The Manchester Medical Society was founded in 1834, and is the oldest organisation for local medical practitioners in the Greater Manchester area. Its aims are:
The cultivation and promotion of all branches of Medicine and of all related Sciences including the continued support of the Medical Library founded by the original Manchester Medical Society and presented to the Victoria University [of Manchester] in 1930.
Until the creation of the Society in 1834, the only local forum for Manchester doctors to discuss topics of mutual interest had been the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, in which they had played a leading part since its creation in 1783. However, with the medical profession growing in size and confidence in the 1820s it was felt that a more specialist organisation was needed. In particular, it was hoped that a dedicated medical society would be able to develop a proper medical library for use of its members.
To this end, a meeting was held at the York Hotel, in King St., Manchester on 29 January 1834 'for the purpose of forming as association of members of the profession residing in the North of England'. The meeting empowered a committee to canvass local doctors to test their support for the proposal. [see MMS/1/3/1/1 for an account of the canvass]. This met with a very mixed response, but thanks to the enthusiasm of Joseph Peel Catlow, a general practitioner, and John Walker, a surgeon, sufficient interest was aroused to hold another meeting at the York Hotel on 4 September 1834, chaired by Dr William Whatton [a local surgeon], with some seventy doctors in attendance. They agreed to set up a Manchester Medical Society, with a library and reading room, and to hold occasional meetings on matters of mutual interest. Members paid a guinea to join, with an annual fee of one guinea for ordinary membership or ten guineas for life membership.
The Society was managed by a Council of a president, four vice-presidents, treasurer, two secretaries and twelve elected members. The governing body in its early days contained many leading Manchester medics. The first president was the obstetrician John Hull, probably the most eminent doctor practising in the city at that time, with Walker and Catlow acting as secretaries. Thomas Radford was the first treasurer, with Whatton, James Lomax Bardsley, John Atkinson Ransome, and Thomas Turner as vice-presidents. The original Council included the medical reformer, James Kay (later Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth), Joseph Jordan, John Windsor, and William Wilson.
The Society rented rooms at 40 Falkner St. for headquarters [near the present day Piccadilly Gardens], and held its first meeting there on 1 October 1834. A library was created, and administered by Mrs Boond, the wife of the landlord. In 1835, the Society drew up articles of agreement, which laid down that the Society could only be dissolved by consent of two extraordinary general meetings of members, called at a minimum interval of one month.
The early history of the Society was characterised by difficulties in arranging suitable accommodation. In 1838, the Society moved to adjoining premises in Falkner St., but in 1845, after abortive negotiations with the Victoria Gallery, the Society negotiated an agreement with the Royal Manchester Institution (now part of Manchester City Art Gallery) to rent three rooms at the Institution for its library and meetings at an annual rental of £35. In 1854, a dispute arose with the RMI over this room occupancy. Rather than face a request to quit their premises, the Society formed itself into the Medical Section of the Institution, which was to hold its library in trust (it was further agreed that it the RMI was dissolved, the Library would be put in the trust of Chetham's Library, Manchester). This was a period of difficulty for the Society, faced with growing debts and stagnating membership. However, with the appointment of Samuel Crompton (1817-1891) as secretary from 1856-58, its fortunes began to revive.
In this period, the medical library was seen as one of the core services that the Society provided its members; such facilities were lacking elsewhere in Manchester. A substantial proportion of subscription income was used for acquiring books. A number of Society members were keen bibliophiles, and bequeathed their collections to the Society. Donations declined in the difficult period in the mid-1850s - it was considered significant that Thomas Radford gave his book collection to St Mary's Hospital, rather than the Society. However when Thomas Windsor (1831-1910) was appointed honorary librarian in 1858, he succeeded in radically increasing the book stock, with many rare medical books being collected. Charles Clay (1801-1893) donated over 1000 obstetric books in 1861. The Library doubled in size between 1866 and 1875, with the first catalogue being produced in 1866.
By the early 1870s, it was clear that accommodation at the Institution was no longer suitable for the Society's needs. The merger of Owens College (the forerunner of the University of Manchester) and the Manchester Royal School of Medicine in 1872, proved the stimulus for new arrangements for the Society. For the MMS, association with the College had the advantage of contact with an important medical school and its staff. For the College medical school, there was the attractive prospect of association with an influential professional group, as well as the opportunity to use Society's library, the most comprehensive in the region.
The Society negotiated an agreement with the College in July 1875, whereby the latter became a trustees of the Library. The College provided accommodation for the Society's library and a lecture theatre for its meetings, and it agreed to contribute £100 per annum to the Society to help develop the Library. The library was opened to Owens medical staff and students. The agreement of 1875 also decreed that if the Society was dissolved, its library would be retained by the College in trust for use of members of the medical profession in the Manchester area. Most of the financing of the library continued to be borne by the Society.
In 1900 and again in 1905, these financial arrangements were renegotiated. Increasingly, it was recognised that the costs of maintaining the medical library for the use of both its members and the expanding Medical School were proving too great for the Society. In 1930, ownership of the Society's library was transferred to the University Library. The medical library was now administered by a University committee which included three representatives of the Society. Members of the Society however continued (and continue) to enjoy a right of access to the library, and the Society was required to pay 70 per cent of its income from subscriptions towards maintenance of the Library, so long as the Society remained at the Library.
The Society has held general meetings since foundation, mostly on a monthly basis between October and June of each annual session, and an annual meeting is held for the election of officers and transaction of financial business. The Society also held clinical meetings from 1890 at various locations including the Literary and Philosophical Society, and later at the Manchester Royal Infirmary's Outpatients Department.
The MMS was originally closed to female medical practitioners. In 1884 a request from Anna Dahms, the first woman medical practitioner in Manchester, to use the Society's library was turned down. A similar request from Helene Goldberg as refused in 1891. Eventually, with the admission of female medical students at Owens College, attitudes did change, and Catherine Chisholm, one of the original female medical students, was allowed to use the library in 1904. Women doctors were admitted to full membership of the Society in 1908. Catherine Chisholm later became the Society's first woman president in 1943-44.
By the middle of the twentieth century, the MMS was one of many specialist medical societies in Manchester (albeit the largest). There had been intermittent discussions over the years about merging these societies into a single body. In the early 1920s there had been abortive discussions about uniting the MMS and the Pathological Society of Manchester. In 1950, a major reorganisation of Manchester medical groups was accomplished, when the MMS amalgamated with the Pathological Society of Manchester, the Manchester Surgical Society, the Manchester and District Society of Anaesthetists, and the Manchester Odontological Society to form a reconstituted Manchester Medical Society. At the time of amalgamation the MMS had three times more members than the other societies combined. The merged societies were reconstituted as Sections of the Society, administered by their own councils (the idea of the sections was based on the Royal Society of Medicine). The inaugural meeting of the new Society was held on 4 October 1950 in the Physiology Theatre of the old University of Manchester Medical School, with the surgeon Wilson Hey acting as president.
Subsequently, further specialist sections have been created: the Section of General Practice in 1951 (mow defunct); the Section of Paediatrics in 1964 (which merged with the Manchester Paediatric Club in 1992 and is now generally referred to as the Manchester Paediatric Club); the Section of Psychiatry in 1970; the Section of Community Medicine in 1976 (later the Section of Public Health/Public Health Forum; now defunct); and Imaging, instituted in 2001. As of 2018, thereare sections for Anaesthesia, Emergency Medicine, Imaging, Medicine, Odontology, Paediatrics, Pathology, Psychiatry and Surgery.
The MMS continues to hold meetings and seminars on all aspects of medical science, some of these are organised by the Council and some by the Sections. Meetings are held in a variety of locations, particularly the University Medical School, the University Dental Education Centre and hospitals in the Greater Manchester area. Fixed events in the Society's calendar include: the presidential address, usually in October; a meeting with the Liverpool Medical Institution in March; and the AGM in the first week of May. The Society plays an important role in promoting continual learning for doctors in the Manchester region. As of 2018, the Society currently had 1400 members.