Medical Societies

By: Chester R. Burns

Type: General Entry

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: April 8, 2020

Though a few short-lived groups had assembled sporadically before 1860, medical societies for physicians were not begun in Texas in significant numbers until after the Civil War, when physicians in the state organized city, county, regional, state, and specialty societies. As organized groups, these doctors established their social authority as reputable professionals and shared knowledge during regular meetings. Fourteen doctors established the Galveston Medical Society in July 1865. They adopted bylaws, accepted the American Medical Association's Code of Ethics, and prepared a list of fees believed to be appropriate charges by honorable physicians. A few county societies emerged by the 1870s, including those in Fort Bend and Ellis counties. In 1876, the Galveston Medical Society reorganized as the Galveston County Medical Society and began meeting more regularly. During the 1880s and 1890s, physicians organized numerous county and regional societies in Texas. These societies met (some more regularly than others) to discuss political and scientific issues affecting the practice of medicine. Reports of such meetings appeared regularly in journals and newspapers. For example, between 1883 and 1893 meetings of twenty-two societies were reported in the Texas Courier-Record of Medicine. These included groups in sixteen counties(Anderson, Burleson, Cass, Collin, Dallas, Delta, Ellis, Grayson, Johnson, Kaufman, Milam, Rains, Taylor, Travis, Van Zandt, and Williamson) and several city or regional groups, including the Central Texas Medical Association, the East Line Medical Association (Greenville), the South East Texas Medical Society, the Waco Medical Association, the Weatherford District Medical Association, and the West Texas Medical Association. A seventh such group was the North Texas Medical Association, sustained between 1880 and 1912 by physicians from several counties, and meeting in Bonham, Paris, Clarksville, Honey Grove, Sherman, Texarkana, McKinney, and other towns.

Though efforts had begun in 1853 to establish a state medical association, physicians did not maintain a statewide group until 1869. In June of that year, three members of the Galveston Medical Society-Thomas Jefferson Heard, Greensville S. Dowell, and John H. Webb-met with twenty-five other doctors in Houston to reorganize the Texas State Medical Association, which in 1951 became the Texas Medical Association. In the remaining years of the nineteenth century, only a small percentage of the practitioners in the state actually belonged to this state association. Between 1884 and 1894, 521 physicians became new members of the TSMA, but 415 resigned. In the spring of 1901 the TSMA recognized only 378 members and twenty affiliated societies. In 1903, to encourage more physicians to participate in county and state societies, the American Medical Association reorganized its political structure: to become a member of the AMA, a physician was required to join a county society that automatically gave the doctor membership in the state society. Annual dues were simultaneously exacted for all three organizations. This change led to a dramatic increase in the number of physicians participating in county societies and in the TSMA. By 1909 the TSMA had 3,100 members. County societies became more stable and enduring. For example, the Fort Worth Medical and Surgical Society appeared in the fall of 1883, but met irregularly during the next two decades, but the Tarrant County Medical Society was organized in August of 1903 and has functioned continuously since then. During the 1940s and 1950s many county societies adopted new charters and constitutions. Not all counties have medical societies, and some combine with others to form multicounty groups. There were 122 Texas county groups in 1950 and 116 in 1986.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, physicians displayed considerable loyalty to regional groups. The South Texas Medical Association held its fifteenth semiannual meeting in Galveston in December 1903, the North Texas Medical Association held its sixty-ninth semiannual meeting in Gainesville in June 1914, and the Medical Association of the Southwest held its ninth annual meeting in Galveston in November 1914. During these same years, black physicians supported the Lone Star State Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association, which had been organized in Galveston in 1886. By 1928 this multiprofessional group had almost 300 members. Its membership declined after the Texas Medical Association began to admit black doctors in 1955 and after its member dentists and pharmacists established separate groups. Black physicians gradually began to participate in the numerous specialty societies that became ever more prominent in the lives of physicians as the twentieth century continued.

Between 1880 and 1930 medical knowledge expanded dramatically, and some doctors decided to limit their practices to the care of particular groups (like children or women), or to diseases of particular organs (such as the eye or the skin), or to particular technical crafts involving surgical skills or new machines (such as the X ray). To exchange scientific and clinical information about special problems, TSMA members began holding section meetings; some of these sections evolved into specialty societies. During the 1914 TSMA meeting, small groups of doctors met to discuss the formation of specialist societies that would be organized as independent groups, but would continue to meet with the TSMA. Radiologists and surgeons constituted the first two such groups. The Texas Roentgen Ray Society (later the Texas Radiological Society) appeared in 1914 and the Texas Surgical Society in 1915. The following list of specialty societies, arranged chronologically according to date of organization, exemplifies the growth of such societies in Texas during the twentieth century:

Texas Society of Pathologists (1921)

Texas Pediatric Society (1921)

Texas Club of Internists (1924)

Texas Society of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology (1926)

Texas Neurological Society (1928)

Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (1930)

Texas Society of Anesthesiologists (1939)

Texas Urological Society (1946)

Texas Neuropsychiatric Association (1946)

Texas Rheumatism Association (1947)

Texas Academy of Family Physicians (1948)

Texas Academy of Internal Medicine (1949)

Texas Diabetes and Endocrine Association (1953)

Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons (1953)

Texas Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (1953)

Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons (1955)

Texas Ophthalmological Association (1956)

Texas Association of Otolaryngology (1959)

Texas Society of Child Psychiatry (1966)

Texas Association of Physicians in Nuclear Medicine (1970)

Texas Neurological Society (1974)

Texas Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (1976)

Texas Allergy Society (1984)

Not all these societies still exist, and some have acquired new names or otherwise changed. For example, the Texas Neurological Society, organized in Galveston in 1928 under the leadership of Titus Holliday Harris, included both neurologists and psychiatrists. In 1946 this group changed its name to Texas Neuropsychiatric Association. It was considerably transformed after the Texas District Branch of the American Psychiatric Association was established in 1956, and in 1979 its new official name became Texas Psychiatric Society; most of its members are psychiatrists. In turn, the Texas Neurological Society that was established in 1974 comprises mostly neurologists. Other specialist groups eventually became chapters or divisions of national or international associations or were originally organized as such. The Texas Academy of Family Physicians was organized in 1948 as the Texas Chapter of the American Academy of General Practice. The Texas Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians was established in 1971. In 1976 the Texas Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists was founded and the Texas Academy of Internal Medicine began to transform itself into the Texas Academy Chapter of the American College of Physicians. In 1985 the Texas Pediatric Society became a chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In 1986 a Texas division of the United States section of the International College of Surgeons was established. Other important medical specialty organizations in Texas include the following sixteen organizations: the North and South Texas chapters of the American College of Surgeons; the Texas Association of Neurological Surgeons, the Texas Association of Public Health Physicians, the Texas Dermatological Society, the Texas Geriatrics Society, the Texas Occupational Medical Association, the Texas Orthopaedic Association, the Texas Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Society, the Texas Society of Internal Medicine, the Texas Society of Medical Oncology, the Texas Society of Pediatric Surgeons, the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians, the Texas Society of Sports Medicine, the Texas Society of Surgery of Trauma, the Texas Thoracic Society, and the Texas Transplantation Society.

Medical specialty societies usually meet once a year, often at the same time as the Texas Medical Association. Officers are elected, scientific and clinical papers are presented, and political, economic, and legal matters associated with the specialty are frequently discussed. During the 1980s more than forty specialty societies usually presented programs during annual meetings of the Texas Medical Association. In 1992 the Texas Medical Association authorized representatives from twenty-two specialist societies as official delegates to its House of Delegates. Fourteen specialty societies received administrative assistance from the TMA Office for Specialty Societies Administration. A few societies publish newsletters or journals, and most encourage excellence in a specialty field by recognizing outstanding practitioners with awards. See also HEALTH AND MEDICINE.

Pat Ireland Nixon, A History of the Texas Medical Association, 1853-1953 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1953). Robert S. Sparkman, The Texas Surgical Society: The First Fifty Years, 1915-1965 (Dallas: Texas Surgical Society, 1965). William Orville Wilkes, History of the Waco Medical Association (Waco: Hill Printing Company, 1931).

  • Health and Medicine
  • Organizations
  • Foundations

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Chester R. Burns, “Medical Societies,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
April 8, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: