Philo Oliver Hooper has been called the father of Arkansas medicine. He was one of the founders of the Medical Department of Arkansas Industrial University, now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), a founder and the first president of the Arkansas State Medical Association, a founding board member and director of the Arkansas Lunatic Asylum, and vice president of the American Medical Association.
P. O. Hooper was born on October 11, 1833, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Alanson Hooper and Magdaline Perry Hooper. After obtaining what education was available in the city at the time, he pursued his education at Nashville University in Nashville, Tennessee. Returning home to Little Rock, he found employment as the chief clerk in Dr. William W. Adams’s drug establishment and began to “read” medicine under Dr. Lorenzo Gibson Sr. As soon as possible, he continued his medical education at Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1856. His graduation thesis was titled “Gunshot Wounds.”
On his return to Little Rock after graduation, Hooper immediately joined Gibson in practice and, from that point, was involved in all aspects of Arkansas medicine.
On November 3, 1859, Hooper married Georgie Carroll, an Alabama native. They had three sons and two daughters.
When the Civil War broke out, Hooper entered Confederate service as a major, serving as medical director of the Department of Indian Territory on the staff of General Albert Pike. He was stationed at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), until early 1862, when he was ordered to Memphis, Tennessee. He returned to Arkansas a few months later to oversee the gathering and transfer of medical supplies to Washington (Hempstead County). Later in 1862, he was called to Little Rock by General Thomas C. Hindman and assigned to the Confederate Medical Board to examine applicants for appointments in the medical service of the Trans-Mississippi Department. He continued in this capacity until the end of the war, serving in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Indian Territory. He came under fire at Greenwood and Pleasant Hill, Louisiana.
After the war, Hooper returned to Little Rock and resumed his practice with Dr. Augustus L. Breysacher. The immediate postwar period was a time of much turmoil in medical practice in Arkansas. Many questionable practices arose. There were essentially three schools of thought regarding medical practice in Arkansas in the mid-nineteenth century: the eclectic, or botanical; the homeopathic; and the allopathic, or regular. In an effort to bring a degree of legitimacy and control to the practice of medicine, Hooper, as an allopathic physician was an active participant in the organization of medical societies, serving as president of both state and local medical groups. He was elected a vice president of the American Medical Association and presided over its national meeting in 1883.
Hooper’s interest in improving medical care for Arkansans led to his efforts to organize, along with seven others, a private medical department under the charter of Arkansas Industrial University (now the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County)). On June 17, 1879, the university’s board of trustees enacted a resolution that a medical branch be established in Little Rock with Hooper as principal. Hooper assembled a faculty composed of himself and the seven other founders. Hooper was elected the first president (dean) of the faculty and professor of principles and practice of medicine. The school awarded its first diploma on March 2, 1880, to Tom M. Pinson.
Hooper remained as dean until 1885, when he resigned to become superintendent of the state mental asylum in Little Rock. His duties there prompted his retirement from active teaching in 1887, though he remained on the faculty as professor emeritus until his death.
Besides his interests in medical education, Hooper was concerned about the care of the mentally ill and lobbied extensively for the construction of a state facility. In 1881, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a bill for the construction and operation of the Arkansas Lunatic Asylum, which was completed in 1882. Hooper was named president of the board and, on two separate occasions, served as superintendent of the hospital.
The years had taken a toll on Hooper’s health, and with his wife’s death in March 1902, he began a further decline. He died on July 28, 1902. He was buried in the family plot at Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock. Hooper’s name remains on the main entrance drive to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas State Hospital.
For additional information:
Baird, W. David. Medical Education in Arkansas, 1879–1978. Memphis: Memphis State University Press, 1979.
Henker, Fred O. “Pulaski County’s Great Physician—Dr. P. O. Hooper.” Pulaski County Historical Review 29 (Fall 1981): 46–51.
Henker, Fred O., and Jeanette J. Shorey. “Dr. P. O. Hooper–Father of Arkansas Medicine.” Journal of the Arkansas Medical Society 78 (October 1981): 189–192.
Max L. Baker and Fred O. Henker
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences