Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the following oral history transcripts and recordings are solely those of the participants and do not necessarily represent those of the McLennan County Medical Society board of directors, members or staff.

Since 1535, when Cabeza de Vaca performed Texas’ first recorded surgical operation, medical care has played a major role in the development of Texas and McLennan County. More terrifying than even Indian attacks, epidemics of typhoid, cholera, small pox, and yellow fever would decimate the early settlers, leaving few families untouched. Only 4 out of 5 children born to Waco pioneers would survive one year.

Physicians of the day had only rudimentary knowledge of disease processes, and very few effective medicines. But then, as today, physicians in the county worked together to create a better health environment for Waco. From 1850 to 1866 the number of physicians in McLennan County increased from two to eleven. The population of the county in 1866 was fifteen hundred. To improve their capability to lower the high death rate due to disease, ten Waco physicians met in the back room of a drugstore on April 30, 1866 and organized the Waco Medical Association. The ten founders were: Dr. Sherwood A. Owens, Dr. Erasmus P. Booth, Dr. David Richard Wallace, Dr. John Henry Sears, Dr. Edward Merrill, Dr. Josiah Hatcher Caldwell, Dr. James Madison Willis, Dr. Alexander Michael Clingman, Dr. J. Taylor, and Dr. W. E. Oakes. This organization’s primary objective was to share medical knowledge and promote public health improvement. It is interesting to note that the original bylaws and constitution of the medical association contained a detailed fee schedule. Today, such “price fixing” would be a violation of Federal Law.

In 1853 the State Legislature of Texas officially chartered the Texas Medical Association (TMA). However, the organization did not hold its first official meeting until June of 1869. Three Waco physicians, David Richard Wallace, John Henry Sears, and H.W. Brown, were in attendance at that historic meeting. They had to travel two days by stagecoach to Bremond and then by rail to Houston, to reach the meeting. These physicians were all to serve as Presidents of TMA in later years. Waco was honored in 1873 by being the first meeting place, outside of Houston, for this rapidly growing group. It was at this meeting that Dr. Wallace was selected as the first Texas delegate to the American Medical Association.

In early days, the doctor’s office was little more than a room partitioned off in the back of a drug store. There was usually only a desk, a bookcase, and possibly a homemade operating table. Little work was done in the office. No respectable lady would go a doctor’s office for an examination. This had to be done in the home or in a hotel, if the lady was from out of town. Messages were generally left on blackboards in the drug store. In 1881, Waco got its first telephones. However, doctors did not start using them in their practices until after the turn of the century.

As medical care became more scientific, Waco physicians gradually changed from working out of saddle bags in the patient’s home to a more modern office practice. In 1892 the Providence Building was built at 4th and Franklin, and physician offices began to assume more importance. In 1901, Waco’s first office assistant Miss Pearl Lovelace was hired, and medical offices were opened on the second floor, over the Miller-Cross Store on 4th and Austin. These offices housed five Waco physicians.

In 1903, the Waco Medical Association followed the organizational plan outlined by the TMA and reorganized under the new name of McLennan County Medical Society (MCMS). During the years between 1866 and 1903, a total of 180 doctors had been listed as members of the Waco Medical Association.

The first meeting of MCMS was called to order on December 8, 1903 at 10:00 a.m. at the City Hall in Waco. About twenty-five members answered the roll call. Six new applicants for membership were received.

Several hospitals existed in Waco during this time. One of these, the Curtis-Witte Sanitarium, was located at 8th and Washington. This was a private home with limited facilities. The Isolation Hospital, or “pest house,” was located near the river. Fortunately, it was not open for an extended period of time.

In 1904 Providence Hospital opened, signaling a change from home-based to hospital-based medical care. It was here that Dr. Hale took Waco’s first x-ray. In 1906, the hospital opened a nursing school. In 1908 Madelyn Sullivan (later Sister Catherine) was its first graduate. Providence was enlarged in 1912, 1915, and again in 1916.

In 1906 Dr. J.W. Hale was the first Waco physician to purchase an automobile. This was the beginning of a new era in the life of the Society. Travel was so restricted by the lack of highways in the early days of the 12th District, that the winter meetings were held only in Waco or Temple because of the inaccessibility of the small towns.

In 1910, the Amicable Building was built. Dr. W. L. Crosthwait was the first physician to have an office there. Waco’s first female physician, Dr. Hallie Earle, began practice in 1911. A graduate of Baylor University and Baylor Medical School, she was the grandchild of two early Waco physicians. In 1915, the Texas Surgical Society was formed. Three of the charter members were from MCMS. Six of the Society’s members have served as presidents.

As transportation improved, the number of doctors in Waco grew as physicians moved from the smaller communities into the city. In 1916, Mart had eight doctors and there were physicians in Lorena, Crawford, Otto, Elk, Leroy, China Spring, Eddy, Bosqueville and Elm Mott.

Construction on Central Texas Baptist Sanitarium, now known as Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center, was begun in 1917, but because World War I delayed its completion, it did not receive its first patients until 1920.

In May, 1917, the first women’s auxiliary to a county medical society in the U.S. was established in Dallas County. One month later, McLennan County Medical Society Auxiliary was formed becoming the second in the United States. In October, Bexar County created the third. Under the guidance of Mrs. W.A. Wood, women from these three societies led a movement to create an auxiliary to the state medical society. In 1918, the Texas Medical Association Auxiliary became a reality. It was just a short step from state auxiliary to national auxiliary, and in 1922 the American Medical Association Auxiliary was formed. In order to move with an increasingly changing membership in the early 1990’s, the name was changed from Auxiliary to Alliance.

In 1919, TMA and its Auxiliary met in Waco in the old auditorium on 6th and Columbus. At that time, Waco had furnished six presidents to the TMA, more than any other city. Visitors to Waco for the meeting stayed at the new Raleigh Hotel. Room rates were $1.50 per night.

In 1920, the Colgin Hospital at 6th and Columbus opened. It was one of the only authentic group practices ever established in Waco. Founded by Drs. M.E. and I.E. Colgin, the hospital would eventually be staffed by twelve physicians.

In 1921, the Central Texas Baptist Sanitarium and School of Nursing was officially opened. The hospital was located on a hill so far away from town that many people felt it was a complete waste of money. A feeder street car line was built to connect the Sanitarium with the rest of Waco. The tracks of this line are still present at 28th and Maple.

Hospitals in the 1920’s were far more modern than doctors’ offices of the past. They had modern operating rooms, x-ray, and laboratories. Even the student nurses’ parlor was up-to-date with the latest Victrola.

In 1926, Wesley Klatt became Waco’s first full-time pathologist, and in 1927, Dr. C.L. Goodall and Dr. W. Bidelspach founded the Waco Medical and Surgical Clinic. In 1929, Dr. K.H. Aynesworth organized the Central Texas Clinic. Associated with him were five other physicians.

The medical community in Waco continued to grow and improve in McLennan County throughout the next ten years. The good medical climate in Waco was instrumental in obtaining the Veterans Administration Hospital in 1932.

In 1935, The Central Texas Baptist School of Nursing succumbed to the depression and folded. The hospital was able to supply all of its nursing needs with RNs at $50 per month.

By 1935, doctors’ offices were beginning to move to what was then the suburbs along Austin and Washington. Dr. Carlisle moved to the Lamdin House next to the old library at 12th and Austin, and Dr. Charles Collins opened his office in a home at 13th and Washington.

In 1938, Mr. Lawrence Payne was made administrator of the Central Texas Baptist Sanitarium. This began a period of modernization and promotion. The name was changed to Hillcrest Hospital. The word “Baptist” was deleted in an attempt to attract patients from other denominations.

Also in 1938, Drs. Jenkins and Barnes moved to an office at 1310 Austin. This was the first building constructed specifically for use as a doctor’s office.

In 1939, the City of Waco used the Joanna McClelland Fund to purchase the Colgin Hospital for $45,000. The Joanna McClelland Memorial Hospital was established as a city hospital. Care for the indigent was given there by volunteers from the Medical Society.

During World War II, in spite of the many Waco physicians serving in the Armed Forces, the members of MCMS gave medical support to both Blackland and Waco Army Airfields. This cooperation existed until the last of the bases closed in 1968. Following the war, a series of severe polio epidemics necessitated the building of the Waco Crippled Children’s Hospital in 1948. Demands were so great that a second floor was added in 1952.

In 1950, the Heart Clinic was established through the efforts of Dr. William Roddy. In 1951, the East Wing of Providence was built. This was the first major post-war modernization project. In 1952, the Central Texas Red Cross Blood Bank was opened with the auxiliary helping to staff it. Also in 1952, Miriam Hall was opened under the leadership of Dr. Carl Friedman. This marked the establishment of a psychiatric division in a private hospital. In 1953, the C-Wing of Hillcrest was opened. This contained the second post-war surgical suite.

In 1953, disaster struck Waco. Although legend has it that Waco would never have a tornado, due to its being the site of an Indian village, the terrific force hit Waco at approximately 4:40 p.m. on May 11, 1953. One hundred and fourteen lives were lost and over 1223 persons were injured. Only one death occurred after admission to the hospital. McLennan County physicians, surgeons and hospital personnel worked around the clock for several days treating casualties. Continuous ward rounds during the night brought early recognition and treatment of conditions that could have been fatal. The MCMS voted not to charge for their services and to donate the health insurance money collected to a special disaster fund for use by the community.

In 1955, the Salk Vaccine was introduced. This vaccine reduced the threat of polio by preventing those inoculated from coming down with the dreaded disease. However, the vaccine did not eliminate carriers of the disease. In 1962, with the introduction of the Sabine Vaccine, polio was virtually eliminated. The MCMS, under the guidance of Drs. Clayton Traylor, Lawrence Collins, Tom Oliver, Wilson Crosthwait, George Bryant, John L. Burgess, Maurice Barnes and Eldon Fine, spearheaded an intensive immunization drive. Known as SOS (Sabin Oral Sunday), the drive consisted of a series of Sundays when county residents could go to area schools and receive the three needed vaccinations on sugar cubes free of charge. As new cases of polio virtually ceased, the Crippled Children’s Hospital became the Central Texas Rehabilitation Center.

After World War II, medical education became more oriented toward producing medical specialists. The number of family physicians in Waco had not kept pace with the community’s population growth. During 1968, in order to train and attract more family physicians to the community, MCMS began working on the establishment of a training program for family doctors. This family practice residency program began in 1969. Now affiliated with University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, instruction is done by volunteer members from MCMS. This residency program is recognized as one of the finest in the nation, and is still the only training program conceived and conducted by a county medical society.

In 1969, the first class of nurses graduated from the MCC School of Nursing. In 1970, the McLennan County Cardio-Pulmonary Foundation was established. This organization was responsible for the modern cardiac laboratory and open-heart operating room that was established when the Providence West Wing was opened in 1973. In 1971, Dr. Charles Shoultz established a cardiology department in each hospital. The Hillcrest A-Wing was opened in 1975.

As technical advances continue, Waco has become a center for medical care, offering nearly every medical and surgical specialty, with capabilities of open heart surgery, sophisticated cancer screening tests such as mammography, and the use of laser surgical techniques. With the new expansion at Hillcrest and the new facility for Providence, Wacoans can look forward to having their medical community remain one step ahead in providing the best quality health care.

The past one hundred and fifty years have seen remarkable strides in the delivery of health care. The improved quality of life through better health has been largely responsible for the productivity and economic growth that have benefited our community and our nation.

The members of the McLennan County Medical Society are proud to have contributed to these improvements. The Society is still dedicated to preserving the health and well-being of our community through improved technology, education of patients regarding their own role in caring for themselves, and increased availability of medical care for all economic groups.

One of the most important programs offered by MCMS is its referral system. This program matches prospective patients with county physicians. In an effort to provide the right doctor for the right patient, the program matches individual qualities of each patient with each physician—specialty, board certification, age, medical schools, years practicing, etc. The program strives to make finding a doctor easier. It is free of charge and can be utilized by calling 776-2882.

McLennan County has been blessed with some of the finest physicians in the country. The McLennan County Medical Society will continue to work toward providing county residents with the highest quality medical care available.