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Storied Kings County Medical Society launches bicentennial celebrations

Prominent Brooklynites like Squibb, Vanderveer, counted among early members

March 30, 2022 Francesca Norsen Tate
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The Medical Society of the County of Kings (MSCK), the oldest scientific organization in Brooklyn, will host a National Doctors’ Day Celebration tonight, Wednesday March 30, to launch its Bicentennial Year.

This Virtual Gala will kick off a series of Bicentennial Celebratory events hosted at various iconic Brooklyn venues throughout the year. Dr. Lawrence A. Melniker, the President of the MSCK, says “the Bicentennial Celebrations will highlight the accomplishments and contributions that Brooklyn physicians have made to the medical profession.”

The organization was founded when Brooklyn doctors gathered on March 2,1822, at Auld Lang Syne Tavern on Fulton Street in Brooklyn Heights for the inaugural meeting of the Kings County Medical Society. The purpose then —and the mission now— is “to foster progress in the science and art of medicine and to promote, preserve and enforce the highest of standards of ethical and proficient medical care.”

The Society’s first owned building was an illuminated gas brownstone at 356 Bridge Street, purchased in 1887 for $7,600. Eleven years later, in 1898, the Society sold the building. Today, the land on which that brownstone sat is part of MetroTech and for a long time housed the New York Telephone Company. As early as September 1895, the Brooklyn Eagle advocated for the citizens of Kings County to assist with the erection a new fireproof building to meet the needs of the Medical Society, although this particular article gave an earlier date of the Society’s founding: February 22, 1822. 

Among some of the first doctors to be registered as members was E.R. Squibb, a Navy doctor who later ran the Brooklyn Naval Hospital’s medical station at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and then founded a pharmaceutical company in Brooklyn Heights. Squibb Playground was named for him and sat, below street level, adjacent to the pharmaceutical company at the north end of Columbia Heights. Dr. Squibb and his family lived further up that street, at number 152.

Dr. Lawrence Melniker. Photo courtesy of the Medical Society of the County of Kings

In 1900, the Society opened its grand new colonial revival building at 1313 Bedford Avenue, the geographical center of Brooklyn, having built it at a total cost of $87,000. Ground had been broken in 1898 and the Society was headquartered there until 1996.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of May 20, 1900, chronicled the previous day’s dedication of the new medical library there—a major accomplishment, given the need for a library which all members could access without first having to join another society as well: “In transferring the keys of the new building to the board of trustees, Dr. [William] Maddren paid especial tribute to Dr. George MacNaughton, [sometimes spelled in MSKC artifacts as McNaughton] former president of the society. Dr. MacNaughton, he said, deserved unlimited individual credit and merited the highest regard and gratitude of the society, for his unceasing labor in {sic] behalf of the work. 

Pilcher, reported the Eagle, “outlined the object of the society in its relation to the public; and gave an idea of the great advantages which the new library would bestow upon the local medical profession.”

Also in 1900, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported in July that Dr. Lucy Hall-Brown, a nationally-respected woman doctor, was headed to Paris—for professional endeavors. “Dr. Hall-Brown is one of the best known women physicians in this country and a distinctive honor has been conferred upon her by her masculine associates in the Kings County Medical Society in making her their representative at important medical congresses that are to be held in Paris this summer. Honors have also been conferred upon this Brooklyn physician by her own sex and it is in the capacity of delegate to four congresses that she goes abroad.”

Photo courtesy of the Medical Society of the County of Kings

The Society hosted numerous scientific conferences at the MacNaughton Auditorium where local, national, and international luminaries in medicine presented important and often original scientific works. The Medical Society grew tremendously to more than 3,500 members during the 20th century and, according to Dr. Donald E. Moore, the Directing Librarian for the Society, for a time boasted the fifth largest medical library in the country. The concept of Continuing Medical Education developed in Brooklyn in 1922 and the Society published the Brooklyn Medical Journal from 1888 until it was succeeded by the Long Island Medical Journal in 1907.

During its 200-year history, the Society was often outspoken, either in favor of or against, legislation and proposals from state and local government. Some of the issues with which the Society dealt are familiar in the early 21st century as well. In February 1917, the Society was “almost unanimously” against a compulsory insurance bill that the state legislature was considering, on the grounds that “the patient protected by the compulsory insurance is not permitted to choose his own physician.” 

One article from April 22, 1931 covered the Medical Society’s adoption (after some dissent) of a Workmen’s Compensation agreement, but with the understanding that “the new state workmen’s compensation act in some form is here to stay,” and that expert care is to be given to those in need of it under the circumstances. 

In its centennial year, 1922, the Medical Society of Kings County found itself in charge of a national Public Health Exhibition, with a preliminary theme of “Safety and Sanitation,” and organized with the cooperation and support of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s public health committee and the City of New York.

The Medical Society continues to serve the people of Brooklyn through the thousands of practicing physicians in the borough and the Society’s various committees, e.g., the MSCK COVID-19 Task Force, have collaborated with other organizations to support Brooklynites, — uninterrupted — through political, economic, and health crises — over the past 200 years. 

Representing the most populous county in the state, MSCK is the largest delegation to the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) and continues to provide leadership to organized medicine. Past president and current member, Dr. Parag Mehta, following more than 11 Kings County leaders, will become president of the MSSNY) in 2022.

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