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The American College of Physicians during the Great Depression (1929 - 1940)

The crash of the New York Stock Exchange on October 29, 1929, known as Black Tuesday, was the primary event that ushered in the longest and most severe economic recession experienced by the Western world-the Great Depression. The first BOR minutes subsequent to Black Tuesday were from the Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, February 10, 1930. Ironically the Regents were discussing the financial improvement that the College had made in 1929. By the next BOR meeting, May 4, 1930, Executive Secretary Edward R. Loveland mentioned that the nationwide depression was greatly affecting the income of College Fellows, and suggested that a "lenient attitude" towards dues remittance should be ascribed to for legitimate cases of financial difficulty.

1933 Annual Session Program

The BOR minutes from December 31, 1931 discuss the first serious financial emergency that the College had sustained. The Bank of Pittsburgh National Association, which was given "custodianship" of all College securities and savings accounts, had gone bankrupt. The College was able to transfer its securities holdings (all in bonds) totaling $60,500 ($851,000 in 2009 dollars) to a healthier institution, the Colonial Trust Company of Pittsburgh.

The situation was not as smooth for the College's $37,000 (approximately $523,000 in 2009 dollars) in savings accounts which were tied up in the Bank of Pittsburgh's collapse. Although $25,000 was paid back within two years, the College was not fully reimbursed until 1940. While this event did not financially hamstring the functioning of the College, it did serve as a lesson for adopting a more conservative approach to both expenditures and investments. Following the recommendations of Treasurer, Dr. William D. Stroud, the BOR decided to centralize all financial resources in Philadelphia institutions and selected the Girard Trust Company of Philadelphia as an investment counselor for College securities. By late 1932 stock values had dropped to about 20% of their previous value, and by 1933, 11,000 of the U.S.'s 25,000 banks had failed. These and other events resulted in a high unemployment rate of nearly 30% by 1932. Despite this economic climate, 1931 was a "financially sound year" for the College. ACP's total assets were $109,000 (1.5 million in 2009 dollars) split almost evenly between the Endowment Fund and the General Fund.

On April 4, 1932 the Executive Secretary reported that he had distributed a letter to members suggesting if any "found it impossible to pay his dues to promptly arrange through the Executive Offices for temporary deferment, or payment in monthly installments". By the November 13, 1932 BOR meeting, all membership fees were reduced for Fellows and Associates. It was also stated that greater "budget control" should be implemented, and that no excess expenses should be approved. At Edward Loveland's request, the BOR approved a temporary reduction in his salary and the award amount for the John Phillips Memorial Prize.

Notwithstanding the dues reduction, the number of Fellows delinquent in paying their dues increased dramatically throughout 1933-which resulted in a further dues reduction of 25% for the 1934 financial year. Although the College would finish the financial year with a surplus, it was still defaulting on some of its investment interest payments. As a result the Finance Committee adopted a measure to invest the College's funds primarily in U.S. Treasury Bonds until the economy recovered. The College's financial situation improved at a pace seemingly ahead of the nation in general. By 1936 the College's finances enabled the purchase of Eisenlohr Mansion at 4200 Pine Street, Philadelphia. The Mansion, along with repairs, construction and furnishings cost ACP $64,000 (approximately $985,000.000 in 2009 dollars). Despite financial hurdles for members and difficulties with investments, the American College of Physicians weathered the Great Depression; grew its membership from 1,812 (in 1929) to 4,432 (in 1940); and increased its total assets from $73,000 in 1928 to $246,000 by 1940.

-Prepared July 2009 by Eric Greenberg, based on materials from the Archives of the American College of Physicians. CPI Inflation Calculator can be found at http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl.