) a very stern and unrelenting tyrant is likely to be considerably warped. However, my brother-in-law . . . knew Dr. Cooper very well from the standpoint of an office attendant for more than a year, and he gave me in the past years much information regarding the man, Doctor Cooper, who had managed to stir up much interest in himself and his work. . . .

Dr. Cooper's office was located in the very centre of town in one of the few three story brick structures of the time. He occupied the second floor for the reception and examination of patients, and the entire third story as a sort of anatomical museum and dissecting room. All along one side of the long hall against the wall were arranged in orderly fashion human skeletons ranging in age from the infant to adult life. The general knowledge of that fact appears to have become somewhat repugnant to a considerable number of the hypersensitive (citizens of Peoria).

(All evidence indicates) the indefatigability of the man as a worker. In fact, from all I have ever known or heard, Dr. E.S. Cooper was a tireless toiler while a resident practitioner of this City of then unusually able competitors, nearly all of whom were distinctly jealous of Dr. C.'s enterprising energy. He burned the midnight oil, and the dim light to be seen in his dissecting room at unseemly hours bespoke for him the reputation of an enthusiastic and self-sacrificing seeker of the truth preparing for an untimely grave.

Cooper Gives a Private Anatomy Course in 1848.

We are unsure when Cooper first began the formal teaching of anatomy in Peoria, but we know that he gave a Private Course of Anatomy Lectures and Dissections in November 1848. He sent a copy of his Introductory Lecture to the Editor of the North-Western Medical and Surgical Journal who was mildly complimentary:[4]

Dr. Cooper's address (which was not published along with this commentary) shows energy of character in the author; and the plan for pursuing anatomical studies he has marked out, by forming a private class, is a good one. It would be well for the profession if private preceptors generally devoted more time to the instruction of students, as it would improve both. The Doctor is a little mistaken in reference to his character as a pioneer in the work of giving private courses, with dissections. Classes were assembled for such purposes in different places in the west, within our knowledge several years ago.

In setting forth the advantages offered by his course, Dr. Cooper says the dissections will continue as long as weather will permit, which will enable them to acquire a proficiency seldom met with, and "during the course you will have an opportunity of witnessing and assisting in the performance of most of the important surgical operations on the dead subject, which will not only give you a delight in surgery, taking it as science, but it will overcome any natural repugnance which you have to cutting human flesh, which is indispensable to your success as operative surgeons."

We are unsure of the number of years that Cooper continued to give his Private Anatomy Course, but the following ad published in Drown's Record and Historical View of Peoria for 1851 announces that the course "will commence on the 4th of November (1851), and continue as heretofore, during the winter season."[5]

E.S. C00PER, M.D.

Offers his services in operating for the removal of all varieties of DEFORMITIES, such as CROSS-SIGHTEDNESS, CLUB-FOOT, CICATRIX from burns; restoring LOST NOSES and LIPS, by the plastic method, &c., &c.

The COURSE OF LECTURES ON ANATOMY & SURGERY, delivered by Dr. Cooper, in which Medical Students and Country Practitioners are enabled to pursue a thorough course of study in these two branches, will commence on the 4th of Nov. next, and continue as heretofore, during the winter season. These Lectures embrace extensive anatomical demonstrations both by preparations and the cadaver. The surgical student, especially, can reap the full benefits of a private course, by being able to witness and assist in the performance of every variety of operation upon the dead subject. March 1st, 1851.

Anatomy Concours at Rush

In 1850 there unexpectedly appeared a unique opportunity for Cooper to compete in a concours for a vacant anatomy post at Rush Medical College in Chicago, and he responded enthusiastically to the challenge.

The decision by Rush to hold a concours, or competition, for the vacant faculty position was the school's response to important new developments in American medicine. A National Medical Convention met in New York In May 1846 and again in Philadelphia in May 1847. The purpose of these meetings was to found a National Medical Association and address matters of concern to the medical profession, including the deplorable status of medical education in the country. These historic assemblies established the American Medical Association on 7 May 1847 and adopted a number of resolutions respecting such critical issues as standards in medical education and the principles of medical ethics.[6] In annual meetings thereafter the American Medical Association continued to evaluate medical education and to urge improvement in problem areas ranging from premedical studies to the quality of medical teachers. Regarding the latter subject, the AMA adopted the following resolution at its Second Annual Meeting held in Boston in 1849:[7]

Whereas, merit should be the test by which one individual is preferred to another; and, whereas, the places of profit and honour in our profession should be open to the competition of all, in order that the best selections may be made, therefore, Resolved, That trustees and others exercising the office of appointing Professors in Medical Schools, be requested to adopt the system of concours, or public trials, among the means resorted to for calling out the talent of the profession, and ascertaining the qualifications of applicants.

Upon the resignation in 1849 of a Demonstrator in Anatomy, Rush announced with considerable pride that, in accordance with the AMA resolution, it would be "the first in the United States to hold a public concours or trial, for the selection of a Medical teacher." The vacancy would be filled by the Candidate who, in the judgement of the Faculty, shall have complied to the greatest extent, and in the best manner, with the following requirements:

Who, on or before the first of March 1850, shall have furnished the undersigned with a written application for the situation, accompanied by the most satisfactory testimonials as to character, knowledge of medicine in general; and of Anatomy in particular. Who, on or before the 1st Monday in June 1850, shall have prepared and furnished as above, the best specimens of Dried or Wet Preparations showing the Conformation and structure of bones, the Distribution of Blood-Vessels, Nerves, or Lymphatics of any Part or Organ; Moulds in Plaster, Wax, or other material, of whatever nature, showing the Conformation or Structure of Parts or Organs, either in Human or Comparative Anatomy.

Who, on the 1st Monday in June 1850, or during the week following, on such day as shall be appointed by the undersigned, shall most skillfully dissect some region of the body, and make the best demonstration of the same before the Faculty; the region dissected and demonstrated, to be determined by lot, from a number to be designated at the time.

The award to be made by the Faculty, and such others as they may appoint to take the place of absent Members.

Signed: W.B. Herrick, Professor of Anatomy
Chicago, December 1 1849.

The above announcement appeared in the January 1850 issue of the North-Western Medical and Surgical Journal, published in Chicago, edited by members of Rush faculty, and serving as the prime outlet for faculty articles and editorials.[8] When the announcement came to Cooper's attention, he promptly applied for the vacant post and spent the spring months of 1850 in preparing his anatomical demonstrations.

Although Cooper had never been to Chicago, he was well informed about Rush Medical College and the accomplishments of Dr. Daniel Brainard, Founder of the College and Professor of Surgery, with whom he was later to become friends. This friendship was significant in Cooper's life for it is said on good authority that it was admiration for Brainard's achievement in organizing Rush Medical College that inspired Cooper to found a medical school himself.[9]

Daniel Brainard (1812-1866) and the Founding of Rush Medical College. Brainard was born in Oneida County, New York. After a common school and junior-college education; a medical preceptorship; and medical lectures at Fairfield Medical College in the Western District of the State of New York, he spent two years at Jefferson where he received an MD degree in 1834. Spurred by ambition and the lure of adventure, he abandoned a desultory medical practice in Whitesboro, New York, and migrated in 1836 to the unlikely village of Chicago, then a town of 3000 on the western frontier. Upon his arrival in Chicago, Brainard sought out one of his friends, a lawyer who had previously moved there from New York State. His friend recalled their meeting:[10]

Dr. Brainard rode up to my office on a little Indian pony. He was dressed rather shabbily and said he was nearly out of funds, and asked my advice about commencing the practice of medicine in Chicago. I knew he was ambitious, studious, and a man of ability, and I advised him to go to the Pottawatomie Camp where the Indians were preparing to start for a new location west of the Mississippi River and sell his pony; take a desk or rather a small table I had in my office and put his shingle by the side of the door, promising to aid him in building up a business.

Brainard was interested not only in medical practice but also in medical education and teaching which led him at once to conceive of starting a medical school in Chicago. In the fall of 1836 he and a medical colleague drafted articles for incorporation of a medical college. A charter for the college was granted by the Illinois State Legislature on 2 March 1837, a few days before a charter was issued to the still-pioneer City of Chicago.[11][12] When the severe financial depression of 1837 delayed further planning for the college, Brainard opened a private school of anatomy where he gave three courses in each of which he enrolled some six or seven students (thus preceding Cooper's efforts along the same lines by about ten years).[13] Building a surgical practice in Chicago was painfully slow for Brainard until 1838 when he successfully performed a difficult amputation on a canal worker's leg in the presence of most of the town's physicians. News of this feat spread rapidly, bringing acclaim and patronage to the young surgeon.[14] He spent the period from 1839 to 1841 in further medical preparation in Paris where he was a fellow student in surgery with Charles A. Pope who was later to become Professor of Surgery at St. Louis University and a benefactor of Elias Cooper. On his return from Paris, Brainard was appointed in 1842 to the Chair of Anatomy at St. Louis University and gave two courses in that subject during his brief stay in St. Louis.[15]

Meanwhile in 1842-43 several "country medical schools," to which we shall later refer, were preparing to open in Illinois and Indiana. Concerned about competition from these schools in attracting medical students, Brainard hastily activated the charter of his own medical college in Chicago, summoned the faculty that had already been appointed, and began the school's first session of 16 weeks on 4 December 1843. The population of Chicago was then 8, 000.[16][17]

Brainard gave the name of Rush Medical College to the new school in commemoration of Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, venerated as a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was anticipated that some of his heirs would endow the school. When the strategy failed and no money was forthcoming, Brainard was inclined to drop the name but it has clung to the institution to the present day.[18]

Cooper in Chicago for the Concours. In June 1850, when Cooper arrived by stage from Peoria with his boxes of anatomical preparations, Chicago was a city of 28, 000 and had become the major commercial center of the region. It was several years later that Peoria and Chicago were connected by rail and the stagecoach was replaced by the "teakettle on wheels" as the steam train was called in Peoria. Rush Medical College, by virtue of its outstanding faculty and superior access to cadavers for teaching anatomy and hospital beds for clinical instruction, had survived the competition of the country schools and was now the only viable medical college in the State of Illinois. The strong faculty was anchored by Professor Brainard, recognized as one of the leading surgeons west of the Alleghenies, and by a contemporary of Cooper, Nathan Smith Davis (1817-1904), Professor of the Principles and Practice of Medicine. Davis was already a national figure when he came to Rush in 1849 from New York City. Through his membership in the New York State Medical Society Davis had led the call for the National Medical Conventions of 1846 and 1847 and was a dominant figure in their deliberations on medical education and organized medicine. Since then he has been called the Father of the American Medical Association. Cooper realized that appointment to the faculty at Rush could be the turning point of his career and that high stakes for him were riding on the outcome of the concours.[19][20][21]

The concours for the position of Demonstrator of Anatomy took place on 17 and 18 June 1850 at the College. Only two competitors came forward out of a number who had given the required notice. They were Dr. E.S. Cooper of Peoria, Illinois, 130 miles to the southwest, and Dr. J.W. Freer of Wilmington, Illinois, 40 miles to the south.

Joseph Warren Freer (1816-1877). Dr. Freer's background is of some relevance here. In 1846, with a high school education and nine years of hard-working life on a farm, he lost his wife to poor medical care, leaving him a 30 year-old widower with a little boy. Determined to become a doctor to help prevent such tragedies, he set out for Chicago mounted on a load of wheat. On arrival he at once called on Dr. Brainard and asked to be taken as his pupil. With remarkable intuition and in the spirit of the frontier, Brainard accepted the rustic candidate and became his preceptor. Freer received an MD degree from Rush in 1849 and stayed on thereafter.[22][23]

The result of the concours was duly reported in the July 1850 issue of the North-Western Medical and Surgical Journal:[24]

Concour for Demonstrator of Anatomy in Rush Medical College

The concur for the place of Demonstrator of Anatomy in Rush Medical College, came off on the 17th and 18th of June last. Only two competitors came forward, out of a number who had given notice. They were Dr. J.W. Freer . . . and Dr. E.S. Cooper . . .

The trial was highly creditable to both, and resulted in the appointment of Dr. Freer.

The preparations presented by Dr. Freer, for the inspection of the Faculty, all of which have been made by him since the announcement of the concours, last winter, were very numerous, and would compare favorably with those from the hand of any other anatomist in any country.

This first trial of the concours system on this side of the Atlantic, has satisfied all concerned of its superiority over any other plan for selecting teachers; and although there may be circumstances where it would be inexpedient, for want of time or other necessary conditions, still we feel confident that its general adoption will be found of the utmost utility, both to institutions and the profession at large.

To Cooper, who had not yet received an MD degree, but was intensely committed to anatomical studies and aspired to a teaching career, the outcome of the concours was deeply disappointing. Actually, he had little chance of winning the competition. It is no reflection on the performance of Dr. Freer to point out that he was a recent graduate of Rush and a favorite son. He doubtless had access to the anatomy laboratory at Rush for his preparations, with the added advantage of familiarity with the surroundings and the judges. As for Cooper, his eagerness to participate in a concours at the regional seat of learning was typical of the self-assurance he always displayed in pursuit of his aims. As a reward for his efforts, he at least gained wider recognition as an anatomist through favorable mention in the medical press, and he received a terse commendation from the Board of Judges at Rush in the following letter (which is, incidentally, the earliest of all the letters found among Cooper's personal papers):[25]

Chicago June 18th, 1850
E.S. Cooper M. D.

Dear Sir,
Permit me to communicate to you the following resolution passed by the Board of Judges, of the Concours for the Demonstratorship of Anatomy in Rush Medical College, before the close of their session this day -

That the Board of Judges of the Concours for the Demonstratorship of Anatomy in Rush Medical College, would desire to express their gratification at the zeal and interest exhibited by E.S. Cooper M.D. of Peoria, Ills, in the prosecution of the Study of Anatomy, and though unsuccessful as a candidate, they are satisfied that his abilities are such as to render him capable of acquiring eminence in that department of Medical Science.

I remain Sir, yours truly
James V.Z. Blaney, Secy of Board of Judges

What of Cooper's future had he prevailed in the concours? Unfortunately for him, when the Rush Faculty learned that he did not hold an MD degree from a recognized school of medicine, he would not have been appointed to the position. As for the career of his competitor, Dr. Freer was appointed to the post of Demonstrator of Anatomy and remained on the faculty of Rush Medical College for the rest of his life, filling in succession the professorships of Anatomy, Microscopical and Surgical Anatomy, Physiology, Surgical Pathology, Physiology and Histology.

After the end of the Civil War, Dr. Brainard was discharged from the United States Army and went to Paris. When he returned to Chicago in the fall of 1866 to resume teaching, he found the city in the midst of an epidemic of Asiatic cholera (its last severe outbreak):[26]

On the afternoon of October 9, 1866, he digressed from the subject of his lecture in Rush Medical College, to tell the class how to guard themselves against the cholera, and before he retired that evening he began an article on the subject. . . . He went to bed apparently in perfect health, but near morning had an attack of diarrhea which he checked with opiates. However, he arose as usual the next morning and had no symptoms of sickness until 9:00 when he was suddenly attacked with vomiting and diarrhea . . . By 2:00 he was in collapse and seven hours later he ceased to breathe.

At the time of his death from cholera on 10 October 1866, Dr. Brainard was the dominant figure in surgery in Illinois and one of the foremost medical men in the Northwest. He was also the perennial President of Rush Medical College, a position immediately assumed upon his demise by Professor James V.Z. Blaney whose failing health caused him to resign in 1871. Then Brainard's pupil and protégé, Professor J.W. Freer, became the third President of Rush Medical College, and remained so from 1871 until his death in 1877.[27][28]

In the Middle West of today the memory of the historic concours between Cooper and Freer is still preserved in the History of Medical Practice in Illinois:[29]

Chance and circumstance shape a man's destiny, in this instance Cooper's. In the spring of 1850 he had contested ably with Dr. Joseph Warren Freer for the post of Demonstrator of Anatomy at Rush Medical College, a post which was considered to be of high honor and distinction. Freer received by concours the appointment and left a greatly disappointed competitor. Cooper . . . removed to the Pacific Coast. Here, he was to acquire wealth and wide reputation as a brilliant and accomplished surgeon. In 1888, his name was fittingly honored in that the most distinguished medical institution on the coast, the Medical Department of the Pacific, was rechristened Cooper Medical College. This college is now the School of Medicine of Leland Stanford University.

Peoria vs. Anatomist Cooper

In his letter to Rixford about Cooper, Dr. Will recalled that a considerable number of hypersensitive citizens in Peoria were aroused over Cooper's anatomical museum and practice of dissection at his downtown office. In January 1851 an incident occurred that further inflamed public passions and may well have led to violence against Cooper had not his friends, the "Cooperates" as described by Lane, turned the protest into a farce. It was a time of high emotional tension in Peoria following a brutal murder and the attempted lynching of the suspects.[30]

The Murder

In the latter part of 1850 on a Saturday, a farmer and cattle dealer named Hewitt drew some $2500 from a Peoria Bank. This fact was known to Thomas Jordan alias "Tom Tit", a notorious river thief, who imparted the knowledge to two young men named Thomas Brown and George Williams with the understanding that they would rob Hewitt of the money. They watched Hewitt's movements and when he entered his buggy and started for home they followed close behind. At the foot of the bluff at the edge of town he got down and started to walk up the bluff behind his buggy to lighten the load for his horse. Brown and Williams quickened their pace, came up with him and demanded his money. When he refused to hand it over, they assaulted him with a brick-bat, striking him on the head, fracturing his skull, and rendering him unconscious. They barely had time to rifle his pockets when they were frightened away by some teamsters coming down the bluff, and escaped by fleeing over the bluff and across the river. By some means, probably with the help of the teamsters who may have thought him intoxicated, Hewitt got up in his buggy, his horse started on and went about ten miles to a wayside tavern where he was in the habit of stopping. There his condition was noticed and he was carried into the house where he died of his wounds on the ninth day.

The Posse

Brown and Williams had been seen running across the bluff and when it was known that Hewitt had been assaulted and robbed, suspicion pointed to them as the guilty parties. Sheriff Riggs formed a posse and set out to trail the suspects who they found out were headed south toward Springfield where they were surprised in their beds and captured on Sunday night. After their arrest they were searched and all of the stolen money but 23 dollars was found secreted in their neck-handkerchiefs, the old fashioned black silk kind. They were brought back in irons and taken out to the tavern where Hewitt, who had regained consciousness and was still alive, identified them as his assailants. The money was also identified by the banker as the same he had paid to Hewitt on the previous Saturday. On the whole, this was a rather impressive bit of police work by the Peoria constabulary.

The Trial

Brown and Williams were lodged in the Peoria jail and, being poor and friendless, the Court appointed attorneys to defend them. When the Court convened in November 1850 they were indicted for murder, put on trial, found guilty of murder in the first degree, and on the 27th day of November were sentenced to be hanged on Friday, the 20th day of December.

In the meantime Tom Tit's collusion in the robbery had become known, his whereabouts discovered, and a stay of execution granted for thirty days to give the officers time to bring him back that he might be identified by the condemned men as an accessory to the crime.

The Mob

The populace was greatly excited over the murder, and as the day first fixed for the execution drew near, the excitement increased. On the morning of that day, the 20th of December, men came to Peoria from all parts of the country until there was a large crowd in the streets round and about the jail. When it became known that a respite had been granted, excitement exceeded the bounds of law and order. The frenzied mob demanded that the Sheriff hang the men, declaring they would do so if he did not. The leading men of Peoria appealed in vain to the crowd to disperse, assuring them that the law would be enforced. When the mob attacked the jail to seize the prisoners, Sheriff Rigg, a naturally timid man, kept out of sight, while Deputy Irons, a man of more nerve as befitted his name, called others to assist him in barring the approach but to no avail. A part of the mob forced their way past Irons and his assistants and secured possession of Williams who gave up without a struggle. Another part of the mob dragged the scaffold from the jail yard to the center of the street. When it was seen by the deputies that they could no longer protect Brown, he was told to defend himself as best he could. This he did right effectively by securing a small brick-bat in the end of one leg of a pair of trousers and stationing himself within his small cell so as to strike any head as soon as it appeared within the door, which had been forced. His aim was so unerring and his weapon of defense so formidable that the attempt to drag him out was soon abandoned. One man received such a terrible blow that he died from the effects of it soon after.

Williams was carried out to the scaffold and placed under the beam. Then the courage of the mob oozed out, and not a man among them was brave enough to place the rope around his neck. After some parleying he was carried back to the jail to await a legal execution.

The Execution

On the 19th of January 1851 the sentence of the Court was legally executed and Thomas Brown and George Williams, in the prime of their young manhood, paid the penalty of death by hanging for the murder of a fellow man. These were the first executions of the death penalty in Peoria County. The gallows was erected on the open prairie. The hangings were carried out in public and witnessed by no less than ten thousand people. Terraces of men and women were ranged all along the bluff in the vicinity of the scaffold, and many of them had come from long distances to witness a double death-leap from the scaffold to eternity.

Bodies for Science

When the demand of the law was satisfied, their bodies were cut down and given to Dr. Cooper, physician and surgeon, for the benefit of science.

Tom Tit

Thomas Jordan, alias ":Tom Tit", who had planned and instigated the robbery of Hewitt, avoided detection in the Peoria area, and escaped down river. He was traced to New Orleans where he foolishly told some associates of his involvement in the Hewitt affair. The information leaked to the New Orleans police who clapped him in jail until he could be transported in irons by up-river boat to Peoria. He arrived there, near paralyzed with fear, on the morning of the 19th of January, the day of the execution of Brown and Williams. He was taken at once to the Peoria jail where Brown exclaimed, "That's the man!", as soon as Jordan appeared in his presence.

Jordan was indicted for murder but the charge was changed to robbery. He pled guilty and was sentenced to the penitentiary for 14 years, the first five in solitary confinement. In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, he requested a pardon and promised to enlist in the Northern army if freed. Pardon was granted and after 12 years behind prison bars he was set at liberty. He kept his promise to enlist. He was last heard from in 1863 when he was in the Army of the Potomac. A letter sent to him at that time was never answered. It is inferred that he was killed in battle, or died of other causes.

Anatomy Laws

The practice of turning over the bodies of criminals to doctors for anatomical dissection and experiment is of ancient origin. The Ptolemies of Egypt legalized the procedure in Alexandria three centuries before the Christian era. Since the 13th century dissection of executed criminals was sanctioned by precedent and custom. These in due course served as the basis of common law and eventually of statutory law in many European countries, for example Italy, Germany France, Holland, England, etc. The following are some of the early precedents involving dissection that were ultimately reflected in common and statutory English law. In 1505 the magistrates of Edinburgh granted to the Guild of Surgeons and Barbers the right annually to take an executed criminal for dissection. In 1540 the English Parliament during the reign of Henry VIII gave the Guild of Barbers and Surgeons of London a chartered right annually to dissect four persons put to death for felony. In 1654 Queen Elizabeth granted a "special charter of anatomies" to the College of Physicians of London whereby four bodies of executed felons were to be delivered to the College for "anatomizing". In 1663 Charles II increased the yearly quota of bodies to six. Ultimately, it became an accepted tenet of English common law (i.e., springing from an accumulation of unchallenged precedents) that judges were permitted to authorize dissection of the body of an executed criminal. The practice under common law of allowing judges to authorize dissection of executed criminals was incorporated in English statutory law (i.e., expresses the will of the legislature) by an Act of Parliament in the reign of Charles II in 1752.[31]

The initial anatomy laws in colonial America and the United States can be traced to English common and statutory laws and, like them, authorized dissection under only one condition - in the case of an executed criminal. Dissection was commonly viewed as a further punishment or indignity to be administered posthumously to a felon, and was considered a desecration of the deceased under other circumstances. The first American enactment providing for dissection was the resolution in 1647 of the Governor and Council of the Massachusetts Bay Colony that permitted students of physick and chirurgery to anatomize once in four years some malefactor in case the Court shall allow it. In 1784 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts advanced a small step further by including in its law "Against Duelling" the edict that the body of one killed in a duel should be turned over to any surgeon who might apply for it to be dissected. In 1789, immediately following the mob violence of 1788 in New York City known as the "Doctor's Riot", to which we have already referred, the Legislature of New York passed "An Act to prevent the Odious Practice of digging up and removing for the Purpose of dissection, dead Bodies interred in Cemeteries or Burial Places." This law contained the further stipulation that any offender convicted "of Murder, Arson, or Burglary for which he or she shall be sentenced to suffer Death, may" at the discretion of the Courts have the added "Judgement that the Body of such Offender shall be delivered to a surgeon for Dissection".[32]

The original version of the Illinois law under which Cooper received the bodies of Brown and Williams following their execution was passed by the State Legislature on 3 January 1825. It was entitled an "Act to Prevent the Disinterment of the Dead". The first portion of the act deals rather verbosely with grave robbing:[33]

If any person or persons shall open the grave or tomb where the body or bodies of any deceased person or persons shall have been deposited, and shall remove the body or bodies or remains of any deceased person or persons from the grave or place of sepulture, for the purpose of dissection, or any surgical or anatomical experiment or any purpose, without the knowledge and consent of the near relatives of the deceased, or shall in any way aid, assist, counsel or procure the same to be done, or shall aid or assist in any surgical or anatomical experiment therewith or dissection thereof, knowing said body or bodies to have been so taken or removed from the place or places of their sepulture, every such person so offending, being thereof duly convicted, by indictment before the circuit court, shall forfeit and pay a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars, and shall be imprisoned in the common jail of the county, not more than twelve nor less than three months, at the discretion of the court, the fine for the use of the county to be paid as other fines are required to be.

The Act further states, with respect to dissection:

Provided that the provisions of this act shall not be construed to extend to the dissection of the body of any criminal, where the same has been or shall be directed to be delivered up for such dissection by competent authority.

The above provision for dissection was strengthened in 1833 by Section 156 dealing with murder in the Illinois criminal code which states that the "punishment of death shall be inflicted by hanging" and "the court may order, on the application of any respectable surgeon or surgeons, that the body of the convict shall, after death, be delivered to such surgeon or surgeons for dissection." This principle was reaffirmed in the Illinois Statutes of 1845 with the revision, however, that such dissection can only be made if there is no objection to it by some relative of the convict.[34]

Prior to the executions of Brown and Williams, Cooper applied to the court for their bodies in accordance with the above law. Under cover of darkness on the cold winter night after the executions, the bodies of the hanged men were hauled by wagon to his office in the center of downtown Peoria and, with care to avoid public notice, carried up the back stairs to the dissecting room on the third floor. Any hope on Cooper's part that the clandestine removal of the bodies to his dissecting room for "anatomizing" would go undetected and unchallenged was quickly dispelled. His previous advertising of anatomy courses, and the certain knowledge that bodies for these courses could only have been obtained by robbing graves, had already inflamed the populace against him. Now he was preparing to dissect criminals in his office on Peoria's main street. To make matters worse the crime, near-lynching and public hanging of Brown and Williams had created a fractious mood among the townspeople. Furthermore, they had not forgotten the lethal anatomy riot caused by zealous anatomists just two years before at St. Charles in upstate Illinois, an incident to which we shall later refer.[35][36]

Cooper, as he was prone to do, had overstepped the bounds of community tolerance. Hand bills were soon printed calling for a mass meeting to protest his dissections, and Lane has amply described the ensuing confrontation from which Cooper was fortunate to emerge unscathed.

Later in 1851 Cooper took both a long and a short range approach to the problem of lessening future conflict over his dissections.

Resolution on Dissection

The desired long range solution was, of course, to legalize dissection; and so in June of 1851, at the first Annual Meeting of the Illinois State Medical Society of which he was a founding member, Cooper introduced the following resolution calling for investigation of means whereby legalization of dissection could be achieved.[37]

Whereas, The present laws and public sentiment of the people of the State of Illinois are strict and binding, holding the Physician and Surgeon legally responsible for the performance of their duty, but at the same time are hostile to those means by which a practical knowledge of pathology, skill, and surgical anatomy is obtained; therefore

Resolved, That a Committee of three be appointed to investigate the subject of legal dissections in all its relations and bearings, and report the same to this Society at its next annual meeting.

The resolution was adopted and the Committee on Legalizing Dissection was appointed consisting of Drs. E.S. Cooper, Chairman, J.C. Frye and Wm. Chamberlain.

When the Report of the Committee was called for at the second Annual Meeting of the Society in June of 1852, Dr. Cooper as Chairman of the Committee stated that the intent of the Resolution was not to prepare a report for the Society but to memorialize the Legislature on the subject. No further communication to the Society was forthcoming from Cooper's Committee, and the Legislature did not act to legalize dissection until many years later. Apparently Cooper did not pursue the matter vigorously in Illinois, but we find him introducing a similar resolution before the California State Medical Society after his move to San Francisco.

Cooper Founds Peoria's First Hospital

Cooper's short range approach to the dissection problem was more effective. In September 1851 he opened the first hospital in Peoria, located on the prairie about a mile from the edge of town near the west line of Monson and Sanford's addition to Peoria. There he made successful provision for the discreet furtherance of his anatomical studies, well out of the limelight of his downtown office. The new establishment was a three story building known officially as the Peoria Eye Infirmary and Orthopedic Institution but, no doubt because of Cooper's anatomical museum and dissections, the children called it the "Spook House".[38]

The Peoria Democratic Press reported on 24 September 1851 that Cooper had one patient in his Infirmary and accommodations for 40 or more. By 1 October the Press learned that he now had several patients and was fast making arrangements to receive all who seek admission. We can understand Cooper's desire to fill the beds as soon as possible and his urge to inform the entire region that a splendid new facility devoted to the most modern of specialty care was now available. However, he miscalculated the reaction of his professional colleagues when he widely published an announcement of these unique services in area newspapers. They promptly accused him of advertising and unethical conduct. There followed a bruising encounter with some of Peoria's leading practitioners, details of which we will defer until we come to Cooper's role in the Peoria Medical Society.

But before taking leave of the Infirmary, we should remark that Cooper proved to be exceptionally forward-looking in its founding and operation. The Editor of the Press seems to have maintained a special interest in Cooper's affairs. After a visit to the Infirmary in May of 1853 he reported to his readers that "we are convinced that its celebrity has been acquired through the merit of the proprietor only. Every evening the lady inmates assemble in the parlor and recite lessons in French, after which the Dr. or a friend reads aloud from a book. The patients almost forget they are under the care of a physician".[39] By his brashness, innovations and sheer ability the tireless Cooper was fast becoming a respected figure in Peoria in spite of detractors in the Medical Society. In a history of the County written sixty years later he is called "the most active, progressive, original and enterprising member of the Peoria county profession during this first stage in its development."[40]

The Country Medical Schools

Prior to the passage late in the 1800s of legislation in the various States providing bodies for dissection, teachers of anatomy in American medical schools faced obstacles that were legally insurmountable. On the one hand, dissection was outlawed except on the bodies of executed felons, resulting in only a few bodies being available for teaching and research in anatomy. On the other hand, grave robbing was illegal and subject to severe penalties. This cruel dilemma was not resolved in Illinois until passage by the Illinois Legislature of the Anatomy Act of 1885 mandating that the body of any deceased person requiring to be buried at public expense shall be released upon request to a medical school or physician for advancement of medical science, provided that certain conditions regarding notification of relatives and ultimate disposal of the remains are met.[41]

Meanwhile, in 1849 there occurred the tragic anatomy riot at the Franklin Medical School in St. Charles that doubtless fuelled the Peoria protest against Cooper, and by the strange course of subsequent events, again raised his hopes of an academic career.

Franklin was one of the following group of new medical colleges founded in and near Chicago during the seven year period from 1842 to 1848.

  • 1842 Medical Department of LaPorte University (Later Indiana Medical College), LaPorte Ind. Discontinued in 1850
  • 1842 Franklin Medical College, St. Charles., Ill. Discontinued in 1849
  • 1843 Illinois College Medical School, Jacksonville, Ill. Discontinued in 1848
  • 1843 Rush Medical College, Chicago, Ill. Rush is the only school in this group that has continued without interruption to the present day
  • 1848 Rock Island Medical School, Rock Island, Ill. The school moved in 1849 to Davenport, Iowa; later to Keokuk, Iowa; and finally merged into the State University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City. More later regarding this transient school

Except for Rush, these medical colleges may be described as Country Medical Schools. Their location outside metropolitan areas posed for them an especially severe problem in obtaining anatomical material, with dire consequences for Franklin.[42]

Franklin Medical College (1842-1849)

The first medical colleges to be founded in the State of Illinois - Franklin, Illinois, Rush and Rock Island - were opened during the 1840's, the decade when Cooper began to practice in Peoria and to establish his reputation as an anatomist and surgeon. He surely would have observed the fate of these schools, particularly that of Franklin, with keen interest.

Franklin Medical College was located in St. Charles about 40 miles west of Chicago and 110 miles northeast of Peoria. Although the school never acquired a State Charter or awarded any MD degrees, it was the first in Illinois to organize a faculty and conduct a formal course of medical lectures, and on that basis may be credited with initiating medical education in the State. A class of 15 or 20 students attended the first series of lectures that began in the fall of 1842.

The original faculty of 6 "professors" was a respectable group and included two particularly able physicians: George W. Richards (1800-1853), Dean and Professor of Anatomy and Physiology; and Nichols Hard (1818-1851), Professor of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children. Dr. Richards received his MD degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Fairfield, New York, in 1828 and Dr. Hard graduated from the Ohio Medical College in 1841. Both were highly regarded as physicians and teachers, and both had amphitheaters in the upper stories of their offices where they gave lectures to students and provided an abundance of anatomical material for dissection. As already noted, Cooper followed a similar pattern in combining the teaching of anatomy with his practice, probably influenced by such examples as theirs.

In spite of the flourishing prospects of Franklin Medical College, the Illinois State Legislature delayed the granting of a charter. Richards and Hard therefore acquired faculty status in the Medical Department of La Porte University in La Porte, Indiana, 60 miles east of Chicago and arranged that this school award MD degrees to Franklin students. Such was the ingenuity of these pioneers in surmounting obstacles to their operating a medical college. They could not, however, overcome the effects of the grave-robbing incident that abruptly extinguished their school in 1849.[43][44][45]

Franklin Anatomy Riot

The circumstances were these: anatomy was the prime course in medical education at that time, and a country school such as Franklin in the small town of St. Charles had great difficulty in procuring subjects for dissection in a manner that would not arouse the hostility of the local community.

In April 1849 Mrs. George M. Kenyon, daughter of a prominent citizen by the name of Churchill, died shortly after her marriage and was buried in the local cemetery. John Rood, a first year medical student at Franklin Medical College, in search of knowledge and dissecting material, enlisted the aid of George Richards, a son of the founder of the College, in opening the newly-made grave of Mrs. Kenyon. On the way to the cemetery they stopped for refreshments at a tavern where one of the customers peeked into their wagon and saw some shovels. This finding was sufficient to reveal the purpose of the mysterious night mission of the two young men whose zeal for grave-robbing was known throughout the entire surrounding country. Unaware of being under suspicion, they drove on to the cemetery where they hastily disinterred Mrs. Kenyon, covered the empty grave as best they could and hurried to St. Charles where they concealed their gruesome prize in Dr. Richards' barn.

Meanwhile, the father and husband of the deceased woman were alerted to inspect her grave which, to their horror, they found empty. Their first step toward recovering the body was to seek the assistance of local physicians who selected a committee to visit the home of Dr. Richards and search the premises. Dr. Richards, who is said to have been at the time unaware of the facts in the matter, issued a firm denial of involvement in the affair. The aggrieved relatives and their friends doubted the doctor's word and, their emotions now thoroughly aroused, organized an armed posse to force entrance into his home and recover the remains at all costs if they could be found. Meanwhile Dr. Richards, having discovered that the body was on his premises, realized the seriousness of the situation and advised Rood to hide the corpse in some secure place until an amicable settlement could be reached. During the night and with the assistance of an employee of Dr. Richards, Rood moved the body to a secluded area. There they placed it under a limestone ledge and returned to the Richards residence to await developments.[46]

Knowledge of the approach of 200 or more armed men led by Kenyon, the irate husband of the exhumed woman, soon reached Dr. Richards who made preparation for the defense of his residence. The family fled over a stone wall back of the house, but he refused to leave. The local sheriff absented himself from the scene so as to be neither a participant nor a witness in the unfolding drama. The grim posse executed military type maneuvers on their approach to the house. Now, according to Zeuch:[47]

Thinking the evidence completely hidden, the doctor determined to put on a bold front and deny knowledge of the whereabouts of the remains. As the enraged citizens hove in sight, armed with rifles, shotguns and other weapons, they presented a formidable front. "The stillness of death," said an eye-witness, "seemed to hover about." At first, however, they were quiet and well behaved. A strong local prejudice against Dr. Richards among his townsmen was evident and increased their boldness. The doctor's friends prudently remained quiet, while he attempted to settle the matter peaceably from within. A small delegation, upon their own initiative, searched the barn for the body. They reported the finding of an unrecognizable cadaver of a male, disfigured by dissection, which helped to inflame their passions. The fearless Richards then opened the door and, appearing before the crowd with his hand in an opening of his coat, spoke to them boldly and, according to a mob spokesman, insultingly. The avengers then began to get impatient and surged forward. Their menacing attitude caused Richards to close the door, whereupon Churchill (the woman's father) attempted to force an entrance. At this point Kenyon, impatient for action, retraced his steps a few feet backward, asked those in front to step aside, leveled his gun and fired a shot that passed through the door above the knob. Rood, with his back upon the door, bracing it from within, received the fatal bullet. Another shot struck Richards through the right subclavicular region, pierced the lung and cut the brachial plexus. The doctor though bleeding profusely, removed his coat and again went to the door to speak. But before he could utter a word some one hurled a stone that hit him in the face, whereupon he was forced to retire to the bedroom where Dr. Everts attended him.

Temporarily placated, the crowd withdrew and invited a local magistrate, Judge Barry, to step in as mediator. Under the cover of darkness, the Judge and a Captain Norton personally retrieved the woman's body from its hiding place in the limestone crevice, located for them by one of the badly frightened Franklin medical students. Following the reburial of Mrs. Kenyon, an uneasy truce prevailed.

As to the final outcome of this episode, John Rood died of a bullet wound to the head; Dr. Richards recovered from his injury but lost the use of his right arm for which he compensated by learning to write with his left hand. The Franklin Medical College was closed by the incident, never to be reopened.[48]

There is no doubt that this violent anatomy riot in upstate Illinois in 1849 was well known to the people of Peoria, and led them to suspect that Cooper's anatomical material was obtained by the robbing of local graves, as was doubtless the case. One must admire the dedication and courage of physicians like Cooper whose pursuit of anatomical science in their day involved not only a grossly repugnant medium, but also great personal risk.

From Rock Island to Keokuk

After the Franklin anatomy riot and closure of the school there occurred the following complicated series of maneuvers that ultimately involved Cooper, and showed that he had gained considerable recognition in the region as an anatomist. Dr. George W. Richards, while still a member of the Franklin Medical College faculty, participated in organizing and became president of the Rock Island Medical College in Rock Island , Illinois, 120 miles west of St. Charles and just across the Mississippi River from Davenport, Iowa. Notable among the faculty of eight professors at Rock Island were Richards, theory and practice of medicine; John S. Sanford, midwifery and diseases of women and children; and Saul G. Armor, physiology, pathology and medical jurisprudence.

After giving only one course of lectures and graduating 21 students in the 1848-49 academic year, the Rock Island school moved across the river to Davenport and opened the 1849-50 academic year with a reorganized faculty that still included Richards, Sanford and Armor. The Davenport school was incorporated in Iowa under the name of College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Upper Mississippi. This College functioned for only the 1849-50 lecture series. In the spring of 1850 it became the Medical Department of the State University of Iowa and was transferred to Keokuk, Iowa, some 120 miles down river from Davenport. In 1870, the Medical Department moved from Keokuk to the campus at Iowa City and is now well known as the University of Iowa College of Medicine.[49]

Cooper Offered Anatomy Professorship at Keokuk

In 1850 Richards, Sanborn and Armor, widely regarded as outstanding teachers, moved with the Davenport school to Keokuk. There they were joined in the same year by Dr. Nichols Hard as Professor of Anatomy. Hard, who had been a colleague of Richards in the Franklin and La Porte schools, was an important addition to the Keokuk faculty in a key subject area. In the summer of 1851 he contracted cholera followed by an attack of dysentery resulting in his death at the age of 33 on 16 October 1851.[50][51] This sad and unexpected loss of the school's highly respected Professor of Anatomy occurred on the eve of the fall series of medical lectures due to begin in early November. Professor Sanborn, who was the Keokuk Dean at the time, received the unwelcome news of Hard's death while in New York on school business. In view of the importance of Anatomy in the curriculum, he considered it his responsibility to find a replacement for Professor Hard as soon as possible. He had heard of Dr. Elias Cooper of Peoria as a rising star in anatomy and addressed to him the following urgent letter:[52]

New York, Oct. 22d, 1851
Dr. E.S. Cooper

Dear Sir,
A late telegraphic dispatch, brought me the melancholy intelligence of the Death of Dr. N. Hard, Professor of Anatomy in the Med. Dept. of the Iowa State University.

It was made my duty, by a resolution of the Board of Trustees, to fill any vacancy that might occur in the recess of the Board; and having heard of you as a distinguished Physician, and an indefatigable Cultivator of Anatomy, I have been induced to nominate you as Professor of Anatomy in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Iowa University, and request your acceptance of the same. I have advertised my Colleagues at Keokuk of the act, and you will please write them immediately in relation thereto. Direct your Communication to Profs. Armor and Hudson.

I am now in this City, expending a part of an appropriation made to our Institution by the last General Assembly of Iowa. The prospects of the School are exceedingly flattering.

In haste, Very Respectfully, Jno. F. Sanford

P.S. I would be pleased to learn by Telegraph, whether you can accept the place, and what time you could commence your course at Keokuk. I desire the information as it would influence my return. Direct to me at the New York Post Office. J.F.S.

Response from Keokuk

Cooper, who earlier in the year had finally acquired an MD degree, wrote promptly to accept the appointment. As we have learned, he had already shown his lively interest in such a position by competing unsuccessfully in the previous year for a post in Anatomy at Rush Medical College. It might well be that his commendable performance in the Rush competition brought him to the attention of Dean Sanford at Keokuk. In any case the unexpected call to a professorship at Keokuk must have been exhilarating to Cooper who had spent six toilsome years in perfecting his knowledge of anatomy and his skill in dissection. His elation was short-lived for, in response to his letter of acceptance, he soon received the following reply from Keokuk:[53]

Keokuk, Iowa, Nov. 18th, 1851
Dr. E.S. Cooper

Dear Sir,
Your letter of the 14th is before us. We are sorry indeed that there shall be any misunderstanding concerning the vacancy that has occurred in our Institution, especially if it effect in any degree your private business matters. That there is a misunderstanding appears to us evident from the letter you received from Prof. Sanford. Still we have no idea that the Doctor intended to transcend his authority. In an emergency last season we delegated our Dean, Prof. Sanford, to fill one or more vacancies which occurred; but in examining our Constitution, it appears there to be the duty of the President to appoint at least an ad interim prof. in case of death or resignation.

In the impulse of the moment, and overwhelmed with the position in which we were placed by the death of Prof. Hard on the eve of our Session, Dr. Sanford may have supposed that it was the duty of the Dean to fill the place, and thus wrote you immediately on the receipt of the intelligence of Dr. Hard's death. We are satisfied, however, that the Doctor is mistaken, and wrote you therefore immediately on the receipt of your former letter.

We desire to act prudently in this matter in order that every thing may be done properly, and that harmony may prevail in our association. And we repeat again that on the meeting of the Board, we shall be glad to present your name and your claims to the chair of Anatomy.

We are anxiously waiting the arrival of Dr. Sanford, that we may have a full Board, and speedily arrange the matter as to filling the vacancy.

In the mean time we shall be glad to hear from you on the subject.

Respectfully yours,
Sam'l G. Armor
A.S. Hudson

The letter from Armor and Hudson was surely a heavy blow to Cooper, rescinding as it did the offer from Dean Sanford who seemed to say that the professorship of Anatomy at Keokuk was his for the asking. There is no further correspondence with the Keokuk faculty or comment on the subject among Cooper's papers, nor can related information be found in archival records at the University of Iowa College of Medicine in Iowa City. It is clear, however, that Cooper was denied the position. We do not know the reason that his application was turned down but there is evidence that there was dissension over the procedure followed at the school in filling the post. According to Weaver, who is an authority on the "country schools", "(w)hen Nichols Hard, of the Keokuk faculty died in 1851, Richards and Armor left the school because they could not endure the friction which arose among the faculty over the appointment of (Hard's) successor (as Professor of Anatomy)." By a strange coincidence, the paths of Armor and Cooper were later to cross again under far different circumstances.[54]

This second rebuff to Cooper's academic aspirations within eighteen months served only to increase his determination to devote his future to medical education. From this time forward his thoughts turned increasingly to California where the field was yet unclaimed, and full of promise for a pioneer who, like Brainard, had the vision to found a medical college on the frontier.


  1. History of Peoria County Illinois, ed. not specified. (Chicago: Johnson and Company, 1880), 451-452
  2. Levi C. Lane , "Obituary of Elias Samuel Cooper," San Francisco Medical Press 3, no. 12 (Oct 1862): 227-231 Library catalog record
  3. Letter from O.B. Will to Rixford dated 28 April 1923, Emmet Rixford Papers, MSS 8 Box 1.7, Lane Medical Archives, Stanford Library catalog record
  4. "Reviews: Introductory Lectures, for the Sessions of 1848-9," North-Western Medical and Surgical Journal 1, no. 6 (Feb-Mar 1849): 508-509 Library catalog record
  5. In the personal collection of Victoria Hineman, MD, Peoria
  6. Proceedings of the National Medical Conventions 1846-1847 (Philadelphia: Printed for the American Medical Association by T.K. and P.G. Collins, Printers, 1847), 175 pp Library catalog record
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  10. Ernest E. Irons , The Story of Rush Medical College (Chicago: Published by Board of Trustees of Rush Medical College, 1953), 12 Library catalog record
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  13. Ernest E. Irons , The Story of Rush Medical College (Chicago: Published by Board of Trustees of Rush Medical College, 1953), p. 14 Library catalog record
  14. Thomas N. Bonner , Medicine in Chicago, 1850-1950 (New York: American Book-Stratford Press, Inc., 1957), 16 Library catalog record
  15. George H. Weaver , "Beginnings of medical education in and near Chicago," Proceedings of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago Vol. 5 (1925), and Bulletin of the Society of Medical History of Chicago Vol. 3 (1925): p. 50 Library catalog record
  16. William F. Norwood , Medical Education in the United States Before the Civil War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944), pp. 340-341 Library catalog record
  17. Ernest E. Irons , The Story of Rush Medical College (Chicago: Published by Board of Trustees of Rush Medical College, 1953), pp. 14-15 Library catalog record
  18. George H. Weaver , "Beginnings of medical education in and near Chicago," Proceedings of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago Vol. 5 (1925), and Bulletin of the Society of Medical History of Chicago Vol. 3 (1925): p. 19 Library catalog record
  19. History of Peoria County Illinois, ed. not specified (Chicago: Johnson and Company, 1880), p. 528-530
  20. William F. Norwood , Medical Education in the United States Before the Civil War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944), pp. 339-344 Library catalog record
  21. George H. Weaver , "Beginnings of medical education in and near Chicago," Proceedings of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago Vol. 5 (1925), and Bulletin of the Society of Medical History of Chicago Vol. 3 (1925): pp. 54-55 Library catalog record
  22. H. A. Kelly and W. L. Burrage , eds., American Medical Biographies (Baltimore: The Norman, Remington Company, 1920), s.v. "Freer, Joseph Warren." Library catalog record
  23. "Editorial: Annual Commencement, Rush Medical College, 22 February 1849," North-Western Medical and Surgical Journal 1, no. 6 (Feb-Mar 1949): 547 Library catalog record
  24. "Editorial: Concour for Demonstrator of Anatomy in Rush Medical College," North-Western Medical and Surgical Journal 3, no. 2 (July 1850): 178-179 Library catalog record
  25. Correspondence about Cooper's application for positions at Rush Medical School and University of Iowa, 1850-51 - Box 1.6, Elias Samuel Cooper Papers - MSS 10, Lane Medical Archives, Stanford
  26. Ernest E. Irons , The Story of Rush Medical College (Chicago: Published by Board of Trustees of Rush Medical College, 1953), pp. 24-25 Library catalog record
  27. Lisabeth M. Holloway , Medical Obituaries. American Physicians' Biographical Notices in Selected Medical Journals Before 1907 (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1981), s.v. "Brainard, Daniel." Library catalog record
  28. David J. Davis , ed., History of Medical Practice in Illinois, vol. 2, 1850-1900 (Chicago: Lakeside Press, R. R. Donnelley and Sons Company, 1955), 205-206; 419 Library catalog record
  29. David J. Davis , ed., History of Medical Practice in Illinois, vol. 2, 1850-1900 (Chicago: Lakeside Press, R. R. Donnelley and Sons Company, 1955), p. 388 Library catalog record
  30. History of Peoria County Illinois, ed. not specified (Chicago: Johnson and Company, 1880), pp. 340-343. The material from this reference is extensively quoted, excerpted, rearranged and paraphrased in order to condense the essential facts of the episode in Peoria involving the execution by hanging of two men, and the delivery of their bodies to Dr. Elias Cooper for dissection.
  31. David J. Davis , ed., History of Medical Practice in Illinois, vol. 2, 1850-1900 (Chicago: Lakeside Press, R. R. Donnelley and Sons Company, 1955), pp. 369-70 Library catalog record
  32. David J. Davis , ed., History of Medical Practice in Illinois, vol. 2, 1850-1900 (Chicago: Lakeside Press, R. R. Donnelley and Sons Company, 1955), p. 372 Library catalog record
  33. David J. Davis , ed., History of Medical Practice in Illinois, vol. 2, 1850-1900 (Chicago: Lakeside Press, R. R. Donnelley and Sons Company, 1955), p. 368 Library catalog record
  34. David J. Davis , ed., History of Medical Practice in Illinois, vol. 2, 1850-1900 (Chicago: Lakeside Press, R. R. Donnelley and Sons Company, 1955), p. 384 Library catalog record
  35. Letter from O.B. Will to Rixford dated 23 April 1923, Emmet Rixford Papers, MSS 8 Box 1.7, Lane Medical Archives, Stanford Library catalog record
  36. Emmet Rixford , "Master Surgeons of America: Elias Samuel Cooper," Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics 49, no. 6 (Dec 1929): 862
  37. "Minutes of 4 June 1851," Proceedings of Illinois State Medical Society, First Annual Meeting, Peoria, Illinois June 1851, pp. 7-8
  38. Letter from O.B. Will to Rixford dated 23 April 1923, Emmet Rixford Papers, MSS 8 Box 1.7, Lane Medical Archives, Stanford Library catalog record
  39. Newspaper reports, based on materials held at Peoria Public Library Library catalog record
  40. James M. Rice , Peoria City and County Illinois: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement, Vol.1 (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912), 352.
  41. David J. Davis , ed., History of Medical Practice in Illinois, vol. 2, 1850-1900 (Chicago: Lakeside Press, R. R. Donnelley and Sons Company, 1955), pp. 398-399 Library catalog record
  42. George H. Weaver , "Beginnings of medical education in and near Chicago," Proceedings of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago Vol. 5 (1925), and Bulletin of the Society of Medical History of Chicago Vol. 3 (1925): p. 7 Library catalog record
  43. William F. Norwood , Medical Education in the United States Before the Civil War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944), pp. 337-338 Library catalog record
  44. George H. Weaver , "Beginnings of medical education in and near Chicago," Proceedings of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago Vol. 5 (1925), and Bulletin of the Society of Medical History of Chicago Vol. 3 (1925): pp. 13-16 Library catalog record
  45. Lucius H. Zeuch , History of Medical Practice in Illinois, vol.1, Preceding 1850 (Chicago: The Book Press, Inc., 1927), 543-544; 645-646 Library catalog record
  46. Lucius H. Zeuch , History of Medical Practice in Illinois, vol.1, Preceding 1850 (Chicago: The Book Press, Inc., 1927), pp. 544-545 Library catalog record
  47. Lucius H. Zeuch , History of Medical Practice in Illinois, vol.1, Preceding 1850 (Chicago: The Book Press, Inc., 1927), pp. 546-547 Library catalog record
  48. Lucius H. Zeuch , History of Medical Practice in Illinois, vol.1, Preceding 1850 (Chicago: The Book Press, Inc., 1927), pp. 547-548 Library catalog record
  49. George H. Weaver , "Beginnings of medical education in and near Chicago," Proceedings of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago Vol. 5 (1925), and Bulletin of the Society of Medical History of Chicago Vol. 3 (1925): pp. 24-30 Library catalog record
  50. George H. Weaver , "Beginnings of medical education in and near Chicago," Proceedings of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago Vol. 5 (1925), and Bulletin of the Society of Medical History of Chicago Vol. 3 (1925): p. 47; pp. 63-4; 79-82 Library catalog record
  51. William F. Norwood , Medical Education in the United States Before the Civil War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944), pp. 347-350 Library catalog record
  52. Correspondence about Cooper's application for positions at Rush Medical School and University of Iowa, 1850-51 - Box 1.6, Elias Samuel Cooper papers - MSS 10, Lane Medical Archives, Stanford
  53. Correspondence about Cooper's application for positions at Rush Medical School and University of Iowa, 1850-51 - Box 1.6, Elias Samuel Cooper papers - MSS 10, Lane Medical Archives, Stanford
  54. Weaver, p. 80. George H. Weaver , "Beginnings of medical education in and near Chicago," Proceedings of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago Vol. 5 (1925), and Bulletin of the Society of Medical History of Chicago Vol. 3 (1925): p. 80 Library catalog record