History of the Southern Medical Association Alliance

The Women’s Auxiliary to the Southern Medical Association was formed at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana, November 25, 1924. Mrs. Seale Harris of Birmingham, Alabama was organizing chairman and she also chaired the committee to write the Constitution and Bylaws that were adopted in 1925. Mrs. E. H. Cary of Dallas, Texas was elected first president. There were 88 charter members from 16 states and the District of Columbia and dues were set at $1.00 per state. Even in 1925 dollars, however, this was not enough to cover all expenses as fourth president, Mrs. A. T. McCormack of Louisville, Kentucky, noted in her “History of the Woman’s Auxiliary to the Southern Medical Association, 1924-1952”.

The medical profession, traditionally conservative as a whole, did not greet the Auxiliary movement with open arms; in fact, not even with toleration in some areas. Consequently, greater honor should be accorded these stalwart souls [the early presidents] for their generous aid and kindly wisdom as they guided this entirely new woman’s organization. . . through the skeptical years of hesitancy, doubt, and discouragement into the present happy period of esteem.

Yet as early as 1928 the SMA appointed a 3-physician advisory committee for its Auxiliary, doctors E. H. Cary, Seale Harris and Southgate Leigh serving as the committee until 1935. The same year, 1928, the Auxiliary published its first Bulletin and had its first Scrapbook Exhibit.

Since many of the same women active in organizing the SMA Auxiliary were also deeply involved with getting the Auxiliary to the AMA started, it is not surprising that the first project adopted in 1925-26 was the distribution of Hygeia Magazine. But very soon the SMA Auxiliary wanted a project of its own. The Jane Todd Crawford Memorial was proposed in 1928 and adopted as a project in 1929 when a pamphlet on Jane Todd Crawford, courageous patient of Dr. Ephraim McDowell ofDanville,Kentuckywas published. The Auxiliary raised funds from members for a suitable memorial, but collected no dues from them, since the spouses of all SMA members were, then as now, automatically considered Auxiliary members. In 1946 it was decided to use the $1,800.00 collected in the Jane Todd Crawford Fund as Medical Student Loan Funds.

Two years later the SMAA Advisory Committee asked the Auxiliary to cease all fund-raising for any purpose, although the student loans already made were administered for two more years, with voluntary contributions still coming in. In 1950 the Auxiliary gave $1,000.00 from the Crawford fund for dining room furniture in the McDowell house inDanvilleand in 1956-58 remaining funds went to furnish an Auxiliary room at SMA Headquarters. The Jane Todd Crawford project was finished.

In the meantime, however, the Auxiliary began two distinctive projects that have continued to the present. In 1930, then President Mrs. S. A. Collum suggested the membership gather “the medical romances of our Southland” and a Research Committee was appointed. A year later they had biographies of 26 physicians from 11 states to present. From 1936 to 1986 this committee was called “Research and Romance.” The red anthurium was its “official flower” and much valuable historical material was collected and catalogued. World War II interrupted some of these activities as all service work was devoted to the war effort. But by 1952 the Research and Romance Committee reported that a 400 pound steel file of materials was being shipped from chairman to chairman and that 240 booklets listing the materials available for loan had been sent to the 17 state councilors. The Auxiliary Room at Headquarters was much needed when it was established in 1958! It is not clear exactly when prizes were first awarded at the annual meeting for “Research and Romance” projects but the Dr. and Mrs. Milford O. Rouse Trophy for the best over-all exhibit was first presented in 1968.

1     Two manuscript copies of Mrs. McCormack’s lengthy work are in the Auxiliary archives at SMA headquarters for those interested in more details.

2    In 1809 Dr. McDowell performed, without anesthesia, the first successful removal of a diseased, enlarged ovary from Jane Todd Crawford.

The other major project, the celebration of Doctors’ Day, began in Barrow County, Georgia on March 30, 1933. This event was reported at the SMA Auxiliary Convention in 1934 and the idea was quickly taken up by other states. In 1942, the first Doctors’ Day Committee Chairman was appointed. The red carnation became their flower. In 1952, the first Doctors’ Day Luncheon was held at the Annual Meeting, a practice that continued until the end of the century. In 1954, the first Doctors’ Day Award Certificates were given and Auxiliary President Mrs. George Feldner and her husband donated the trophy to be awarded annually for the best county Doctors’ Day project. The Guy Smith Kirby trophy for the second best project was first awarded in 1961. In many counties throughout the Southern region Doctors’ Day celebrations became their most popular event and many novel ways of honoring their physician spouses were devised. The SMA Auxiliary developed a brochure with guidelines and suggestions and in 1958 the U. S. House of Representatives recognized Doctors’ Day through a resolution of appreciation for the medical profession.

Besides developing the above projects in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, the SMA Auxiliary officers and chairmen developed their organization. In the early years, any member who attended might report on her state and carry “Southern” information back. Later the State Presidents did this until in 1935-36 a Councilor from each state was appointed to do it. Interim meetings of the officers were held at the AMA Auxiliary convention in June and the “Southern Breakfast” became a popular feature of that June convention from 1934 – 1939, when it was dropped “by request.” Other regions were beginning to feel left out! But the President of the Women’s Auxiliary to the SMA continued to attend the AMA Auxiliary meetings and visa versa. In 1953 the SMA Auxiliary President sent out her first newsletter and for the next 15 years the Presidents sent newsletters at their own expense until the budget was finally increased to cover them.

Beginning in 1955, however, funds were budgeted for the Presidents’ travel expenses, in return for the Auxiliary giving up all fund-raising for any reason. In 1955, President Mrs. Louis Hundley was the first president to address the SMA Council. Unfortunately, travel funds for the Auxiliary President were withdrawn in 1961 and she was advised not to visit state meetings. However, states continued to request visits and Auxiliary Presidents continued to go at their own expense until travel funds were gradually restored at the end of the decade. A forceful and detailed financial report from Mrs. Chauncey Thuss, President 1965-66, was credited with getting this funding restarted.

The late 1950s through the early 1970’s were years of growth for both the Association and its Auxiliary and many Auxiliary procedures became more formalized. Files in the Auxiliary Room at the Birmingham Headquarters were reorganized in the 1960’s. The first recorded presidential theme, “Sing Along with Southern,” was used in 1962-63, and presidents have used a theme ever since. Detailed brochures were printed with rules for Doctors’ Day and Research and Romance of Medicine exhibits, and the Bylaws and Handbook were updated. A Vice-Councilor from each state was added to the Board in 1972, and in celebration of their 50th Anniversary in 1974-75, the Auxiliary updated its official history.

As rules were formalized, the judging of exhibits became a formidable task, and those appointed judges spent much of the annual meeting pouring over entries. Things were further complicated when some states and counties added videos to their exhibits. Finally in the 1990’s the present system of requiring entry forms to be sent in several months in advance of the meeting was adopted.

A series of changes marked the decade of the 1980’s. It began with changing the name from the Women’s Auxiliary to the Southern Medical Association to the Southern Medical Association Auxiliary, in order to include the male spouses of female physicians. The Southern Connection newsletter began publication. In 1980-81, President Nancy Prater was the first Auxiliary president to be pictured in the SMA yearbook. The 1980’s were prosperous years for SMA, which made for some wonderful conventions. In 1985, the Auxiliary obtained a new room in the new Headquarters building and a valuable increase in staff support. The feeling that the “Research and Romance of Medicine” name was generally misunderstood led members to change the name of this Committee to the more appropriate “Medical Heritage” in 1986.

The prosperity of the 1980’s and the public perception of the prosperity of the medical profession as a whole also led to a rethinking of our Doctors’ Day celebrations and exhibits. Although celebrations were still encouraged, it was decided in the late 1980’s to limit exhibit awards to health and other community projects in honor of our physician spouses on Doctors’ Day. A grand commemoration of the start of Doctors’ Day was held in Winder, GA in 1989, and our history was again updated. An even grander event came in 1990 when, after years of Auxiliary effort, Congress passed, and then President Bush, signed a bill proclaiming March 30 as National Doctors’ Day. The recently revised Doctors’ Day brochure was again revised to include this achievement.

Important bylaws changes were adopted in the 1990’s to reflect the growth and new direction of the SMAA. The first Breast Cancer Awareness Committee was appointed in 1992, and at the 1993 Convention the bylaws were changed so that instead of three regional membership vice presidents, there would be one Membership Vice President, and one each for our major program areas, Doctors’ Day, Medical Heritage and the new Health Education. In addition, instead of a Councilor and Vice Councilor from each state there would be a Councilor from each state for each of the three program areas. It was agreed that the Health Education focus would be on Breast Cancer awareness. The changes went into effect in 1994, the first year Health Education exhibits were brought to convention, and the Eileen Martin award was first given for the Best Health Project. Medical Heritage began the Medical Travels in the South booklet and revised and simplified their handbook.

Conventions of the 1990s were still known for their fun and fellowship and in 1999 the SMAA had a gala celebration of its 75th Anniversary, again updating its official history booklet. In 1998, after an open forum, the Auxiliary voted to keep the Health Education Focus on Breast Cancer awareness until 2004.

The new millennium, however, saw a gradual reversal of some of the trends of the 1980’s and 90’s. At the request of the SMA, the Auxiliary returned to fund-raising to support the SMA Research and Education Endowment Fund. A perceived need to retrench led to another major bylaws revision presented at the 2003 annual meeting, changing back from three Councilors from each state to a Councilor and Vice Councilor who would still cover all three program areas. This was to go into effect in 2004-2005, but was put off to 2005-2006. In the meantime, the SMAA has continued to excel in its program areas, and at the 2004 annual meeting, it broadened its Health Education Focus to include osteoporosis and women’s heart problems along with breast cancer awareness. It also changed its name again. The SMA Auxiliary became the SMA Alliance, however, the fun and fellowship of its meetings and the hard work of its Board members in achieving its program goals remains the same.

By Winyss Shepard, Birmingham, AL