Professional Licenses and Diplomas, 1832-1974

RECORD GROUP: County Clerk
SERIES: Professional Licenses and Diplomas
DATES: 1832-1974 (bulk 1840-1950)
VOLUME: 7.5 cubic feet

Strauss license
Certificate to practice medicine
Spencer G. Strauss, January 5, 1915

Records in this group consist of records pertaining to medical licenses, diplomas or certificates, for Monmouth County residents in nine professions, 1832-2005.

Medicine and medical training during the early 1700s was primitive throughout the colonies. There were only a few qualified physicians and fewer medical schools or colleges to educate future practitioners. Quacks and incompetents took advantage of the lack of controls governing the practice of medicine, often to the detriment of their unsuspecting patients. On many occasions, New Jersey Colonial residents expressed their concerns to the Royal Governor and his Council requesting legislative action to protect the Colony’s citizens, but the Colonial government did little in the way of establishing any guidelines or legislative regulations.

It would take many years before a group of concerned, reputable New Jersey physicians and surgeons organized themselves into the Medical Society of New Jersey in July 1766. Their goal was to protect the public from the unscrupulous pretenders who were taking advantage of the residents and to encourage and improve the medical profession. Since the Colonial government was doing very little in the way of legislative control, the Medical Society of New Jersey pledged to be the watchdogs with or without the legislative help of the Royal Governor, Council and General Assembly.

The Society did, in fact, have to wait five years for legislative action. Finally, after many petitions and requests, “An Act to Regulate the Practice of Physick & Surgery within the colony of New Jersey,” was passed on September 26, 1772. The Royal Governor, Council and General Assembly had taken the first legislative steps against the “many ignorant and unskillful persons in Physic & Surgery. . . endangering . . . the lives and limbs of their patients. . .

The Act stated that anyone wishing to practice as a qualified physician or surgeon had to be examined in “physic or surgery” by any two judges of the Supreme Court, who could call to their assistance any “proper person or persons as they, in their discretion, shall think fit.” After passing the examination, the applicant received a testimonial (certificate), stating that he or she could practice throughout the Colony. The Act of 1772 remained in force for five years and was extended by two additional acts in November 1783 and November 1786.

From 1795 to 1806, Medical Society membership declined and the group almost dissolved. In 1807, the Society petitioned the legislature to request that it be allowed to reorganize. The December 18, 1807, “Act to Ratify and Confirm the Proceedings of the Medical Society of New Jersey,” received the immediate approval of the General Assembly.

The Act provided for better methods of examination and the granting of licenses to qualified physicians and surgeons. Supreme Court Judges withdrew from their commissions as medical examiners and were replaced by members of the Medical Society.

The Medical Society continued to press for further improvements and within nine years prepared and presented to the legislature another re‑incorporation petition. On February 15, 1816, the “Act to Incorporate the Medical Society of New Jersey” was approved. One of the changes made under the 1816 Act was the provision of District Societies to be established in each county. The District Societies were to be composed of not less than three physicians or surgeons of “known skill, learning and integrity.” It was the duty of the District members to examine all applicants and to issue a certificate of approval. The certificate was then forwarded to the President of the Medical Society who issued the actual license.

During the first seventy‑four years of its existence, the Medical Society of New Jersey had made great strides in protecting the residents of New Jersey and in improving the standards of the medical profession. But, by 1830, the Society realized its limitations and once again requested the Legislature to allow another reorganization under “The Act to Incorporate Medical Societies for the purpose of regulating the practice of physic and surgery in this State,” passed January 28, 1830. The act provided for the creation of the Board of Censors, which had the responsibility to examine and approve each applicant.

The Society also included, for the first time, a clear definition of the standards expected of those hoping to establish themselves as physicians or surgeons in the State of New Jersey. According to the law, the student or applicant had to be twenty‑one years old before he or she could be considered by the Board of Censors. Applicants also were required to have studied for four years under the direction and preceptorship of a regular practicing physician or surgeon of the State, and had to attend one course of medical lectures. The teaching doctor was required to submit a certificate to the Secretary of the Medical Society when training was initiated. College graduates had to have completed three years of college or university and attended a medical course of lectures. The certificate of approval issued by the Board of Censors was then forwarded to the President of the Medical Society, who granted the license to practice. A copy of the Medical Society license (also known as a diploma) had to be filed with the Clerk of the county in which the physician practiced. The Clerk was paid a 12 1/2 cents filing fee.

The year 1851 would bring a rift between the Medical Society and the Legislature. By this point, legislators and the public alike felt the Medical Society was only in existence to collect application fees. The Society was accused of forming a monopoly to satisfy their power and greed. The public demanded that the Society be stripped of its absolute control in regulating the practice of medicine and that the legislature take over the responsibility of regulating the medical profession within the State. Despite the Medical Society’s protests, “A Supplement to an Act entitled, ‘An Act to Incorporate Medical Societies for the purpose of regulating the practice of physic and surgery in this State,'” was passed January 28, 1830. The General Assembly had made major changes to the Society’s authority and licensing procedures. Under the 1851 Act, graduates of five New York and Pennsylvania colleges were no longer required to obtain their licenses from the Medical Society. The law stated that they need only to apply to the Society, pay the fee, and file a copy of their diplomas with the Clerk of the county in which they intended to practice. Students of licensed practitioners were still required to obtain their licenses from the Medical Society.

In 1854, the legislature approved yet another Act, eliminating the need for any student to apply to the Medical Society. Students of licensed practitioners now only needed three years of study under a licensed physician and had to have attended two, twelve‑week courses at any medical school or college. The diploma issued by the school covering the twelve‑week courses was to be filed in the County Clerk’s office.

The Act of 1851 and 1854 placed the responsibility of licensing of physicians under the jurisdiction of the State, stripping the Medical Society of New Jersey of much of its power and authority. From 1854 until the late 1870s, the State also shifted the responsibility of keeping records of physicians and surgeons practicing within the State to the County level.

Beginning in 1880, more changes were made in licensing procedures. Through the Acts entitled, “An Act to Regulate the Practice of medicine and surgery,” passed March 12, 1880, and “A Supplement to an Act entitled, ‘An Act to regulate the practice of medicine and surgery, approved March 22, 1883,'” County Clerks were directed to furnish the State Board of Health with a list of physicians and surgeons, who had deposited a copy of their diplomas, and the date the diploma was issued. The County Clerk also was required to keep a separate book for recording the names of physicians and surgeons practicing in the county.

Major changes to the system began in 1890 with “An Act to regulate the practice of medicine and surgery, to license physicians and surgeons and to punish persons violating the provisions thereof,” passed May 12, 1890. This Act gave the Governor the authority to appoint a board of examiners, known as the State Board of Medical Examiners, consisting of nine members. Any person wishing to establish a practice had to apply to the Board for a license and was required to take a written examination. Once the applicant passed the examination, he or she was issued a certificate by the Board of Medical Examiners. The certificate had to be filed and recorded by the Clerk of the county in which the physician was planning to practice. The Board of Medical Examiners’ certificate replaced the requirement for the filing of diplomas.

Another important part of the 1890 Act stated that, after January 1892, licenses would not be issued to any applicant not graduated from a legally chartered medical school. Physicians who relocated from one county to another were required to file a certified copy of the Board’s certificate in the new county. The procedures established in 1890 continued until 1897, at which time all record keeping of licensed physicians and surgeons was transferred back to the State level, under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Board of Medical Examiners. However, to the present day in New Jersey, physicians register a certified copy of their medical license, certified by the State Board of Medical Examiners, with the County Clerk. The current fee in most counties is $25.

Physicians and surgeons were not the only members of the medical field who were governed by strict standards and guidelines. Over the years, other medical practitioners were added to the list of professionals regulated by the State and the Board of Medical Examiners. The following Acts of Legislation provided the necessary protection for New Jersey citizens against the many “ignorant and unskillful persons” who had entered the medical profession in specialized fields and who also were required to file State Board Examiner certificates with the County Clerks:

Chiropodists 1908 An Act to Regulate the Practice of chiropody and to punish persons violating the provisions thereof
Chiropractors 1920 An Act to Regulate the practice of chiropractic
Dentists 1873 An Act to Regulate the Practice of dentistry and to protect people against empiricism
Nurses 1912 An Act to regulate the practice of nursing in the State of New Jersey to register nurses with the privilege of using the abbreviation “RN”
Midwives 1892 An Act to Regulate Midwifery
Osteopaths 1913 An Act to regulate the practice of Osteopathy in the State and the Creation of the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners
Veterinarians 1889 An Act to Protect the Title of Veterinary Medicine and Surgeons
The Professionals record series consists of two types of records: certificates and diplomas; and books in which the awarding of certificates was recorded. The following categories of 1,765 professionals are documented: chiropodists, chiropractors, dentists, nurses, midwives, osteopaths, physicians, surgeons, and veterinarians.

A. Certificates and Diplomas
Most of the certificates and diplomas are filed alphabetically by last name of the professional and date from 1832 to 1921. A supplemental box includes the years 1879 to 1950.
Types of documents include:
1. (1832‑1853) licenses issued by the Medical Society of New Jersey and signed by the President of the Society granting the physician the privilege of practicing in the State.
2. (1854‑1890) handwritten copies of medical diplomas, some of which are in Latin. Although most of the copies of the diplomas provide only the text, a few include elaborate copies of the art work in the original diplomas and a very few are, in fact, the original diplomas. These unusual examples are filed separately in map drawers due to size.
3. (1891‑1950) certificates from the State Board of Medical Examiners of New Jersey stating that the physician has practiced medicine for at least five years in another state and can now practice in New Jersey.
4. (1891‑1950) certificates from the State Board of Medical Examiners of New Jersey stating that the physician “has passed a satisfactory examination before this board and is hereby licensed to practice Medicine and Surgery. . . ”
The earliest document (1832) is a copy of a license issued to George F. Fort by the Medical Society of New Jersey (Dr. Fort later served as Governor of New Jersey from 1851 to 1854). Dr. Fort’s cover letter to Daniel H. Ellis, Clerk of Monmouth County, is on the same sheet of paper. Dr. Fort states that to conform to Section 13 of the Act entitled, “An Act to incorporate Medical Societies for the purpose of regulating the practice of Physic and Surgery in this State,” he is sending a copy of his Medical Society diploma to be filed and a fee of 12 1/2 cents.

B. Books
The six books in this series consist of the following:
1. Physicians Register, 1880-1897. Dates pertain to when the physician filed with the County Clerk; in some cases the diploma was received much earlier. Grouped alphabetically by first letter of surname of physicians, the physicians are listed with the date they filed their diploma or license, the institution which granted it, and the date of the diploma or license.
2. Veterinarians Medical Register, 1889‑1974 (bulk, 1840‑1897) Same layout and information as Physicians Register. Some veterinarians filed an “affidavit” instead of a diploma. Sixty‑three veterinarians are listed.
3. Register of Optometrists, 1914‑1933. Grouped alphabetically by first letter of surname of optometrist, the optometrists are listed with their town, date of filing and registration, and number and date of certificate. Forty‑three optometrists are listed.
4. Registered Nurses, Book 2, 1938‑1945. This volume consists of typewritten copies of registered nurses’ certificates, two to a page. The certificates state that they are awarded by the New Jersey State Board of Examiners of Nurses, in accordance with the Act of April 1, 1912, revised June 22, 1936. The 445 certificates are in chronological order and include the certificate number.
5. Physicians and Midwives Register, 1945-1978, “Book 2.”
6. Physicians Register, 1979-2005, “Book 3.”

This collection is open to researchers.

Except for the last two books listed above, the Professional series is available for use on microfilm, three rolls for the certificates and diplomas, and one roll for the first four books listed above. Two printed indexes for these records, other than the last two books, are available in the reading room: alphabetical by name; and chronological by year filed. Both indexes contain the following types of information:
A. Name
B. Year file
C. Certificate number
D. Authority
E. Microfilm roll number

The authority is usually one of the following:
1) the name of the medical college and date of graduation;
2) certificate from the Medical Society of New Jersey (with date); or
3) certificate from the State Board.

In some cases, both a medical college and a certificate are listed. When a physician previously practiced in another state, this information is noted, e.g. “Collidge [sic] of New York.” Primary references are to the certificates, but if the information came from a book, the book is cited. If the professional is listed in both a certificate and a book, the index provides a “See also” reference to the book.

A searchable Access database for the records other than the last two books listed above is available in Archives. The fields include: name, date, certificate number, graduated, notes, box number and microfilm number.

Names in most of the books are grouped by the first letter of the surname and then chronologically. The Registered Nurses Book, 1938-1945, and the Physicians and Midwives Book, 1945-1978, are straight chronological. Individual diplomas or certificates are arranged alphabetically by last name except some larger ones in a flat box.

Monmouth County Archives
125 Symmes Drive
Manalapan, NJ 07726
Phone: 732-308-3771

Most of the records were transferred to the Monmouth County Archives by County Clerk Jane G. Clayton before September 1993. The last two books listed above were transferred by County Clerk Christine Giordano Hanlon in September 2015 (Accession #2015-10).

Records were microfilmed September 2, 1993. An Access database was completed September 22, 2006. This finding aid was created April 1994, revised October 2001, and then by George Joynson, April 2015, and by Gary D. Saretzky, September 2015.

More recent recordings of physicians are available from the Monmouth County Clerk.