Tag Archives: American history

The Household Name that Was a Radical Before it was Cool to be a Radical


Every American-raised person once attended (though when I was in school it was more like seven years in a row attended) classes on American history. We all know the name Thomas Paine, we all associate him with the American Revolution. We all know he wrote Common Sense. Who among us has read it? Don’t worry if you haven’t, you wouldn’t be alone. That being said, however, there is so much to this gentleman… born into an age that both revered and scorned him, whereas if the man lived in today’s world he might have been revered and revered only. Let’s find out just how cool Thomas Paine really was, shall we?

Born on February 9th, 1737, in Norfolk, England, many Americans who didn’t pay much attention in history class would be surprised to find out that he lived a relatively average British life… for thirty seven years before emigrating to the British colonies in America. Born to a tenant farmer and stay-maker (a tailor specializing in the making of corsets), Paine’s baptized name is spelled “Pain” – a change he apparently made when moving to America. His early life seems uneventful, he attended a few years of schooling, then apprenticed with his father as a stay-maker. He married at 22, but his young wife died in childbirth along with the baby soon after. Paine dealt with typical difficulties – many of which were financial in nature. After working several occupations in several towns, in 1768 Paine ended up in Lewes – a town in Suffolk known for its radical notions (like an opposition to the monarchy). It was here that Paine first became involved in political and civic matters, and gained an interest in the plight of freedom of the every-man.

In Lewes, Paine was a member of the parish vestry, and in the early 1770s joined excise officers in their ask of Parliament for better wages and treatment. It was during this period that he published his first political work – a twelve page article entitled The Case of the Officers of Excise. He failed again financially around this time, and moved to London – where he was introduced to one Benjamin Franklin, who convinced Paine to emigrate to the colonies, and even wrote him a letter of recommendation for the change. Paine agreed, and arrived in Philadelphia in November of 1774.


By March of 1775, Paine was the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, then becoming the editor of the American Magazine – in a short time becoming a rather important figure. Under Paine’s direction, the magazines flourished, gained a wider audience, and became more and more political in nature. In fact, just a few short months after arriving in America, an untitled essay appeared in the Pennsylvania Magazine entitled African Slavery in America – an early abolitionist essay attacking slavery as an “outrage against Humanity and Justice.” That essay is commonly attributed to Thomas Paine’s own hand. Paine also focused often on the plight of the working man – using his platforms to discuss worker’s rights. Clearly, Paine quickly became a leading figure in the political consciousness of America on the brink of revolution.

Thomas PainePaine’s pamphlets, especially Common Sense, were immediate successes. Common Sense was published on January 10th, 1776, and was signed anonymously, “by an Englishman”. Within the first three months of its existence 100,000 copies were sold throughout the colonies. He employed his eloquence to fan the flames of anger at the British monarchy for their abuses. While published after the start of the American Revolution (which began in April 1775), it served to bolster enthusiasm for the cause, to inspire many and to aid in the confidence of those fighting for freedom. Common Sense largely upholds the ideals of republicanism and encouragement for freedom, and spends some time encouraging readers to join the Continental Army. He advocates an extreme change, a total break in the narrative of history. Though his ideas were not necessarily original nor unheard of, Paine’s method and way of speaking to the public made his pamphlet one of the most popular Revolutionary works in existence. In that vein, Paine became one of the most influential revolutionary writers in history.

Though throughout his life he went in and out of favor, what never faltered was Paine’s personal beliefs in freedom and liberty. He denounced slavery, supported the French Revolution, he advocated religious freedom, condemned and criticized those he did not care for, and had no qualms about staying true to his own personal values until the day he died. As Robert G. Ingersoll once famously said: “Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts.” Happy 285th Birthday to Thomas Paine, a man ahead of his time!



Temperance, Prohibition, and the WCTU


The above cartoon by Thomas Nast appeared in Harper’s Weekly on March 21, 1874. The following page bore another temperance cartoon by Michael Angelo Woolf called “The Social Juggernaut.” The issue also included a story of a temperance demonstration at a New York bar and an illustrated poem called “Like Father, Like Son,” which tells the story of a father and son who both fall into alcoholism. The back page cartoon depicts a bottle of rum in prison for “manslaughter in the greatest degree.”

Interest in temperance and prohibition continued to grow over the next several decades, culminating in the ratification of the 18th Amendment on January 16, 1919. By this time, the temperance movement had been around for over a century. In 1784, Benjamin Rush wrote An Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind. His treatise blamed alcohol for a wide range of physical and psychological problems. By 1789, a group of Connecticut farmers formed a temperance association and applied Rush’s work, banning the production of whiskey in their county. By 1800, Virginia also had a temperance association, and New York followed in 1808.

Most activists at this time supported moderation, rather than complete abstinence. But as the movement grew, leaders tried to use their increased audience to promote other issues like attending church on Sundays. That approach backfired. The movement splintered and fell apart completely by 1820. Despite a lack of cohesive support, the idea of temperance had taken hold. Many states, counties, and cities were dry. That didn’t mean that alcohol consumption had waned; in fact, from 1800 to 1830, per capita alcohol consumption reached its highest level in American history. It was three times today’s rate, and most of that consumption was hard liquor drunk undiluted. One historian actually labeled the US at this time the “alcoholic republic.”

To garner support, temperance leaders modeled their rallies after religious revivals. They primarily relied on moral and religious arguments, and some began lobbying for the regulation and/or prohibition of alcohol. In 1826, the American Temperance Society was founded, lending the movement new momentum. By 1838, the organization had over one million members and more than 8,000 local groups. This time, there was a definitive split between moderates (who supported drinking in moderation) and radicals (who believed in complete prohibition of all alcohol).

The radicals were, predictably, much more vocal and soon dominated the movement. By the early 1850’s, thirteen states had banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Alcohol consumption had fallen significantly, and more people were opting for beer instead of hard liquor–a preference that some culinary historians attribute in large part to the influx of German immigrants.

But the Civil War derailed the temperance movement completely. Both the North and the South struggled to fund the war, and they turned to distillers and brewers for financial support. Drinking also became a sort of bonding activity for soldiers, who were away from their wives and families. Support for temperance and prohibition dried up.

After the war ended, the nation experienced an explosion in the retail liquor industry. The number of dealers went up 17% between 1864 and 1873…even though the population grew only 2.6%. It wasn’t until the end of the Reconstruction that prohibitionism gained steam again. First, it took root in the South; the ideals of prohibition and protecting the home dovetailed with “traditional Southern values,” such as traditional gender roles and even racial stereotypes.

Soon prohibitionism had entered politics. Most temperance advocates were Republicans, but leaders of both parties tried to distance themselves from the most divisive issues. Ultimately prohibition advocates decided that neither political party adequately represented their interests, and the Prohibition Party was born. The party still exists today and has nominated a presidential candidate for every election since 1872. Though it faded into obscurity with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Prohibition Party is the oldest third political party in the United States.

Unfortunately, women were still excluded from politics, so they sought other ways to support the movement. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union all began with Dr. Dio Lewis. A prominent proponent of temperance, Dr. Lewis traveled the country for decades, telling a story about how his mother and other women had inspired local business owners to turn away from alcohol sales with prayer and scripture.

Inspired by Dr. Lewis in December 1873, a group of women banded together to take direct action against saloons and liquor sales in what came to be known as the Women’s Crusade of 1873-1874. At first, women would gather at saloons and drop to their knees-for pray ins. They would sing hymns and demand that the establishment stop serving alcohol. With these grassroots demonstrations, they managed to halt alcohol sales in 250 communities. Then in the summer of 1874 at a pre-organizational meeting in Chautauqua, members decided to hold a national convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

Wittenmyer_Under_GunsIn Cleveland, Annie Wittenmyer was elected the first president of the WCTU. Wittenmyer had been a nurse during the Civil War and would go on to author Under the Guns about her experience. Under her guidance, the WCTU took up temperance as a “protection of the home.” The organization’s watchwords were “Agitate-Educate-Legislate.” Local chapters were called unions, and they were largely autonomous. The WCTU quickly became the largest women’s organization in the country.

The WCTU’s protest against alcohol was ultimately much more than that: it was a means of protesting women’s lack of civil rights. At the time, women couldn’t vote. Domestic abuse and rape cases almost never found their way to prosecution. Women had no right to property or custody of their children if they got divorced. And in some states, the age of consent was still as low as seven. Meanwhile, most political meetings were held in saloons, which informally excluded women from participation in politics.


A banner from the now defunct Placer County, California chapter of the WCTU

In 1879, Frances Willard became president of the WCTU. Her personal motto was “Do everything,” and she believed that the organization should expand its scope to address a full range of social problems, which were, after all, interconnected. Use of substances like drugs and alcohol was really just a symptom of greater societal ills. By 1894, the WCTU had taken up the cause of women’s suffrage and had become one of the first organizations to keep a professional lobbyist in Washington, DC.

The WCTU undertook a number of initiatives to promote temperance. People often opted to drink beer or liquor because there was no access to clean drinking water. So the WCTU advocated the installation of public drinking fountains. And in cooperation with Mary Hunt, the WCTU established a curriculum for formal temperance instruction in classrooms across the nation. Their goal: “teach that alcohol is a dangerous and seductive poison; that fermentation turns beer and wine and cider from a food into poison; that a little liquor creates by its nature the appetite for more; and that degradation and crime result from alcohol.”

When the 18th Amendment was finally ratified, the WCTU continued to advocate temperance, but shifted its focus to other social issues. The repeal of the amendment sparked another shift in focus. Today, the WCTU addresses the abuse of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, along with gambling and pornography.

Related Books

The Prohibition Songster
Stearns_Prohibition_SongsterCompiled by John Newton Stearns, The Prohibition Songster was intended for “Prohibition Campaign Clubs, Temperance Organizations, Glee Clubs, Camp  Meetings, Etc, Etc.” It was first published in 1884 by the National Temperance Society and Publication House. Such items were frequently produced for use during political campaigns, and the National Temperance Society says of this particular publication, “This is a new collection of words and music for Temperance Gatherings, with some of the most soul-stirring songs ever published. Music by some of the best composers, and words by our best poets.” One hundred copies could be purchased for $12. OCLC records five institutional copies. Details>>

Autograph Album-Leeds Town Hall (1861-1895)
Leeds_Town_Hall_AutographThis rare album contains the autographs of visitors to the Leeds Town Hall. The album was owned by a J. (or F.) N. Dickinson who has signed the ffep and added the date Oct 9th 1861. Each of the 59 pages (beginning on the verso of the ffep) contain numerous autographs, primarily of musicians who we assume were performing there on the dates noted. Among the dignitaries to sign the autography book are Charles Dickens, Charles Stratton (aka, Tom Thumb), Scottish explorer John MacGregor (better known as Rob Roy). Lady Isabella Somerset, former president of the British Women’s Temperance Association, also signed. All in all it’s a truly fascinating artifact. Details>>

Captain Jack Crawford, “The Poet Scout,” in His Wonderful Entertainments, “The Camp Fire and the Trail” 
Captain_Jack_CrawfordJohn Wallace “Jack” Crawford was an American adventurer, educator, and author known as one of the most popular performers in the late nineteenth century. His daring actions to carry the news the 350 miles to Ft. Laramie in six days of General George Crook’s victory in the Battle of Slim Buttes during the Great Sioux War made him instantly famous. After his stints in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and “General Crook’s Horsemeat March,” Crawford served as a special agent for the US Department of Justice, spending four years investigating illegal liquor traffic and fighting alcoholism on Indian reservations. During his work for the US Government, he began his career as an entertainer in 1893 which continued until 1898. He wrote poetry and held “lectures” across the United States where he told of his many adventures in the Wild West, and where he asked his audiences to be careful and foreswear liquor in order to lead a more fulfilled life. He was a prolific writer and published seven books of poetry, wrote more than one hundred short stories and copyrighted four plays. In fact, his poem “Only a Miner Killed” has been said to be the basis for Bob Dylan’s song “Only a Hobo”. Only one institutional holding is found on OCLC. Details>>

Dealings with the Dead
Sargent_Dealings_DeadThis volume includes collected commentary by noted antiquary and temperance advocate Lucius Manlius Sargent on Boston society (among other things), as was initially published in a series of Boston Evening Transcript articles. Per the DAB, “though he showed enthusiasm for the past, his efforts were generally directed towards blasting something offensive to him out of existence.” This, the first book edition, was published in two volumes in 1856. OCLC records just four copies of this work in institutional hands. Details>>

Back from the Mouth of Hell
Abbe_Back_Mouth_HellThis book’s drop title reads “Or The Rescue from Drunkenness. The Causes, Progress and Results of Intemperance, with the Possibility and Effectual Methods of Accomplishing Permanent Reform.” It was published anonymously in 1878 “By a Former Inebriate.” But this copy bears the an inscription on the ffep from the author, James E. Abbe. The title does not appear in Amerine & Borg. It’s still bound in the publisher’s original half-sheep binding with marbled paper boards and pale peach colored endpapers. Though it has some modest binding wear, mostly to the extremities, it’s withal a Very Good+ copy. Details>>

Poems for the Times: Devoted to Woman’s Rights, Temperance, Etc
Rowley_Poems_Times_SuffrageThe author, Frances A Rowley, notes that her purpose is to “touch upon the most, if not all of the great evils of the day, and have placed the language in the poetic form, thinking that perhaps in this way I might reach the minds of those of my sex that would not be as well pleased with the practicabilities in prose…” Poems for the Times is a somewhat uncommon work addressing women’s suffrage, etc. It was first published in 1871. This first edition is bound in the original publisher’s purple cloth with gilt stamping and bevelled edges. The spine is sunned, but otherwise this is a square and tight Very Good+ volume. Details>>

Arlington WCTU Cookbook, in Memory of Mother Wilkins
Arlington_WCTU_CookbookThe last page of this cookbook concludes with a recipe for ‘Husbands’: “One of the lectures before the Baltimore Cooking School recently gave this recipe for cooking husbands. A good many husbands are utterly spirited by mismanagements. Some women go about it as if their husbands were bladders, and blow them up. Others keep them constantly in hot water. Others let them freeze by their carelessness and indifference… Tie him in the kettle by a strong silk cord called Comfort, as the one called Duty is apt to be weak. Make a clear, steady fire out of Love, Neatness and Cheerfulness. Set him as near this as seems to agree with him. If he sputters and fizzes, do not be anxious – some husbands do this till they are quite done… Do not stick any sharp instrument into him to see if he is becoming tender. Stir him gently, watching the while, lest he lie to flat and close to the kettle; and so become useless. If thus treated you will find him very relishable, agreeing nicely with you and the children: and he will keep as long as you want, unless you become careless, and set him in too cold a place.” This item is rare in the trade; OCLC records five institutional holdings. Details>>

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Thomas Dorr’s Treasonous Stand for Voting Rights


The Rhode Island First Light Infantry Company was formed in 1818 as a state militia company based in Providence. Affiliated with the Second Regiment of the Rhode Island militia, it saw no active duty. Indeed, for the majority of its history the company’s activities were more like those of a social club than of a militia–with a notable exception. The company helped to quell the Dorr Rebellion, even though some of its members actually fought alongside the rebels. Led by Thomas Wilson Dorr, the rebels sought to extend suffrage to the working class. Although Dorr was eventually convicted of treason, his ideas were influential enough that Rhode Island finally revised its archaic voting requirements.

A State Ripe for Revolution

In 1833, Rhode Island’s voting regulations were over 200 years old. Thus the only people who could vote were white, natural born males who owned land. But Rhode Island’s demographics had shifted; the population had grown, but the number of landowners had increased only by a small percentage. Self-educated carpenter Seth Luther was among the first to protest the old voting laws. His “Address on the Right of Free Suffrage” (1833) pointed out that 12,000 working people were at the mercy of Rhode Island’s 5,000 landowners, whom he called “mushroom lordlings, sprigs of nobility…[and] small potato aristocrats.” Luther urged his fellow citizens to stop cooperating with the government, to refuse to pay taxes and serve in the militia.


The People’s ticket was designed to connect the Dorr Rebellion with the American Revolution.

As support for voting reform grew, a somewhat unlikely champion for the cause emerged. Thomas Wilson Dorr was an attorney who hailed from a relatively wealthy family. Dorr served in the Rhode Island General Assembly, and in 1834 he attended a convention at Providence to discuss the issue of universal suffrage (then defined as “voting rights for all males.” But the legislature failed to pass any reforms. By 1841, Rhode Island one of only a few states that hadn’t adopted universal suffrage for white males. it was also the only state that had not adopted its own written constitution. That year the Rhode Island Suffrage Association was founded, and the organization sponsored a demonstration on the streets of Providence.

That year, both the Dorrites and the conservatives drew up their own constitutions. The conservative constitution maintained the same voting requirements as the 1663 charter. Meanwhile, at the “People’s Convention,” Dorr and his faction drew up a constitution that permitted all white males to vote. Dorr’s version got approval in referendum, but that was ruled illegal since it hadn’t been called by the government. The government’s constitution was defeated in a separate referendum. It seemed that Rhode Island had reached a stalemate. The Dorrites then decided to put their constitution to a vote. About 14,000 people voted for it, including 5,000 landowners; it won the majority even among only those who were currently allowed to vote. Although the vote was illegal, it did show the government that its citizens supported universal suffrage.


Dorr’s gubernatorial portrait

In 1842, both factions went so far as to hold their own elections, and two separate governments emerged. The conservatives were based in Newport, and the Dorrites established themselves in Providence. Dorr ran for governor unopposed and, with 6,000 votes, was elected in April 1842. Obviously this election was also illegal, and Rhode Island’s rightful governor petitioned President Tyler to intercede. He invoked a clause in the US Constitution that permitted the federal government to provide troops to control local rebellions at the request of the state government.

Undone by Racism


This broadside was published only one day before Dorr staged his rebellion.

Undeterred, the Dorittes held an inauguration ball for Dorr on May 3, 1843. The parade included not only local workers, but even members of the local militia! The parade marched through the streets of Providence. Shortly thereafter, the People’s legislature convened. Dorr’s next move was ill calculated. With the support of many local militia members, Dorr staged an attack on the state arsenal. But it ended quickly and disastrously when a cannon misfired. The government immediately ordered Dorr’s arrest on charges of treason, and Dorr was forced to flee Rhode Island.

And the People’s party had made another terrible move; despite the protests of Dorr and other members, their constitution extended voting rights only to white males. The Rhode Island government used this to its advantage, promising that any new voting legislation would allow blacks to vote. Soon black men were volunteering to join the Law and Order militia, which had been organized to quell the riot and defeat the faction that would deny them the right to vote.

When Dorr came back to Rhode Island, he found that although he had several hundred men ready to fight for his cause, they were far outnumbered by the Law and Order militia. Dorr went back into hiding to regroup. Martial law was declared in Rhode Island. At least 100 rebel soldiers were captured and taken to prison in Providence–after they were put on display, of course.

 Rebellion Leads to Reform

Though it appeared that the rebellion had been quashed, legislators now fully appreciated the support for amending suffrage requirements. They drafted a new constitution. The vote was extended to include not only property owners, but also those who paid a one-dollar poll tax. Naturalized citizens could vote if they held at least $134 in real estate. Then elections were held in 1843. The Law and Order group still met opposition from Dorrites, but used intimidation to get people to vote. The conservatives still lost in industrial areas, but got the votes in more rural zones. Ultimately the Law and Order group won the major offices.

That year Dorr returned to Rhode Island and was arrested on the street in Providence. He soon went to trial for treason, and the judge instructed the jury to put aside all political arguments and to ignore Dorr’s motives. They were to reach a decision only on specific, overt acts. Dorr had, of course, admitted to all his actions, so he was speedily convicted. The judge sentenced him to life in prison and hard labor. But Dorr would spend only twenty months in jail; the new Rhode Island governor thought it wise to pardon him, rather than let him languish in prison as a martyr.


The Dorrite cause still had support even after the rebellion had been quashed, as evidenced in this 1844 polemic.

A Last Stand at the Supreme Court

Rhode_Island_Light_Infantry_VolumesThough the Dorrites had been defeated, they remained in public consciousness for many more years, most notably through a landmark Supreme Court case. In Luther v Bordn (1849), Luther made a trespassing suit against the Law and Order militia. He alleged that the People’s government was truly a legitimate, elected government in 1842. Daniel Webster defended the militia, arguing that granting such legitimacy jeopardized the very existence of government and could lead to total anarchy. The Supreme Court ruled that it would defer to the President and Congress in matters of war and revolution, a conservative stance.

This period was certainly a dramatic one in Rhode Island history, particularly for members of the local militia. The company journals of the Rhode Island Infantry Company, which we’re proud to offer, capture these events as they were experienced by militia members at the time. Handwritten by a series of members, the four-volume set of records stretches from 1818 to 1873, providing exceptional context for quite a long era in American and local history.

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Elias Samuel Cooper: Renowned and Controversial Surgeon

Elias-Samuel-CooperThe nineteenth century was a time of exploration and discovery in the field of medicine. One man who made significant contributions to the field in America was Elias Samuel Cooper, a surgeon whose aspirations stretched beyond building a successful private practice. Dr. Cooper founded the first medical college in San Francisco, where his techniques drew both controversy and respect from the medical community.

Self-Education and Training

Cooper was raised on a Quaker farm in Ohio, where his abolitionist family settled after relocating from slavery-friendly South Carolina in 1807. His sister lived on a neighboring farm, so Cooper grew up with his nephew, Levi Cooper Lane. Cooper left no personal account of his life, so what we know is gleaned from his brother’s journal and a few other historical sources. From that document, we learn that Cooper’s birthday was November 25, 1820. It’s presumed that Cooper attended a country school in Butler County. His brother Jacob’s journal also refers to Cooper’s apprenticeship to a Dr. Waugh in 1838. Cooper’s older brother Elaias also entered the medical profession, and it appears that Cooper either apprenticed or partnered with him in Greenville, Indiana from 1840 to 1843.

In 1851, Cooper was awarded a medical degree from St. Louis University. At that time, a candidate who got credit for “four years of reputable practice” could obtain a degree after only one lecture cycle, which lasted four-and-a-half months. That seems like little training for such an important profession, but most medical practitioners at the time had no formal training, or little more than an apprenticeship. Cooper had actually “self-awarded” himself an MD at least two years earlier; he published “Remarks on Congestive Fever” in the Jan/Feb 1849 edition of St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal. He signed it “ES Cooper, MD.” Such a practice was relatively common, and it was not until later that more rigorous standards were implemented to prevent self-credentialing and practicing without proper instruction.

By all accounts, Cooper was an incredibly industrious physician, spending many hours in self-study. He was particularly interested in surgery. In 1843, Cooper set up his private practice in Danville, Indiana. Soon he was making almost $800 a month, a tidy sum at the time. At only 23 years old, Cooper performed an impressive surgery, successfully removing a large portion of the patient’s jaw. The procedure required sophisticated knowledge of anatomy, including deep knowledge of the vascular system. Cooper’s success sealed his local reputation in the medical community.

Greater Aspirations

Cooper moved to Peoria, Illinois in 1844, and within a year he’d opened up a dissecting room and begun offering lectures on anatomy and surgery. Less interested in growing his private practice, Cooper focused more heavily on surgery. His first operation was on a case of strabismus (when the eyes are not aligned properly). Soon Cooper had established himself as the preeminent surgeon for the eyes and face, and for orthopedics. Patients would travel from neighboring states to see the young physician.

Cooper’s reputation raised the ire of his colleagues, who decided to attack Cooper for his dissections. At the time, it was legal for surgeons to dissect the bodies of convicts, provided that the relatives had no objections. Thus when convicted murderers Thomas Brown and George Williams were executed, Cooper received their bodies. He removed them under cover of darkness, because the executions had been quite a public spectacle (and had almost taken place at the hands of an angry mob instead of at the hands of sanctioned officials). Cooper had anticipated receiving the bodies, and he’d advertised an anatomy lecture to take place shortly after the execution. Thus, everyone knew where these bodies came from.

But there were no criminals available for Cooper’s next lecture, which raised suspicion of grave robbery. Cooper’s detractors published a handbill called “Rally to the Rescue of the Graves of Your Friends,” drawing attention to the fact that Cooper must be digging up bodies to supply himself with dissection subjects for his numerous anatomy lectures. The handbill called for a public indignation meeting. Cooper attended the meeting himself, along with some of his friends, who were labeled “Cooperites.” One of his companions, who happened to be drunk, offered to preside over the proceedings. When it was suggested that he was unfit for the task, he retorted, “A drunken man may get sober, but a nature-born fool will never have any sense, by God!” The crowd roared with laughter and soon dispersed. This was Cooper’s first brush with controversy, but it wouldn’t be his last.

Cooper’s practice continued to grow, and he had to purchase a second building to house his Infirmary for the Eye and Ear. He also specialized in the removal and correction of deformities from the lower extremities, especially club foot. But his goal was to establish a medical school, so in 1854 Cooper went to Europe to observe the medical institutions there and to meet with leading medical practitioners. When he returned to the United States, he settled in San Francisco.

The First Medical School in San Francisco

Elias-Samuel-CooperAfter relocating to San Francisco, Cooper established the Cooper Eye, Ear, and Orthopedic Infirmary in a prominent location. He immediately began advertising for free lectures and demonstrations of his surgical techniques, a strategy that didn’t earn him any friends in the local medical community. Cooper also published reports of his various surgical endeavors. One of these was “Report of an Operation to Remove a Foreign Body from Beneath the Heart.” Published by the San Francisco County Midico Chirugical Association in 1857, the report details how Cooper removed an iron slug lodged in the patient, BT Beal, for 74 days before Cooper endeavored to remove it. The patient’s health improved so dramatically after the procedure that he was “not to be recognized by the medical men present at the operation.”

Clearly Cooper had developed an incredible talent for the art of surgery, but he also made notable advancements to the field. He helped to introduce the use of chloroform during surgery, an indispensable tool in the days before general anesthesia. Cooper also used alcoholic dressings to prevent infection to incisions and wounds, significantly reducing mortality rates. He was a pioneer in the use of animals to test surgical techniques. In 1858, Cooper used his connections and knowledge to establish the Medical department of the University of the Pacific. The school has existed under several names almost without interruption ever since.

Though Cooper still drew some criticism for his dissections, he worked to clarify regulations and ensure proper practices in California. But that didn’t mean that he received universal approbation. In 1857, Cooper performed San Francisco’s first caesarean section. The mother, Mary Hoges, survived but her child did not. Thanks to the encouragement of Dr. David Wooster, who had been the assisting physician, Hoges sued Cooper for malpractice. She argued that the procedure had been unnecessary. The trial resulted in a hung jury, but Wooster continued to publicly attack Cooper, whom he considered a rival. Cooper finally responded in The San Francisco Medical Press, which he founded himself.

Cooper’s career was cut short in 1862, when he succumbed to nephritis after a prolonged illness. But his contributions to medical literature offer fascinating insights into the evolution of the field.