Galens Medical Society Records

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Galens Medical Society records

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger Galens Medical Society records collection held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the collection's online finding aid.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

Student Honorary Medical Society at the University of Michigan Medical School, conducts annual "Tag Day" fund-raising campaign in support of its charitable activities and produces the Smoker, an annual musical parody produced and performed by medical students; papers include minutes and other organizational records, historical sketches of the organization, photographs documenting the founding and growth of the society and audio-visual recordings of Galens Smoker

The Galens Honorary Medical Society was founded in 1914 as an honor society for upperclassmen in the university medical school. According to its original constitution, its purpose was to foster mental and social relationships between faculty and upperclassmen and between fraternity members and independents. The society's other goals included standing for the honor system and inviting leading medical professionals to speak to the club or in classes. In the following decades, the Galens broadened their activities and membership. In 1975, they revised their constitution, defined themselves as a service organization, and renamed themselves the Galens Medical Society. Their new statement of purpose reflected years of development in its emphasis on assisting underprivileged and crippled children, providing loans and scholarships for medical students, promoting medical education and scholarship, and furthering the activities and traditions of the university medical school.

From 1914 to 1948, membership in the society was divided into two categories: active and honorary. The society elected twenty to twenty-five active members from the junior and senior classes. About two-thirds of the students belonged to fraternities. Honorary members were elected from previous Galens who remained actively connected with the University of Michigan. The society also elected faculty prefects to serve as advisors for one to two years. In 1948, the Galens limited the number of active members from any one fraternity and distinguished between alumnus membership and honorary membership. They elected honorary members from the medical school male faculty, even if they had not been a Galen previously. In 1954, membership expanded to twenty-eight members and has grown ever since. In the 1960s, when election procedures for new active members were questioned, they considered other procedures for electing new members, such as faculty or self-nominations. They eliminated the minimum fraternity membership requirements in 1968 and admitted women in 1971. Sophomores were admitted by 1982, and freshmen were included by 1988. With the new election procedures, membership swelled to over one hundred fifty members in the 1980s and 1990s.

From the early years of the Galens, the society represented the opinions and needs of the student body. For example, in 1916 they helped to establish a uniform honor system for the university medical school. They submitted annual recommendations that represented student concerns about the required curriculum and the quality of instruction. In the 1930s and 1940s, they equipped student laboratories and lecture halls. In the 1940s and 1950s, they provided free tuberculosis examinations for medical students. They maintained various lounges in the school and hospital from the 1940s to 1970s. From 1940 to the present, they have sponsored an annual lectureship as well as loans and scholarships for medical students. From the 1950s to the present, the Galens have oriented freshmen to the medical school. They also have presented awards to students, residents, and faculty. Since 1937, they have annually awarded a faculty member with the "Silver Shovel" for the "gift of gab." Since 1976, they have presented the "Bronze Beeper" to staff at core medical school hospitals who have best contributed to medical students' education. In addition, the Galens have sponsored social activities. They have held an initiation banquet annually since 1915, and they have organized the Caduceus Ball since 1934.

The first Tag Days in 1927 marked the beginning of the Galens' public service tradition to benefit hospitalized children. During two days in December, Galens aggressively canvassed the streets of Ann Arbor for donations. Donors received a red or green tag to wear as a sign of their support. Galens also solicited donations by mail. The proceeds initially sponsored Christmas parties for children in the university hospital and provided equipment and a part-time instructor for the Galen Shop. In the Galen Shop, hospitalized children created arts and crafts. Proceeds from later Tag Days supported a small library, roof garden, and salaries for personnel to bring crafts to children's bedsides. In 1964, the Galens donated $30,000 for the construction of a new children's workshop in the new Mott Hospital, yet also decided to give Tag Day proceeds to other organizations that benefited children. In 1968, the society pledged $80,000 to equip the "Galens Intensive Care Unit for Children" in the Mott Hospital. In 1974, they pledged $100,000 over ten years for the new pediatric unit of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. In 1982 when the unit was not finished as planned, the Galens were forced to reconsider the appropriation of Tag Day funds. They required all charitable groups, except the Children's Workshop at the Mott Hospital, to submit annual proposals for use of Tag Day funds. The organizations had to be in Washtenaw County, benefit children under eighteen years of age, and have exhausted other forms of funding. For example, in 1990-1991 the Galens distributed nearly $71,000 among thirteen organizations that assisted children (Box 2, Officers' Records and Reports, President, 1993-1994, Galens Honorary Information Packet).

From the 1970s to 1990s, the Galens have participated in a number of other service activities. For example, they performed free physicals in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area for children attending camp. They staffed free health clinics for underprivileged children in Ypsilanti and at the Packard Community Clinic. They also staffed the Briarwood Run and organized Red Cross blood drives.

Outside of donations, dues, and Tag Days, from 1938 to 1972 the Galens acquired funds from the Galen News Stand in the hospital lobby. The store fund provided money for social activities, medical charities, equipment for the medical school and hospital, loans, awards, and miscellaneous expenses. The news stand was closed when profits plummeted due to the discontinuation of cigarette sales.

In 1918, the society held its first "All-Medic Smoker" in the Michigan Union. In the show, students and professors gave informal humorous dialogues to a male audience in a smoke-filled room. By the 1930s, the humor of the Smoker was patently irreverent and risqué. The 1931 Smoker saw the introduction of Thymico-Lymphatic Constitution, a satirical, partly obscene newspaper. When the 1948 edition crossed the desk of the Dean of Students, he responded with a suspension of their social privileges. After a year, medical faculty intervened to restore the Galens activities. Beginning in 1955, the society attempted to clean up the humor of the skits. From 1961 to the present, the Society has parodied movies and musicals in order to poke fun at life in medical school, with titles such as "My Fair Malady" and "The Sound of Mucus." Admission of women to the Smoker was a hotly contested issue until the Galens admitted women as members to the society in 1971.

Overall, this record group documents the changing concerns of medical students for their education, medicine, and community. It shows the Galens' evolution from an exclusive, junior and senior, male honorary society to an inclusive service society open to all medical students. It documents the growth of the society's funds and involvement with the university hospital and charities in Washtenaw County. It highlights the society's interactions with other students, faculty, alumni, community organizations, and Washtenaw area residents, and reveals the different perceptions each has had of the society's goals, membership, and activities. The humor and social activities of the society also reveal a lighter side to medical student life.

The Galens also maintain a website at

Please note:

Copyright is held by the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Access to digitized sound recordings may be limited to the reading room of the Bentley Historical Library, located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

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