Guide to the Louis E. Schmidt (1869-1957) Papers

Collection Title: Louis E. Schmidt (1869-1957) Papers
Dates: 1894-1957
Identification: 18/3/21/1
Creator: Schmidt, Louis E. (Louis Ernst), 1869-1957
Extent: 3 Boxes
Language of Materials: English
Abstract: Dr. Louis E. Schmidt had a distinguished medical career as a medical educator and surgeon, but is best known for a stormy controversy involving his Illinois Social Hygiene League and medical advertising, which resulted in his expulsion from the AMA. The bulk of the papers relate to the expulsion controversy (1929-1930) but the collection also includes clippings, biographical files, and subject files reflecting Schmidt's interest in issues relating to public health care.
Acquisition Information: The Papers were separated from Accession No. 99-122, which was transferred to the Archives by Chris Simoni on August 13, 1997, and accessioned as No. 99-185.
Processing Information: Peter Gunther, December 13, 2000. Re. June, 2009 and March, 2013.
Separated Materials: Approximately three inches of duplicates and extraneous matter were discarded. A book entitled The Medical Trust Unmasked by John L. Spivak (1929) was transferred to the Special Collections Department of the Northwestern University Library.
Conditions Governing Access: None.
Repository: Northwestern University Archives
Deering Library, Room 110
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL, 60208-2300
Phone: 847-491-3354

Biographical/Historical Information

Louis Ernst Schmidt was born in Chicago January 18, 1869. His father, Ernst Schmidt, a Union Army surgeon, was Cook County’s first elected coroner and a friend of Joseph Medill, founding editor of the Chicago Tribune. Schmidt received his Ph.G from the Chicago College of Pharmacy in 1889 and his BS from the University of Michigan in 1892. He earned concurrent MS and MD degrees from Northwestern in 1895. He went on to study medicine in Vienna, Breslau, Berlin, Paris and London from 1896 to 1898.

Schmidt had a distinguished career as medical educator and surgeon. He specialized in dermatology and later in urology, uro-genital surgery and venereology and was an attending physician in urology at many Chicago hospitals over the years. His contributions to medicine and Northwestern University were numerous and vast. He was an instructor at Northwestern in clinical dermatology and syphilogy from 1898 to 1902 and in genito-urinary surgery from 1902 to 1939, serving as head of the department of urology from 1916 to 1939. Schmidt is often referred to as “the father of urology,” conducting his practice as a training ground for urologists. He held a professorship at Northwestern in urology from 1939 until moving to emeritus status in 1946. Schmidt contributed his personal stock of radium, worth $175,000, to Northwestern in 1935 and gave an estimated $100,000 to the Illinois Social Hygiene League to fight venereal disease. Because of his expertise in fighting venereal disease Schmidt held many local civic appointments, including Chicago Vice Commission 1910, and director of VD Control for the Chicago Department of Health from 1923 to 1928. A tireless fighter against VD and for affordable medical care, Schmidt advocated the free and open discussion of venereal disease as the only way to stem what was at that time an epidemic. He was instrumental in the formation and passing of the Illinois marriage laws requiring the tests for venereal disease.

Schmidt is best known as the center of a stormy controversy involving the Illinois Social Hygiene League. Since 1922 Schmidt had served as president of the League, an organization of physicians and local philanthropists dedicated to the fight against venereal disease, which counted among its board members Jane Addams. At this time, the subject of venereal disease was taboo conversation even among doctors. The ISHL ran a low-cost/free clinic for the treatment of VD and other ailments, eventually spinning off the separate Public Health Institute to take over the clinical part of its mission. The ISHL contributed $1,000 per month to the operating expenses of the PHI. The PHI ran a similar low-cost clinic and was supported by pro bono work by local physicians and philanthropists. It listed Marshal Field III, Harold McCormick, A. B. Dick and John Pirie on its board. In order to publicize the existence of low cost treatment of VD and other ailments and to combat the prevailing “conspiracy of silence,” the PHI advertised its existence and services via posters and in the press.

The trouble began in 1928 when the American Medical Association was struggling to rid the profession of quack doctors who used advertising to promote their false claims. The Chicago Medical Society and the AMA attacked Schmidt on the grounds that he was connected to the PHI which advertised, even though Schmidt was only directly connected to the ISHL. Schmidt was “tried” by the Judicial Council of the AMA for “unethical conduct” and was expelled from the Chicago Medical Society in 1930.  The expulsion automatically disqualified him from membership in the AMA and the Illinois Medical Society. Dr. Herman Bundesen, chairman of the Chicago Board of Health resigned in protest. The controversy was highly publicized in national and local papers, generating many letters of support for Schmidt from members of the medical profession and the general public.

From today’s vantage point it appears that Schmidt may have been censured more on the basis of  his advocacy and delivery of low cost and free medical care to the poor and publicizing the suppressed subject of venereal disease than on any transgressions of medical proscriptions against advertising.  The ISHL and the PHI may also have been viewed as threats to the lucrative nature of American medicine. Schmidt went on to become a leading agitator for subsidized health care and an expert on the subject. 

Louis E. Schmidt married Marie Mansfield in 1906. She died on March 5, 1932. They had one son, Mansfield born in 1911, who died on September 27, 1951, and a daughter, Hildegarde, who died March 5, 1932. Schmidt married Lillian D. Stevens, Dr. Bundesen’s secretary, on August 6, 1942. Their marriage lasted until Lillian’s death in 1956. After Schmidt’s retirement, he moved to Wausau, Wisconsin, in 1949 and remained there until his death on July 7, 1957. Schmidt was made a member of the Wisconsin Medical Society in 1954 and thus automatically reinstated into the AMA.

Scope and Content

The papers of Louis E. Schmidt fill three boxes and span the years 1894 to 1957. The bulk of the papers relate to the 1929-31 controversy surrounding Schmidt’s expulsion from the Chicago Medical Society. Of these, the majority of documents (mostly press clippings) were once maintained in a scrapbook format; they were pasted on to sheets of ruled paper and held in binders. The binders have been removed and the contents foldered; folder titles reflect the categories originally determined by Schmidt.

Biographical Data document Schmidt's academic, professional and civic life and include records of Schmidt’s activities as a student and professor at Northwestern, and his civic appointments and qualifications. A clippings file documents newspaper mentions of Schmidt unrelated to the 1929-31 coverage of his expulsion from the Chicago and Illinois Medical Societies and the AMA.

Schmidt's engagement in the health issues of the day is illuminated in a series of subject files, arranged chronologically and dating from 1919 to 1940. These include records of his involvement in the Illinois Social Hygiene League and the Public Health Institute, a speech he presented on “Looking Forward in Medicine” at the Union League Club of Chicago at a dinner in his honor (May 16, 1929), and a file on the Economics of Health Care, relating to proposed legislation and other material related to the issues of paying for health care in this country. A clippings file documents newspaper coverage of this topic. One subject file contains handbills, petitions, open letters, and pamphlets on the general topic of public health (dating between 1930-1940) that were sent to Schmidt.Schmidt served on the Advisory Committee for the American Foundation Studies in Government, which produced a report on the state of delivery of health care entitled American Medicine in 1937. An offshoot of the AFSG was a Committee of Physicians, which advocated for public subsidy of medical care for the indigent as well as research and education; correspondence and reports (1937-1940) relating to the Committee of Physicians are included in the AFSG file. In 1938, a federal grand jury investigation of the AMA’s opposition to prepaid health care plans was launched; Schmidt’s Civic Medical Center was considered for inclusion in the investigation. The collection includes correspondence about the investigation (in which the civic Medical Center ultimately did not participate).

The controversy surrounding Schmidt's expulsion from the Chicago Medical Society and its consequences is documented in three sub-series. The Records of the Expulsion Controversy includes the letters, statements, petitions, testimonies, meeting minutes, official decisions and appeals to the medical professional associations which expelled Schmidt. The organizations involved include the Chicago Medical Society, the American Medical Association and the Illinois Medical Society.

News stories, journal articles and editorials, including articles in Chicago German-language newspapers, document the controversy surrounding Schmidt's expulsion. The extensive collection of these Clippings is arranged according to geographic origin and type of publication. Most of the clippings were glued to ruled pages and contained in binders. The clippings are arranged chronologically, except for the two folders containing articles appearing in publications throughout the nation aside from Illinois; these are arranged alphabetically by the state in which the article was published.

Typed and hand written Letters of Support letters and telegrams supporting Schmidt in his struggle to maintain membership in the professional medical societies make up the. These are arranged alphabetically by author. The majority of the letters are from sympathetic strangers, former patients and friends who followed the controversy in the newspapers. Many are noteworthy for their compelling personal stories or for their low opinion of the medical establishment. Also noteworthy are letters from Milton Florsheim of Florsheim shoes, Col. Robert McCormick, owner of the Chicago Tribune, and Ed Kelley, Chicago politician, and a letter in German, with translation from a physician acquaintance, M. R. Schneller, writing from the Minnesota state prison. Perhaps less useful to Schmidt was the support of one Howard Ambruster, who sent Schmidt copies of his own battle with the courts. These documents are foldered with Ambruster's note to Schmidt.


Corporate Name

American Medical Association

Chicago Medical Society

Illinois State Medical Society

Personal Name

Schmidt, Louis E. (Louis Ernst), 1869-1957


Physicans--United States--Biography

Container List / Contents

  • Biographical Files
    • Biographical Data, 1894-1957Box 1, Folder 1
    • Louis E. Schmidt Civic Appointments, 1898-1929Box 1, Folder 2
    • Clippings, 1924-1932Box 1, Folder 3
  • Subject Files
    • Illinois Social Hygiene League: Documents and correspondence, 1919-1928Box 1, Folder 4
    • Rosenwald Fund, 1929Box 1, Folder 5
    • "Looking Forward in Medicine" Speech (draft and final), May 16, 1929Box 1, Folder 6
    • Economics of Health Care: Clippings, 1929-1930Box 1, Folder 7
    • Public Health organizations, petitions, letters (incoming), 1930-1940Box 1, Folder 8
    • Chicago Dental Society, 1934Box 1, Folder 9
    • Schmidt et al vs National Medicine Inc (lawsuit), 1935-1936Box 1, Folder 10
    • American Foundation Studies in Government / Committee of Physicians, 1936-1940Box 1, Folder 11
    • United Medical Services, Inc., 1936Box 1, Folder 12
    • Medical Protective Company, 1938Box 1, Folder 13
    • Grand Jury Case re Group Clinics (Civic Medical Center), 1938Box 1, Folder 14
  • Expulsion Controversy
    • "The Facts and the Law in the Case of Louis E. Schmidt", circa 1929Box 1, Folder 15
    • Chronology of Expulsion Controversy, 1929-1030Box 1, Folder 16
    • Records of the Controversy, 1921-1929Box 1, Folder 17
    • Records of the Controversy, 1929-1930Box 1, Folder 18
    • American Medical Association Decision and Appeals, 1930Box 1, Folder 19
    • Statements: Schmidt, 1929-1930Box 2, Folder 1
    • Urological Association, 1930-1931Box 2, Folder 2
    • Expulsion from the Urological Association, 1933Box 2, Folder 3
  • Expulsion Controversy: Clippings
    • Clippings: Chicago Publications, 1929Box 2, Folder 4
    • Clippings: Chicago Publications, 1929-1932Box 2, Folder 5
    • Clippings: Illinois Publications, 1929-1930Box 2, Folder 6
    • Clippings: Publications Nationwide (Alabama - New York), 1929Box 2, Folder 7
    • Clippings: Publications Nationwide (New York- Wyoming), 1929-1930Box 2, Folder 8
    • Clippings: Medical Journals, 1928-1929Box 3, Folder 1
    • Clippings: Medical Journals, 1929-1932Box 3, Folder 2
    • Clippings: Journals, not medical, 1929-1931Box 3, Folder 3
  • Expulsion Controversy: Letters of Support
    • Correspondent surnames A - F, 1929-1930Box 3, Folder 4
    • Correspondent surnames G - M, 1929-1930Box 3, Folder 5
    • Correspondent surnames N - Z, 1929-1930Box 3, Folder 6
    • Ambruster, Howard W., note and flyers, 1929Box 3, Folder 7