Utah's First Medical College
By Robert T. Divett*
Utah Historical Quarterly
vol. 31, no. 1 (winter 1963), pp. 51-59
Used by permission

For many years the American Medical Directory listed among the medical colleges that have existed in the United States the "Medical College of Utah, Morgan City." The section on medical college histories tersely stated that it was founded in 1880, graduated a class in 1882, and was extinct in 1883.(1) Prior to the publication of an earlier paper by the author (2) common knowledge of the Medical College of Utah was limited to mere mention in a master's thesis and two histories of Utah medicine. A search of the Deseret News (Salt Lake City) and The Salt Lake Tribune for the years 1879 to 1885 failed to reveal any mention of the school. Unfortunately, the files of the newspaper published in Morgan in the 1880's have been destroyed. A search of the University of Utah libraries failed to reveal further information on this medical school which antedated the founding of the University of Utah School of Medicine by some twenty-five years.

The key to the story of the Medical College of Utah was located with the assistance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Historian's Office. The "Journal History" of the church revealed a series of articles on the school published in the Salt Lake Daily Herald during July and August, 1882. The clippings of these articles in the "Journal History" provided the foundation for further research. Additional information was gained through correspondence and through personal interviews with residents of Morgan, Utah, and Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.

[p.52]

In 1879, Dr. Frederick S. Kohler arrived in Morgan City and established the first medical practice in that community. He brought with him the younger of his two sons, Benjamin Rush Kohler. Dr. Kohler was the primary character in the drama of the Medical College of Utah.

Frederick Kohler was born December 18, 1836, in Milroy, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. He was raised in Milroy, attending the public schools there; then spent one or two years at Dartmouth College, and in 1860, graduated from the Eclectic Medical College of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia.

Dr. Kohler established a medical practice at Reedsville, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania; married Sarah A. Carson; and fathered a son, William H. Kohler, born December 19, 1862. In February, 1862, Dr. Kohler was commissioned an assistant surgeon in the Twenty-First Regiment of Pennsylvania Cavalry. After returning from the Civil War to Reedsville, he fathered a second son, Benjamin Rush Kohler, born September 7, 1865. For twelve years Dr. Kohler practiced medicine in Reedsville, Pennsylvania. His wife, Sarah, died December 11, 1866, leaving him with two young children. He remarried, but in 1872, the marriage was terminated.

When his second marriage ended, Dr. Kohler determined to acquire another medical degree. He left his eldest son with the boy's maternal grandparents in Milroy, and took his youngest son with him to Cincinnati, Ohio. While Dr. Kohler studied at the Medical College in Cincinnati, young Rush was sent across the Ohio River to an academy at Ghent, Kentucky. After his graduation from the Medical College of Ohio in 1873, Dr. Kohler moved first to Mount Sterling, Ohio, for a short time, then established a practice at Vevay, Indiana. Dr. T. J. Griffith, a colleague, later reminisced of him:

A few words about his personal appearance, a splendid physique, a fine forehead, a strong chin. His profile was somewhat like John Drew's. He possessed wonderful energy, he was a high powered human dynamo. He was genial, even jolly, but he took his work seriously. He never "high-hatted it" and had no use for anyone who did. In his profession he was up to date.(3)

From Vevay Dr. Kohler moved to Morgan, Utah. He was apparently captivated by the beauty of the locale for he extolled it in all the circulars and announcements of his medical school. Although he tested the waters of Como Springs and declared them to be very good for healing through hydrotherapy, it was his successor as the town doctor that named the springs and developed the first resort. Dr. Kohler liked the people, even though they were Mormons and he was a Presbyterian, and this feeling was returned. Within a short time he had a large practice.

[p.53] A few short months after he arrived in Morgan, Dr. Kohler founded Utah's first medical school. In founding the school he was simply following a tradition of his alma mater, for graduates of the Medical College of Ohio had founded many medical institutions. On the other hand Dr. Griffith claimed that Dr. Kohler had been induced by the Mormons to establish the school.(4) At any rate when the school was founded, Dr. Kohler apparently had the support of many of the influential members of the community.

When the school was incorporated under the laws of the Territory of Utah, William M. Parker, bishop of the Morgan Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was listed as president, with Dr. Frederick S. Kohler as dean of the faculty. Following is the incorporation agreement as it was later published in the Salt Lake Daily Herald.

Know all men by these present, that we, whose names are hereby affixed, have associated ourselves together for the purpose of establishing in the City of Morgan, Territory of Utah, in accordance with the laws of said Territory an institution with corporate power and collegiate power to confer the degree of doctor of medicine, for the purpose of medical education by providing for courses of lectures and other methods of instruction, have associated ourselves for the period of twenty-five years under the name and style of Medical College of Utah. At a meeting held in the office of the Z.C.M.I. on Saturday, January 31st, 1880 at 2:00 o'clock P.M., all the members were present. Bishop W. M. Parker was elected president and Anthony Peterson, vice president, and James M. Mason was elected secretary. Should a vacancy occur in the board it may be filled by an election of two-thirds of the members, which shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of any business meeting relating to the institution. Done at the City of Morgan, in the County of Morgan, Territory of Utah, this the 31st day of Jan. 1880. Signed W. M. Parker, A. Peterson and J. H. Mason.(5)

Shortly after the organization meeting a circular containing the following statement was issued:

Bp. W. M. Parker, President
Jas. M. Mason, Vice-Pres.
A Peterson, Secretary

MEDICAL COLLEGE OF UTAH

Morgan City, Morgan Co., U. T.

The regular lectures in this institution will commence on Wednesday, March 10th, 1880, and will close about the last of June. The second regular course will commence Nov. 1st, 1880, and continue sixteen weeks.

Fees: Matriculation, $5.00. Tickets, term $80.

The graduation fee is twenty-five dollars.

The location is a favorable one in the midst of one of the most beautiful mountain regions on the continent (Weber Station, U.P.R.R.)

For further information apply to

F. S. Kohler, M.D.
Dean of the Faculty.(6)

[p.54]

Mr. Samuel Francis, a resident of Morgan, wrote a lengthy letter to the Salt Lake Daily Herald about Dr. Kohler and the medical school.(7 ) This letter, published in August, 1882, stated that about six students attended throughout the first session. The name of only one of these students, Mrs. Emeline Grover Rich, of Bear Lake County, Idaho, was listed in the letter.

Dr. Kohler had a prize student in Emeline Rich. Not only was she an outstanding pupil, but as a wife of an apostle she was one of the select social group of Mormondom. She was the fifth of six wives of Charles Coulson Rich who had led the settlement of the Bear Lake country of Utah and Idaho. Early in her life she had received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith, Sr., father of the prophet, blessing her that she would become a noted nurse and woman physician. She had also been set apart by Brigham Young to administer to the sick and to act as a nurse and midwife. She had thus been practicing the healing arts for many years before she attended the medical college.(8) Shortly before her death, May 4, 1917, she dictated an autobiographical sketch to her son George Q. Rich. In it she said:

I was called upon a great deal to go out among the sick, there being no doctors or drug stores, and I had very good success. After a little I was called upon to tend the sick both temporally and spiritually and I was set apart for that work. For the first ten years I made no charges but I had so much of this work to do that I finally began to make charges. I had read medicine and from the time I was nine years old had practiced as a nurse and I now went to Morgan and attended a college and after four months received my diploma, my previous work and study being a great help to me here. I had a constant practice for forty years, or until I was seventy years of age, when I quit the work.(9)

Emeline Rich is remembered as a competent healer. A granddaughter of Charles Rich states that she never remembers "Aunt Emeline" using the title, doctor,(10) but a biography of Charles Coulson Rich states that Emeline practiced medicine in Bear Lake country for many years.(11) Another grandchild of Charles Rich, himself a doctor, stated that he did remember when "Aunt Emeline" went to Morgan to the medical school. He claimed that she was a better doctor before she went, however.(12)

Between the first and second sessions of the school, Dr. Kohler returned to Vevay, Indiana, to settle some business. While there he purchased the skeleton of a Kentucky Negro who had been hanged for a "crime common to his race." [p.55] The skeleton had originally been prepared by another Vevay doctor, Dr. Joseph McCutchen, but was sold to Dr. Kohler by Dr. Griffith who claimed that the skull looked like it belonged to a wildcat.(13)

The second session of the school was delayed until the fall of 1881 and apparently had about the same number of students as the first. The third announcement listed ten matriculants without differentiating between classes. One was from Idaho (Mrs. Rich), six were from Utah (all from Morgan or nearby towns), two from Pennsylvania, and one from Iowa.

The 1882 announcement also listed four graduates: E. Rich, Idaho; J. F. Costello, Pennsylvania; B. Rush Kohler, Pennsylvania; and D. J. McCauley, Iowa. Two of the graduates can be accounted forCMrs. Rich, whose biographical sketch has been given, and Benjamin Rush Kohler, the young son of Dr. Kohler. In 1883, Benjamin entered the medical department of Western Reserve University at Cleveland, Ohio, whence he graduated with another M.D. degree in February, 1885. From there he returned to Reedsville, Pennsylvania, and practiced as a pediatrician. During World War I Dr. Kohler was commissioned a major in the Army Medical Corps. He died in Reedsville, December 2, 1932.

J. F. Costello and D. J. McCauley cannot be accounted for. No person named D. J. McCauley appeared in either the R. L. Polk Company's Medical Register and Directory or the American Medical Directory of the late 1800's or early 1900's. One J. F. Costello does appear in these directories, but he is listed as a graduate of the Columbus (Ohio) Medical College of 1880. Mr. Francis claimed that these two persons and one of the faculty listed in the third announcement of the school had never been in Morgan.

The announcement for the third session, to begin August 2, 1882, revealed great plans. It listed a faculty of four: F. S. Kohler as professor of anatomy and surgery and diseases of [p.56] women and children, in addition to being dean of the faculty; his son B. Rush Kohler, as professor of chemistry and materia medica; a S. W. Howard, M.D., as professor of the practice of medicine and physiology; and Emeline Rich, M.D., as professor of obstetrics.

The third session was never held. In July one of the announcements of the college fell into the hands of the Salt Lake Daily Herald. The newspaper reprinted the announcement with a scathing denunciation in which it intimated that the newspaper had investigated the college with the help of the local practitioners of medicine in Salt Lake City.(14) The next day the Herald again editorialized against the school.(15) Two days later, in the Sunday edition, the Herald published a rebuttal on behalf of the college from a Morgan citizen. The citizen was William B. Parkinson, bishop of the North Morgan Ward. Readers who studied his rebuttal and then looked at the original article could plainly see that he was listed at a matriculant of the Medical College. His rebuttal said, in part:

In answer to your query of yesterday, viz: "What is it?" in regard to the institution (well known in these parts) "The Medical College of Utah." I must truly say I am surprised at the ignorance manifested on your part in relation to the existence of this institution. If you really were in ignorance about this matter, why did you not apply to the president, secretary, or any of the trustees, who by the way are all bone fide residents, and honorable men in our community, or the matriculants, for information, which would have been given with pleasure? You can rest perfectly at ease. This institution is gotten up for the purpose of educating our people in the profession, thereby preventing so much cutting and quacking as heretofore existed in our country. . . ." (16)

The Herald published Bishop Parkinson's letter but retaliated with a scathing editorial twice the length of the letter. It said, in part:

Bishop W. H. Parkinson, of North Morgan Ward, is given space in this morning's HERALD to say some good things about Dr. Kohler and his "Medical College of Utah," and also to exhibit his want of manners, which latter he does in the coarse and ungentlemanly tone of his communication. . . . We have been expecting some such letter as Bishop Parkinson has written, but did not look for it to come from a bishop, with his full title set out to add to its authoritative character; and layman as the HERALD is it makes bold to suggest that the bishop has blundered this time if never before.(17)

The next Thursday, August 3, 1882, the Herald published the lengthy letter of Samuel Francis along with another editorial. It criticized in the editorial the appointment of young Rush Kohler to the faculty. Francis' letter was the coup [p.57] de grace. The session was to have begun the day before, but apparently there were not sufficient students to hold classes.

Although the Herald's campaign was essentially an attempt to berate the college, it revealed several interesting aspects of the program of the school. First, the course was planned to be essentially a three-year program with allowances for faster graduation for exceptional students. This idea was being used at that date by comparatively few of the better medical schools. Twice-weekly clinics were planned. This also was a notion used only by the more advanced institutions. Nine medical texts were listed in the announcement. Every single text was standard and currently in use in other schools. Mrs. Mary Chadwick, Morgan's self-appointed town historian, interviewed many of the older residents of the community during the 1930's and 1940's. She states that many of the older people remembered Dr. Kohler and his school very well, even though the younger generation had largely forgotten it. The oldsters remembered that Dr. Kohler often took several of his students with him on his visits. The students thus had bedside training, another method of teaching used only by the better medical schools of the 1880's.

In spite of the beauty of Morgan City, it was a poor place to choose for a school of medicine. In retrospect, the choice of Morgan appears to be the greatest mistake of Dr. Kohler. The 1890 census lists Morgan City's population at only 333, and it probably was smaller in 1882. The city had no hospital and not enough patients for school. In spite of the fact that it was on the transcontinental railroad, communication with the rest of the territory and the nation was comparatively difficult.

Readers of the Salt Lake Daily Herald undoubtedly thought that the Herald had won another victory and eradicated a terrible evil when it published the following editorial on August 26, 1882.

[p.58]

Dr. Kohler, the head and front of the pretended "Medical College of Utah" at Morgan City has left the country and gone to Denver. His departure was somewhat precipitate, occurring before the HERALD had gotten through talking about him and his college. The doctor was entirely too tenderhearted. If he were engaged in no wrong doing he certainly ought not to have fled when he was mentioned in the paper, and if his college were regular and legitimate he shouldn't have been ashamed of having the world know all about it. There is no disgrace in being principal of a Medical College. When the HERALD exposed the "Medical College of Utah" it had no intention or desire to drive Dr. Kohler out of the territory. Our only purpose was to warn the public, both in Utah and out, against an institution that showed crookedness on its face, and to prevent the sale of bogus diplomas of the Dr. Buchanan order. The doctor having admitted guilt by fleeing and letting his college collapse, we are not sorry that Morgan has lost its doctor and that its medical institution that, according to some of their too enthusiastic dupes, were going to do so much to revolutionize the practice and price of medicine. Morgan may meet [sic] a doctor, but the county can afford to get along without a physician who engages in business that cannot be talked about.(18)

The victory was not complete. Dr. Kohler may have gone to Denver in August, 1882, but if he did it was only for a visit. Evidence that he maintained his residence in Morgan is the fact that the R. L. Polk Company, Medical Register and Directory of 1885, lists Morgan as his place of abode. In fact he remained in Morgan until July or August of 1887.

Shortly after the Medical College of Utah closed its doors, Bishop Parkinson resigned his position as bishop of the North Morgan Ward and went to Chicago. In 1883, he received his degree as a doctor from Rush Medical College. He later received another medical degree from the University of Louisville and returned to Utah to practice at Logan.

Dr. Kohler continued to teach in Morgan even though the Medical College no longer existed. But now his emphasis was on midwifery and was not aimed at producing doctors. In the years after the college closed he trained more than twenty midwives. Among those he trained as midwives were Cordelia T. Smith, Lisette Ursenbach Compton, and Helen Condie Thackeray. After Utah passed a law requiring licensing and an examination of midwives in 1892, many of these women were licensed as "Obstetricians."

When Dr. Kohler left Utah in 1887, he settled at Nampa, Idaho, where he once again established a medical practice. He later gave a cemetery to the city of Nampa. In 1907, he made a return visit to his native Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. There he met again his eldest son, William, by now also a doctor. They had not seen each other in thirty-five years. He also visited Rush and the grandchildren he had never seen. The lure of the West called him again and he returned to Nampa. There, on January 1, 1908, he died.

[p.59]

One wonders what would have happened if the Salt Lake Daily Herald had left the Medical College of Utah alone. It was not well established and may well have died on the vine. On the other hand it might possibly have brought an effective medical education program to Utah twenty-five years sooner than it actually arrived. The student who reads the files of the Herald, only recently made available through microfilming, is impressed with the fact that it was a crusading newspaper, vigorously attacking many institutions. It often reflected the sentiments of the Mormon people, even though it was not officially an organ of the church. In its crusade against the Medical College it may well have been expressing the vestigal bitterness of many members of the church towards medicine. The turn toward acceptance of orthodox medicine had only been made a dozen years before.(19)

Endnotes

*Mr. Divett is librarian of the Library of Medical Sciences at the University of New Mexico. This article is based on one which appeared in the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, XLVIII (January, 1960). All photographs in the article are courtesy the author.

1. American Medical Directory (1st ed. to 20th ed., Chicago, 1906-1958).
2. Robert T. Divett, "The Medical College of Utah at Morgan," B.M.L.A., XLVIII, 1-10.
3. T. J. Griffith, "Brief Sketches of Some Old Time Doctors Who Lived in Vevay and Practiced Medicine There More Than Half a Century Ago," The Vevay Reveille-Enterprise, September 5, 1929, p. l, 8.
4. Ibid.
5. S. Francis, "The Medical College; a Reliable Statement," Salt Lake Daily Herald, August 3, 1882, p. 5.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Biography of Emeline Grover Rich and sketches of Her Eight Children (Privately published, Logan, 1954), 12-16.
9. The manuscript biographical sketch of Emeline Grover Rich dictated by her to George Q. Rich, is now in the possession of Mrs. Polly R. Griffin, Salt Lake City.
10. Personal communication between the author and Miss Edith Rich, Salt Lake City.
11. John Henry Evans, Charles Coulson Rich, Pioneer Builder of the West (New York, 1936), 105.
12. Personal communication between the author and Edward J. Rich, M.D., Ogden.
13. Griffith, "Brief Sketches," Vevay Reveille-Enterprise.
14. "What Is It?" Daily Herald, July 27, 1882, p. 4. "Medical College of Utah: Who Ever Heard of the Institution?" ibid., 8.
15. Ibid., July 28, 1882, p. 4.
16. W. B. Parkinson, "That Medical College; A Bishop Endorses the Institution," ibid., July 30, 1882, p. 1.
17. Ibid., 4.
18. Ibid., August 26, 1882, p. 4.
19. See a coming article by the author entitled "Medicine and the Mormons," in the January, 1963, issue of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association.