An introduction to the History of Medicine Society

Welcome to the History of Medicine Society page. On 11 October 1912, the inaugural meeting of the RSM’s Section of the History of Medicine was held. Founded by Sir William Osler, who became the Section’s first President, the aim of the Section was to encourage research and scholarship, and provide a meeting ground for people who felt the study of medical history has a value in education. It was an immediate success, even continuing through the dark days for World War I. Shortly before dying Osler suggested its foundation was one of the best things he had done for the medical profession.

Over the years, many eminent medical and non-medical historians have followed as President, including Charles Singer and Sir Zachary Cope. In 1950, we elected our first female President, Dr Lilian Lindsay OBE who, having fought against all the odds to get into a dental school became the first British qualified woman dentist in 1895. Dr Lindsey won several prizes throughout her professional career and contributed significantly to the work of the RSM’s Odontology and History of Medicine Sections.

The History of Medicine Section differed from other RSM Sections, by embracing the breadth and depth of medical history and has attracted members and contributions from every branch of medicine and general historians. Past lectures have included an examination of early diseases, treatments and cures in ancient civilizations and advances made by the ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ of the profession. Our breadth of lectures have also covered leading medical museums, a history of women's health in literature and the visual arts, uses of databases and other technology to aid of medical historians, Ancient Egyptian pharmacies, the relationship between Dr Hans Sloane and the British Museum, public health issues in late medieval English towns, Renaissance Italy and Victorian Britain and the fight for girls to have a fair chance to be doctors.

For the 21st century, the Section was replaced by an internal RSM History of Medicine Society, which continues to provide lectures and visits. We work with other Sections and organisations, for example the Open Section and the Pain Medicine Section, to examine contemporary histories and methods of gathering and recording information, including an overview of the RSM’s own Archive of Memoirs.

In a time of increasing specialisation, our meetings can offer insights into medicine as a whole and make valuable contributions to the wider field of medical humanities. We also actively encourage Student scholarships through our annual Norah Schuster Prize for an essay on any aspect of medical history. Named in memory of Norah Schuster, a clinical pathologist and medical historian, the prize open to pre-clinical, clinical medical and dental students. 

Irrespective of backgrounds, everyone is warmly invited to attend our meetings and become involved. If you would like any further information about the Society, please do contact us at history@rsm.ac.uk.