Have you ever wondered how many medical associations there are in the United States? Probably not. It is not a topic usually discussed at the dinner table or at parties. But if you Google the subject, you will be informed that the list covers 270 pages.
The top entry is the venerable American Medical Association. Under the “A” heading, there are also the various branches of medicine, specialties and subgroups you’d expect. Included as well are groups based on ethnicity or country of origin. Two examples caught my eye: the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America and the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association. The purpose of these groups is continuing education through conferences and meetings, with, no doubt, social and networking components.
Ninety-four years ago, a similar organization, one anticipating the idea of an ethnic-based educational and social medical group, was established in Providence. The Jacobi Medical Club was not national, but strictly local, and brought together the city’s Jewish physicians. It was named in honor of the late Dr. Abraham Jacobi, a pioneering physician in pediatric medicine. Among his many outstanding accomplishments in several fields of medicine, Jacobi opened the first children’s clinic in this country.
The exact date of the founding of the Jacobi Medical Club is unknown as the early records were lost. From outside sources, we know that at some point in 1923, the Jewish doctors met and elected Dr. Max Gomberg president and Dr. Joseph B. Webber secretary-treasurer.
The first reference to the organization occurs in the minutes of The Miriam Hospital Association on Dec. 1, 1923. The organization was established, according to Dr. Seebert Goldowsky, “to satisfy a need for a fuller academic life and to foster closer social ties.”
With one exception, Jewish doctors did not have full privileges at Rhode Island Hospital, the largest general hospital in the state, although several received appointments early in the 1920s to the “externe” (clinic or outpatient) staff.
The formation of the Jacobi Medical Club also anticipated the founding of a Jewish-sponsored hospital, The Miriam Hospital, which opened in 1925. The members assisted in the planning and staffing of the new hospital and worked closely with the sponsoring agency. They also offered their services to the Jewish Home for the Aged, on Orms Street in Providence.
In fulfillment of its commitment to seek “a fuller academic life,” speakers “of reputation” from Providence, Boston and other major medical centers were invited to address the Jacobi Medical Club’s members. Often the meetings combined an educational component with “a good dinner.”
The club met regularly for 17 years, until the onset of World War II, when many of the members joined the Armed Services. By then, The Miriam Hospital had begun an academic program, and Jewish physicians had received appointments to the visiting staff at Rhode Island Hospital and other hospitals in the state.
The R.I. Jewish Historical Association is indebted to Dr. Seebert Goldowsky for his meticulous research and comprehensive survey, titled “Jews in Medicine in Rhode Island,” in the 1957 issue of RIJHNotes.
GERALDINE S. FOSTER is a past president of the R.I. Jewish Historical Association. To comment about this or any RIJHA article, contact the RIJHA office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-331-1360.