Why did doctors bribe legislators to pass medical licensing laws in Oregon?


The Doctor by Luke Fildes

In the 19th century, physicians lobbied state legislatures throughout the United States to pass medical licensing laws. Some doctors were more successful than others in passing these laws. Starting in 1870s, states began to slowly adopt medical licensing laws. In order to make these laws more palatable to skeptical legislatures, physicians often tied these laws to sanitation reforms. Still, physicians in some states struggled to accomplish anything.

Physicians in Oregon became increasingly frustrated with the status quo and sought to pressure the legislature.Physicians began to sound the alarm that Oregon soon would become a haven for quacks and incompetents from other states. Oregon’s physicians did not want physicians who could not get licensed anywhere else to flood into the state. In 1888, the Oregon State Medical Association (hereafter OSMA) made yet another dedicated push to pass some type of medical regulatory act.[1] This time, the OSMA was willing to grease the appropriate palms with enough cash to push the licensing bill through the legislature.

At the 1888 annual OSMA meeting, the legislative committee appointed Charles C. Strong and five other members to spearhead the lobbying effort. According to Strong, the committee chair, they were told by the OSMA leadership “to go to work” on passing a medical licensing act.[2]In December 1888, a month before the legislature’s general session, the legislative committee sent out a fundraising letter to its members requesting ten-dollar pledges because the committee confidently stated “that such a law will be passed” if they could raise enough money. The committee stated in the letter that it hoped to raise one-thousand dollars. Eventually, the committee raised three-hundred-and-five dollars in pledges from the members. The committee never explained why it needed the money.[3]

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