How did Oregon pass Medical Licensing Laws?
In the 19th century, physicians lobbied state legislatures throughout the United States to pass medical licensing laws. Some doctors were more successful than others in passing these laws. Starting in 1870s, states began to slowly adopt medical licensing laws. In order to make these laws more palatable to skeptical legislatures, physicians often tied these laws to sanitation reforms. Still, physicians in some states struggled to accomplish anything.
Physicians in Oregon became increasingly frustrated with the status quo and sought to pressure the legislature.Physicians began to sound the alarm that Oregon soon would become a haven for quacks and incompetents from other states. Oregon’s physicians did not want physicians who could not get licensed anywhere else to flood into the state. In 1888, the Oregon State Medical Association (hereafter OSMA) made yet another dedicated push to pass some type of medical regulatory act. This time, the OSMA was willing to grease the appropriate palms to push the licensing bill through the legislature.
Forming a Committee
At the 1888 annual OSMA meeting, the legislative committee appointed Charles C. Strong and five other members to spearhead the lobbying effort. According to Strong, the committee chair, they were told by the OSMA leadership “to go to work” on passing a medical licensing act. In December 1888, a month before the legislature’s general session, the legislative committee sent out a fundraising letter to its members requesting ten-dollar pledges because the committee confidently stated “that such a law will be passed” if they could raise enough money. The committee stated in the letter that it hoped to raise one-thousand dollars. Eventually, the committee raised three-hundred-and-five dollars in pledges from the members. The committee never explained why it needed the money.
To limit opposition and debate within the medical community, the legislative committee refused to draft a bill “until shortly before it was sent to the legislature.” Strong wanted to avoid telling members specifically what type of medical bill they were planning to propose. After receiving the fundraising solicitation, several physicians who had been practicing in Oregon “ten, fifteen or twenty years without a diploma, began to ask, ‘What kind of bill are you going to pass? Are you going to shut us out?” Strong evaded this question by sending postcards to any members who requested information about the bill; the cards stated that “the Committee ha[s] not as of yet drafted a bill. We have substantially agreed that a bill must be a reasonable in all its provisions; and it has proposed to not disturb the present relations of anyone practicing medicine and surgery at the time the bill becomes a law.”
The legislative committee approached legislator and Regular physician, Dr. James V. Pope, to introduce the Oregon association’s bill in the House. Pope studied medicine in St. Louis and worked as a physician during the Civil War, but he was not a medical school graduate. After Pope introduced the bill, he abruptly threatened to scuttle it. Strong wrote, “[N]ow came the point to find out where the shoe pinched with Dr. Pope; but I knew it pinched somewhere, and surmised that probably he wanted the credit of introducing and passing the Medical Bill, and wanted it to be known as Pope’s bill.” Strong also stated that rumors had spread in the legislature that the OSMA raised a lot of money to smooth passage of the bill.
The legislative committee sent one of its members to meet with Pope in Salem, to determine why he intentionally tried to stall the bill. The member magnanimously offered to name the medical bill “Pope’s Bill” and told him: “but in a way as not to accuse us of bribery--to be careful about that--that we had $200 down here, and if he would draw a draft on me for $200 I would recognize it, and he could see where the corruption fund was and where it was used. Well of course that knocked it all into ‘pi.’” <ref>Proceedings Sixteenth Annual Meeting (1889): 206-207.
- The Medical Society of Oregon changed its name to the Oregon State Medical Association a few years earlier.
- “Report of the Legislative Committee,” Proceedings of the Sixteenth Annual Meeting of the Oregon State Medical Association 16 (1889): 203.
- Proceedings Sixteenth Annual Meeting (1889): 204.
- Proceedings Sixteenth Annual Meeting (1889): 205-206.
- O. Larsell, The Doctor in Oregon: A Medical History (Portland, Oregon State Historical Society 1947), 210.
- Proceedings Sixteenth Annual Meeting (1889): 206.