Fishbein, Morris, 1889-1976

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1889-07-22
Death 1976-09-27
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Physician, editor, and writer. B.S., University of Chicago, 1910. M.D., Rush Medical College, 1912. Editor, The Journal of the American Medical Association, 1924-1949. Died 1976.

From the description of Papers, 1912-1976 (inclusive). (University of Chicago Library). WorldCat record id: 52246170

Dr. Fishbein was editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association from 1913 to 1949 and of Hygeia from 1924 to 1947.

From the description of Morris Fishbein : transcript of an interview / interviewed by Charles O. Jackson, Mar. 12, 1968. (National Library of Medicine). WorldCat record id: 14329448

The papers of Morris Fishbein—medical editor, writer, lecturer, and prodigious fund-raiser—span the long and active career he himself described near the age of 80 in Morris Fishbein, M. D.: An Autobiography (New York: Doubleday, 1969). They incorporate the papers of his wife, Anna Mantel Fishbein.

Morris Fishbein’s career as an educator divides naturally into two parts. Between 1912 and 1948 he was associated with the American Medical Association. After early retirement in 1949, until his death in 1976, he expanded the range of his activities as free-lance lecturer, editor, author and philanthropist. The organization of his papers reflects this division of his career. The first section of the Correspondence series (Boxes 109) dates to the AMA period as do many of the folders in Series II: General Files (Boxes 41-111) and most of the Scrapbooks (Series III: Memorabilia). The remainder of Box 125 dates to the later, post-retirement period.

Born to Eastern European immigrant parents in St. Louis on 22 July 1889, Morris Fishbein grew up in Indianapolis. Graduating from Shortridge High School after three and one-half years, he entered the University of Chicago in 1906, completed his B. S. in 1910, and was awarded his medical degree from Rush Medical College in 1912. A few months later he was invited to assist the editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association, and in 1924, with the retirement of Dr. George Simmons, he assumed its editorship. He held this position until 1949.

As editor of JAMA Fishbein became the AMA’s spokesman during a period of great growth and change in American medicine, and under his editorship JAMA became the most influential and affluent periodical in the history of medical journalism. He read the 3000 manuscripts submitted each year, paying physicians for the 500 articles that he selected for publication. He set the standards and screened advertising from the burgeoning pharmaceuticals industry. Although an employee of the AMA’s Board of Trustees, it was Fishbein’s editorials, and his editorial work, which articulated and shaped the AMA’s policies. He exercised his power to print or not to print with a consistency of viewpoint which the Board of Trustees, whose members were elected for brief terms, could not match.

Continuing the AMA’s long-standing interest in advancing medical education and in eliminating charlatans from the medical professions, Fishbein used JAMA to pursue quacks relentlessly. He, as a consequence, was sued more than 30 times, for a total of $40 million, but never lost a suit. These attacks on quackery attracted wide public interest and moved Fishbein and the AMA to a closer relationship with the lay public. Fishbein created an AMA public relations office which issued press releases and responded to the inquiries of newspaper reporters. In 1924 he added Hygeia, a magazine for lay readers, to the list of AMA publications and encouraged physicians to write for it. He himself contributed frequent articles and columns to newspapers and popular magazines, and from these grew a number of his more than 40 books, many of them popular best-sellers. His Modern Home Medical Advisor, first published in 1935 and revised several times, sold four million copies and was translated into nine languages.

Gifted as a writer—he regularly produced 15,000 words a week for publication—he was also gifted as a platform speaker. For years he delivered as many as 300 speeches and lectures every year, keynoting conferences, introducing programs, speaking to medical professionals and lay audiences in every part of the country, and frequently abroad, on behalf of the AMA and other medical organizations. His irrepressible wit, his energy, and his instant quotability led to frequent requests that he appear on radio broadcasts, and he became increasingly identified in the public mind as the “voice” of American medicine. Time Magazine characterized him as “the nation’s most ubiquitous, most widely maligned, and perhaps most influential medico.”

Although he had the confidence of the Board of Trustees, and their support for his activities, his prominence in the media made some members of the AMA uneasy. Some disagreed with the AMA policies which Fishbein so forcefully expressed. Some disliked his style or thought it inappropriate to his position as editor of a scientific journal. In the 1940’s Fishbein was three times required to defend his activities in the AMA’s House of Delegates. They became a central issue for the contenders to the AMA presidency in 1949, however. Fishbein declined a political fight and the Board of Trustees, fearing a contest intense enough to disrupt the AMA, reached agreement with him on the conditions of his retirement.

Leaving the Atlantic City convention at which the decision was announced Fishbein was offered five jobs, and, he said, accepted them all. He stayed on a few months to train a successor and left the AMA at the end of 1949. Many physicians—he was said to have formed personal relationships with more than 8000—men of literature and public affairs, and leaders in business and entertainment wrote to praise his work on behalf of the AMA; these letter and a large number of newspaper clippings are found in Box 43:1-4 and Box 68: 7-10.

Within a few months after “retirement,” Fishbein was writing, editing, and lecturing as widely as before his departure from the AMA. He increasingly involved himself in medical philanthropy, lecturing for Dr. Charles A. Haney & Associates (Box 15:1-2) to build new hospitals throughout the United States and accepting invitations to the boards of numerous Chicago and many national organizations and institutions. He was involved immediately in the publication of Postgraduate Medicine, lectured at the University of Chicago, and from 1953 to 1957 produced an annual series, Medical Progress. The first edition of his Illustrated Medical and Health Encyclopedia appeared in 1957, and in 1960, at the age of seventy, Fishbein published Medical World News.

Although Fishbien’s activities were slowed by an operation, illness, and the effects of advancing age, Morris Fishbein never retired. He continued to work with humor and vigor until shortly before his death, on 27 September 1976, at the age of 87. He was survived only briefly by his wife of sixty-two years, Anna Mantel Fishbein, who died on 23 December 1976.

From the guide to the Fishbein, Morris. Papers, 1912-1976, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

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Subjects:

  • Quackery--Autobiography
  • Public Health--Autobiography
  • Medicine
  • Physicians
  • Abstracting and Indexing as Topic
  • Physicians as authors
  • Quackery--Interview
  • Physicians, American--Biography
  • Public Health--Interview

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)