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University of Illinois.. University of Chicago.. Northwestern University.

Western Reserve University.. Jefferson Medical College.. University of Pennsylvania. Washington University.. Harvard University.... University of California.

Johns Hopkins University.

University of Toronto..

Columbia University...
University of Michigan.
University of Minnesota..
Cornell University...
Syracuse University.
McGill University. . . . .
University of Nebraska..
Tulane University.
University of Cincinnati.
University of Pittsburgh..
Indiana University..
University of Virginia..
University of Iowa.

University of Texas..

Yale University....


(Faculty Officers)











NOTE. Correspondence with these officers, relating to their chapters, may be directed to them at the schools they represent.


History of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Scholarship Society and Its Relation

to Medical Education*

By WILLIAM W. ROOT, M.D., Secretary-Treasurer

N THESE early years of the twentieth century more progress has been made in advancing the standards of medical education in America than in all the preceding years put together. Of all the influences at work during this marvelous period but one organized effort has arisen within the student body and no future history of medicine can be complete without some reference to such influence. This is the Alpha Omega Alpha Society. Its organization marks a transitional period in medical education and in its betterment this order claims a modest share of credit. It was started as a protest against a condition which associated the name medical student with rowdyism, boorishness, immorality and low educational ideals and be it noted such protest arose entirely from students, not one member of the faculty having been consulted.

At five o'clock in the afternoon of the 25th day of August, in the year of our Lord 1902, six seniors† met in the bacteriological laboratory of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Chicago to give definite expression to their positive stand for better things in the medical school and to band themselves together to do what they could to remedy a condition which seemed intolerable to them.

On October 29th this new departure numbered 21 students, all of whom were present on the evening of that date in the "Blue Room" of the Bismarck Hotel, where a detailed explanation was given by the founder and a severe indictment of conditions found in medical school made by the second man chosen to membership, Mr. E. S. Moore, in the course of which he stated that among the virtues conspicuous by their absence was honesty and to the extent that articles of any value would be sure to remain where placed in the medical building only by nailing them securely. A lack of scholarly attainments, on the part of

*An address before the Alpha Chapter of Ohio, Western Reserve University Medical Department, November 20, 1909. Revised October, 1922.

†The members before formal organization were William W. Root, Charles L. Williams, Ernest S. Moore, Benjamin Thomas, George H. Howard, John E. Haskell, Will H. Moore, Wenzel M. Wochos and Milton W. Hall. Of these Howard, Haskell and Hall were absent from the August meeting. All graduated from "P. & S." except Root, who took his M.D. from Rush. Formal notice of such an organization appeared in the Chicago papers and in the Jour. A. M. A., Sept. 27, 1902, p. 778.

a large majority, quite in keeping with the low moral tone, was felt as keenly. At this time but three medical schools in this country required college work for entrance and in fact many students had only the preparation furnished by our grammar schools, such standards as did obtain being very loosely enforced. The necessity that the students themselves combine to remedy such a condition was emphasized.

A movement with such aims and ideals could not long remain local and we find that on December 13th of the same year a permit was granted to 14 senior students of Rush Medical College, and on February 7th of the following year to 13 senior students of the Northwestern University Medical School. Then these boys were not satisfied to keep so good a gospel in Chicago, and we find before the close of this school year chapters at the Western Reserve University Medical School, Jefferson Medical College and the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania. Why it was that these high-grade and conservative seats of learning should welcome so new a movement, before more than the roughest draft of its constitution had been completed, can be explained only by the intrinsic merit of the ideal stimulating such movement. On May 20, 1905, a charter was granted to the Medical Department of Washington University at Saint Louis.

The year 1906 was a notable one for this society, since in it four schools of the highest standing were admitted to the chapterate. On February 1st a chapter was established at Harvard, followed on the 10th by one at the University of California. On April 20th a charter was granted to Johns Hopkins and on November 12th one to the University of Toronto. Columbia University was added November 1st, 1907, the University of Michigan December 10th of the same year, the University of Minnesota January 15, 1908, and Cornell University May 2, 1910. In 1911 Syracuse and McGill, in 1914 Nebraska and Tulane, in 1916 Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Indiana, in 1919 Virginia, and in 1920 Iowa, Texas and Yale were granted charters, making in all to date 26 chapters, all fully active with many applications pending from excellent institutions.

In 1906, when this order was four years old, a careful comparison was made as to its progress relative to other college organizations, when it was found that it had grown for the time since establishment more than twice as rapidly as had any of the other college honor societies, while of the ninety-eight college fraternities enumerated in Baird's Manual but two had made so good a record.

In justice to facts, three names must always be associated with the early history of Alpha Omega Alpha. These are William Webster Root,

Burchard Hayes Roark and Winfield Scott Hall. Root conceived the idea, wrote the constitution, designed the badge and has fathered the movement generally; Roark* assisted in organizing the chapter at Rush Medical College and took a special trip east at which time chapters were organized at Western Reserve, at Jefferson and at the University of Pennsylvania. The funds for this trip were advanced by the founder. Hall, has, ever since the formation of the Northwestern chapter, recognized the significance of this movement and threw the immense prestige of his reputation as an educator, lecturer and author of international fame, into this fraternity of which he was the head from 1904 to 1913. Extremely busy man though he was, one third of his time had been devoted to the furtherance of this movement, as stated to the writer at the end of one school year. He was ably assisted by Walter B. Cannon as Associate Primarius, 1904-1913 (now called Vice President), who has continued as Chairman of the Committee of Extension which inaugurated the high standards best shown in the character of the institutions in which chapters have been established. From 1913 to 1918 Professors Burton-Opitz of Columbia and G. Carl Huber of Michigan served as President and Vice President during whose wise leadership we steadily grew in size and influence. It was due mostly to President Burton-Opitz' influence that chapters were placed at Columbia, Cornell and McGill Universities. For the six year term 1918-1924 Dean John L. Heffron of Syracuse University was chosen as President and Professor John J. Mackenzie of Toronto University as Vice President. This period is one of great expansion in prestige and usefulness. Recognition from educators, slow in coming during our early years when the nature of our society was not understood, now seems assured. This is also a period when marked discretion and excellent judgment must be used and we are fortunate in having had these two leaders. It is most painful to record here the death of our esteemed Vice President and Director August 1st, 1922, which is the hardest blow the organization has yet received. His place can hardly be filled for such a combination of scholarly attainments, teaching ability and power to inspire others, with so attractive a personality, is indeed rare. Elsewhere are noted certain aspects of his service with us.

As intimated above, this society is an honorary fraternity and membership is based exclusively upon scholarship, moral qualifications being satisfactory. It may at first seem strange that an organization avowedly for a specific moral purpose should not welcome all to assist in so

*A brief sketch of Alpha Omega Alpha from the pen of Dr. Roark appeared in the Journal of the Phi Rho Sigma Fraternity for February, 1906, p. II.

good a cause, but should be, on the contrary, so exclusive. It was felt, however, by the organizers that this very exclusiveness would help to carry out the original purpose and that hence the idea of an honorary fraternity should be rigidly adhered to that the order might have the added prestige the better to effect the moral purpose for which it was established. To this end the qualifications of each candidate are most rigidly examined. Chapters are limited to medical colleges of the highest standing and in the election of undergraduates students only can vote except that members of the faculty who are also members of the fraternity have a negative vote. The election of students is conducted as follows: an official list of those standing highest in scholarship is obtained from the college records and no other names can be considered. This list is sent to each faculty member of the society and if no adverse criticism be submitted the elections are made by the student members from this list in the order of scholarship rank. The power of election is left with the students for the reason that they alone know of dishonesty in examination or immorality on the part of the candidates, either of which would preclude membership. The officers of the chapter are commonly students or recent graduates with the exception of the Counselor, who exercises a general oversight and who must be a member of the faculty. A few students may be chosen at the end of the third year of the medical course, but most of the membership is made up from the fourth-year class, not more than one-fifth of the candidates for graduation being elected. A small number of honorary members may be selected from those who have performed some distinguished service to their fellows. Women are admitted on the same terms as men. In fact race, color, creed, sex and social standing form no barrier to membership, the only qualifications necessary being scholarship and character. The badge is a flat key to be worn as a watch charm and shaped after the manubrium sterni. At the annual chapter meetings an address is given by some distinguished member of the medical profession. Already some of these addresses are notable contributions to medical literature. Candidates are regularly initiated, at which time the Oath of Hippocrates is read and the members are impressed with the moral tenets of the order. All, however, is non-secret and the constitution and further details can be mailed to any one interested.

The society has a charter dated January 31, 1903, and granted by the state of Illinois.*

*This Charter bears number 4039956 and was filed for record in the Cook County Building, May 22, 1907, and recorded in Book 109 of Corporation Records, p. 498.

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