Professionalizing Medicine

James Reeves and the Choices That Shaped American Health Care


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About the Book

This biography of James Edmund Reeves, whose legislative accomplishments cemented American physicians’ control of the medical marketplace, illuminates landmarks of American health care: the troubled introduction of clinical epidemiology and development of botanic medicine and homeopathy, the Civil War’s stimulation of sanitary science and hospital medicine, the rise of government involvement, the revolution in laboratory medicine, and the explosive growth of phony cures. It recounts the human side of medicine as well, including the management of untreatable diseases and the complex politics of medical practice and professional organizing. Reeves’ life provides a reminder that while politics, economics, and science drive the societal trajectory of modern health care, moral decisions often determine its path.

About the Author(s)

John M. Harris, Jr., MD is an internal medicine specialist, medical executive, and medical educator who lives in Tucson, Arizona. He has written about nineteenth-century medicine’s persisting and distorting influence on today’s interpretation of medical professionalism.

Bibliographic Details

John M. Harris, Jr.

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 244
Bibliographic Info: 13 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2019
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7636-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3622-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface 1
Prologue: One of the Best and Truest Men in the Profession 4
1. The Age of Jackson Begins 7
2. Medicine in the Age of Jackson 14
3. Regular Medicine’s Choice 24
4. Becoming a Doctor 33
5. A Disease of Perennial Interest 38
6. Practice and Politics 45
7. Duty, Honor, Country, Statehood 54
8. Army Medicine and Public Health 63
9. Medical Organizing 76
10. His Lucid and Graceful Pen 85
11. A Particularly Challenging Year 94
12. The Moral High Ground 102
13. Going It Alone 110
14. Medical Licensure Becomes a Public Health Problem 118
15. Reeves’ Legislative Triumph 128
16. The Eminent Domain of Sanitary Science 142
17. Going South 150
18. Koch’s Rivals 157
19. Professional Indifference to Professional Enemies 168
Epilogue: Medical Professionalism 179
Chapter Notes 181
Bibliography of Selected Sources 221
Index 235

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “This well-researched biography makes a positive contribution to the history of medicine by studying the ennobling example of James Reeves. … This book offers inspiration for today’s medical professionals confronting problems in health care by affirming that moral decisions should determine the path of the politics, economics, and science that may drive modern health care. …recommended”—Choice
  • “an excellent biography of Reeves that not only details the life of this remarkable man but also shows how medicine as a profession, and the public perception of it, was influenced by a West Virginia doctor whose life spanned the period from 1829 to 1896.”—West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies

  • “An important contribution to the biography of a precursor of American medicine [James Reeves], who might have been unjustly overshadowed by the developments that he helped generate.”—The Huntington
  • “As Dr. Harris demonstrates nicely, the roots of many of today’s threats to medicine as a profession emerged in the 19th Century. James Reeves’ story provides inspiration for today’s professionals confronting challenges in caring for patients.”—Herbert M. Swick, MD, former president, American Osler Society and former executive director, Institute of Medicine and Humanities
  • “This well-written and deeply researched book explores the career of an extraordinary American physician, James Reeves. Though barely known today, Reeves was one of the most influential medical and public health leaders in the United States during the last third of the nineteenth century, a period of profound transition in American medical history. Professionalizing Medicine not only offers the first thorough account of Reeves’s fascinating life story, but also recounts the ways in which Reeves’s strong commitments helped create the professionalized medical system still in place today. And as Harris skillfully demonstrates, many of the ethical and structural issues that Reeves faced during his lifetime continue to reverberate into our own era.”—James C. Mohr, CAS Distinguished Professor of History and Philip H. Knight Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus, University of Oregon, author of Licensed to Practice—The Supreme Court Defines the American Medical Profession.

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