History of Leicester Medical Society

The first meeting of what was later to be called The Leicester Medical Society took place on 11 August 1800. It was at this meeting that the ten medical men present drew up a set of rules to govern their collective activities as the Leicester Medical Book Society. The original aims of the Society were the formation of a medical lending library, to meet twice yearly, to wine and dine under the stewardship of Mr Thomas Paget and to discourage acts of discourtesy and unprofessional conduct by open expression of disapproval at the meetings. The annual subscription was one guinea.

Initially, membership was open only to practitioners in the City, new members requiring approval by at least two-thirds of the members present at a meeting. A resolution to admit practitioners from the County was defeated in 1844, and not until the Medical Act of 1858 came into force was a resolution carried that "all legally qualified medical practitioners resident in Leicester and Leicestershire be eligible to become members of the Society, subject to the approval of the Committee." Despite this, county members were known as associate members.

By 1867, the members of the Society numbered 43, but there must have been defaulters in the payment of the annual membership fee and in 1870 the resolution "any member who shall allow his subscription and fines to be unpaid for three years in succession after receiving due notice of the same, shall have his name struck off the list of members," was passed.

That the Society involved itself in current practical medical problems is evident from the legal cost of £160 incurred in attempting to defeat the Corporation of Leicester Act of 1879, which would make it compulsory for "the medical men of the Town to give notice of infectious diseases in their practice". Infectious diseases occupied the attention of the Society for a good thirty years, as Leicester became an endemic area of often fatal infantile diarrhoea. Diphtheria and smallpox were also rife. 

If its attempts to block the Corporation Act 1879 are regarded with hindsight as ill-conceived, its acceptance of control of the Leicester Bacteriological Laboratory, from Messrs Richardsons the manufacturing chemists, in 1895, probably redressed the balance, and was quickly off the mark with the production of diphtheria antitoxin, successfully used for the first time in Leicester in that year.

In 1892, for the first time, the minutes refer to a Council consisting of President, Past-President, two Secretaries and four members elected at the Annual Business Meeting, and two years later, the first balance sheet was published.

In 1897, Mr C A Moore, in his presidential Address (of which previously there had been only 11), called for more social activities in the Society, and the first social meeting was held at the Wyvern Hotel on London Road when "members (met) together socially to discuss medical politics and other questions of interest connected with the profession which are continually occurring, to smoke and to indulge in various games etc., as this was calculated to promote a good fellowship and esprit de corps".

The crest of the Society first appears on its stationery in 1904, but the origin remains obscure as there is no record in the minutes even of its existence. It consists of the Leicester Wyvern surmounting a shield with saltire in the dexter and cinquefoil in the sinister. By this time, the membership numbered 96 with an average attendance at meetings of 23.

By 1907 membership had grown to 109 members, and might have been more but for the Society's opposition to the inclusion of the first woman medical practitioner in Leicester, Dr Francis Armitage (she only wished to subscribe to the Library!), and it was not until 1919 that the Society approved Council's recommendations that women practitioners should be eligible for election. Drs Bessie W Symington and Gertrude E Austin were elected unanimously that year, the latter becoming the first woman President in 1935, as the most senior member of the Society.

Social events gradually increased in number and the first medical ball was held in 1926, making a profit of nearly £13, and the annual golf tournament was inaugurated in 1930. In 1937, the first President's Reception was held at the commencement of the session. It was held in the County Rooms as a sherry party, and included a band, waiters, biscuits and drinks at a cost of 2/9d per head.

During the early part of the Second World War, although a decision had been reached to continue the Society's activities following a Council meeting in December 1939, there were no further meetings until 1941 when a War Emergency Committee was set up to "direct all the activities of the Society for the period of the War". In 1944, a resolution was carried "that the time has now come for the War Emergency Committee to terminate its work and hand over its duties to the full Council".

Shortly after the end of the War, with the inauguration of the National Health Service, associate membership ceased, and all future meetings were to be held in the Leicester Royal Infirmary, there having previously been clinical meetings at the City General Hospital in 1938 and the County Mental Hospital at Narborough in 1939.

The University of Leicester Medical School took its first students in 1975, and in the same year the Society approved that "teachers in the Medical Faculty of the University of Leicester and their students be permitted to attend ordinary meetings". Non-medical ladies, however, were still debarred from social events, but in 1980, perhaps with the influx of many younger doctors in consequence of the developing Medical School, the Society finally agreed that wives be allowed to attend the Annual Dinner and be guests at open meetings of the Society. By 1986 the Society's affairs were extremely healthy with a membership of 462.

The long-standing relationship between the Society and the medical scene in Leicestershire was emphasised in 1985 when the Society gladly accepted Mr Ernest Frizelle's suggestion that it should be entrusted with the publication and distribution of his book The Life and Times of the Royal Infirmary at Leicester: the making of a teaching hospital. This large, well-researched volume, published in 1988, contains information on the development of the Royal Infirmary, the activities of its professional staff and its relationship with the life of Leicester over two centuries.

The limited number of about 100 copies rapidly sold out and any profit has been given to the University of Leicester Medical Research Fund. At the 90th birthday of the author, in October 1990, the Society presented him with an engraved goblet as recognition of all that he had done for the Society and of the high esteem in which he was held.

In 1991, the Society instituted an annual prize for the best essay on a student elective from the Leicester Medical School, and in the same year the attendance at the ordinary meetings was improved by the introduction without charge of a supper before the lecture. This arrangement replace the President's own pre-lecture dinner, and has increased social contact between members.

Meetings continued to be addressed by many distinguished speakers, and particularly notable was the 1993 visit of Professor David Crawford, Chief Urologist of the University of Colorado, who spoke on prostatic cancer awareness. He was presented with the honorary membership of the Society - the first person to be so honoured since Dr John Chapel in 1970.

In June 1993, the Leicester Royal Infirmary achieved Trust status, and we have been assured that the Society may continue to use the Postgraduate Centre for its meetings. With an increasing membership, now standing at 505, we moved on to our Bicentenary as the fourth oldest medical society in this country.