Professional Medical Societies in Manchester

  • Reference
      GB 133 MMC/7
  • Former Reference
      GB 133 MMC H 2
  • Dates of Creation
  • Physical Description
      23 sub-subfonds, 331 items

Scope and Content

Material relating to medical societies in Manchester, not including the societies for which we hold separate archives (namely Manchester Medical Society and predecessor societies), and also some material relating to meetings of national medical societies held in Manchester. The material relating to Manchester medical societies has been divided into sections for each society. For a number of these societies we hold substantial runs of annual reports, and also some other administrative material such as minute books, rulebooks, lists of members and circulars. There are also a number of published addresses and reports produced by the societies. However, for many of the societies represented here, we hold only one item, which could be a minute book, annual report, set of rules, or even just a note by EBL. A number of these societies were very short lived, which accounts for the sparsity of records. Although coverage of societies is incomplete, this subfonds contains substantial material of interest. It is a useful source for the study of the development of provincial scientific and medical thought and discussion, and the professionalisation of medicine. This sub-group holds substantial records for a number of societies, in particular the Manchester Medico-Ethical Association 1848-1936, the Clinical Society of Manchester 1885-1925, the Manchester Therapeutical Society 1897-1901 and the Lancashire and Cheshire Branch of the British Medical Association 1843-1965. It also hold substantial administrative records of the meetings of the British Medical Association in Manchester in 1902 and 1929.

Administrative / Biographical History

The history of medical societies in Manchester reflects trends in the history of medicine, in particular the developments in provincial medical education at the beginning of the nineteenth century and the growth of scientific medicine at its end, and the professional status of doctors. In Manchester, the main forum for scientific discussion in the late eighteenth century was the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, founded in 1781. Like similar societies of the time, the 'Lit and Phil' was dominated by medical men; the honorary staff of the Manchester Infirmary were central to the foundation of the Society, which supported their emerging status in Manchester civil society. Medical men were often experts in other aspects of science and culture.Meetings discussed a wide range of interests, but medical issues were prominent. However, it was not until 1834 that the first purely medical society was formed in Manchester - the Manchester Medical Society.

A number of different types of medical society are represented in this collection, and the type of society determined the membership, style of meeting, and dates of activity. They can broadly be broken down into general interest, clinical and scientific, specialist, ethical/professional, and social societies. General interest medical societies were open to qualified professionals, and were usually defined by geographic area. They include Manchester Medical Society, Stretford Medical Society, and the clubs for the circulation of medical journals and pamphlets. They provided access to books and journals, medical papers and some professional support. In the 1830s, when Manchester Medical Society was formed, there was a growing awareness of science and of medicine as a profession. Scientific societies were formed throughout England, and the Manchester medical schools and Mechanics Institute also date from this period. For such societies, a library was of primary importance, offering access for members to information which would otherwise be prohibitively expensive to obtain. The library was one of main benefits of Medical Society membership.

Other medical societies in Manchester area dating from this time include the Lancashire and Cheshire Branch of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association (later the BMA) and Manchester Medico-Ethical Association. These both fall into the category of ethical/professional societies, which promoted the interests of doctors but also regulated their conduct and sometimes their fees. Both these Associations campaigned of behalf of doctors in matters of government policy, in particular the Medical Act in 1858 and the National Insurance Act of 1911. From its foundation in the 1830s, the British Medical Association was the dominant force in medical politics. However, there were times when many doctors disagreed with the stance taken by the Association, and at various times bodies have sprung up in response to particular issues. Of particular importance were the Medical Guild, which influenced the reconstitution of BMA in 1902, and the National Medical Union, which campaigned against the National Insurance Act, both of which were formed in Manchester. There were also societies for certain bodies of medical practitioners, in particular for those involved in public health such as the certifying factory surgeons and the medical officers of health. These practitioners constituted a new type of doctor operating in a sector of rapid administrative legislative change. Their professional societies campaigned both for improvements in public health, but also for professional status.

The clinical and scientific societies sprang from a perceived need for practical support. General practitioners tended to practise alone and little provision was made for their post-qualification training. Many GPs found it difficult to attend meetings of the MMS at Owens College, where it moved in the 1870s. As a result, alternative societies were founded such as the Clinical Society in 1885. At the clinical societies, cases were demonstrated, sometimes with patients being brought to meetings, and there was analysis of samples of morbid anatomy and demonstrations of equipment and techniques. Some of these societies were very small in membership, and meetings took place at the houses of members. These societies tended to either have a general educative purpose, and were open to all doctors, while others catered for more specific scientific interests, such as pathology. Clinical and scientific societies grew in importance in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, with the growth of academic science and the use of scientific analysis in medicine. Many of the early professors of Owens College were actively involved in the medical societies in Manchester, in particular Daniel John Leech, professor of pharmacology, materia medica and therapeutics, and Julius Dreschfeld, professor of pathology and later of medicine. The general clinical societies tend to have become less important in the early twentieth century, as hospitals began to provide "post-graduate" courses for qualified doctors.

Specialist societies had a similar background to the clinical societies, indeed some sprang from the earlier clinical societies specialising in diagnostic techniques. The specialist societies provided a forum for discussion of aspects of medicine which were under-represented in MMS. Most of the specialist societies, such as the Manchester Surgical Society and Manchester Dermatological Society, were formed at the beginning of the twentieth century, corresponding with the general growth of medical specialisms. However, some specialisms had developed earlier, in particular obstetrics and gynaecology emerged as a specialism in the mid nineteenth century; the Obstetrical Society of Manchester was founded as early as 1860, and the North of England Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society in 1889. Many of these specialist societies later merged with regional specialist societies or became specialist sections of the Manchester Medical Society when it was reconstituted in 1950. Many of the medical societies in Manchester had some social aspect, usually illustrated in the annual dinner. However, there were some societies which had a purely social function, such as the Cambridge Graduates' Medical Society and the Old MRI Residents' Club. These societies tended to focus on holding annual dinners. They began in the early twentieth century, with the expansion of University education, but became less important after World War II.

The earliest medical societies in Manchester were the longest running, the Manchester Medical Society is the primary medical society in the area representing many areas of specialty, the current South Lancashire and Cheshire Branch of the BMA sprang directly from the Newton Medical and Surgical Association founded in 1837, and the Manchester Medico-Ethical Association founded in 1848 folded as recently as 2001.


When appropriate, these groups have been divided into series. The most common series are rulebooks, annual reports, lists of members, minute books, published addresses, reports and circulars. Items within these series are arranged chronologically.

  • /1 Medical Societies in Manchester - general
  • /2 Manchester Medico-Ethical Association
  • /3 Clinical Society of Manchester
  • /4 Medical Guild
  • /5 Anthropological Society of Manchester
  • /6 Obstetrical Society of Manchester
  • /7 Manchester Therapeutical Society
  • /8 Manchester Pathological Society
  • /9 Manchester and District Cambridge Graduates' Medical Society
  • /10 Manchester Medico-Legal Society
  • /11 Associated General Practitioners in Manchester
  • /12 The Clinique
  • /13 Manchester Society for the Circulation of Foreign Medical Journals
  • /14 Medico-Chirurgical Society of Manchester
  • /15 Manchester Medical Pamphlet Club
  • /16 North of England Ophthalmological Society
  • /17 Stretford Medical Society
  • /18 National Medical Union Manchester Branch
  • /19 Manchester Dermatological Society
  • /20 Charles White Club
  • /21 British Medical Association: Local Branches
  • /22 Glasgow University Club, Manchester and District
  • /23 Outside medical societies holding meetings in Manchester

Related Material

The JRUL holds a number of archives of medical societies within its medical collections. These include the Manchester Medical Society (MMS), the Society of Certifying Factory Surgeons (CFS), Manchester Odontological Society (MOS), Manchester Paediatric Club (MPC), Manchester Surgical Society (MSS), Society of Medical Officers of Health North Western Branch (NWH), Pathological Society of Manchester (PSM), Manchester and District Society of Anaesthetists (SAM), the Charles White Club (CWC), the North of England Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society (OGS) and the National Medical Union (NMU).