Once the dissection of cadavers became legal in 1873 – an essential component of medical education – a number of Little Rock physicians were committed to forming a traditional medical school. It was P.O. Hooper who assumed the responsibility of organizing such a school that would provide Arkansans with an opportunity for a formal medical education and encourage high standards of medical practice.

Along with his associates who comprised the College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Little Rock and Pulaski County Medical Society, Hooper proposed a medical department to General Daniel Harvey Hill, president of the Arkansas Industrial University at Fayetteville. The Board of Trustees enthusiastically accepted the proposal and granted an independent medical department that would not receive state appropriations.

The Arkansas Industrial University Medical Department was incorporated Sept. 26, 1879. The eight proprietors – respected leaders in both the profession and the community – invested $5,000 to provide the capital to purchase the medical school’s first home, the Sperindio Hotel at 113 West Second Street. Their strong advocacy and pioneering efforts led the way for medical education in Arkansas.

Sperindio Hotel, circa 1873

Sperindio Hotel, circa 1873. It was purchased and remodeled by the new medical school in 1879.

The following collection of biographical essays on the eight founders is a look back at the lives of the founders and the beginnings of medical education in Arkansas. Written by the late faculty member, Fred O. Henker, M.D. ’45, who was especially interested in historical research and writing in addition to his long career as a psychiatrist and faculty member of the College of Medicine. He served the COM for 39 years until his retirement in 1989. Henker was awarded the President’s Award from the Pulaski County Medical Society for his lifetime of contributions to medicine in 2003. He died in 2005 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease and was posthumously inducted into the College of Medicine Hall of Fame the following year.

Henker was featured in the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of Medicine in the “Looking Back” section of the magazine.


Edwin Bentley, M.D.
Augustus L. Breysacher, M.D.
James A. Dibrell, Jr., M.D.
P.O. Hooper, M.D.
Roscoe Green Jennings, M.D.
John J. McAlmont, M.D.
James Henry Southall, M.D.
Claiborne Watkins, M.D.

For additional information:

Baird, W. David. Medical Education in Arkansas, 1879-1978. Memphis: Memphis State University Press, 1979.
Baker, Max L., ed., Historical Perspectives: The College of Medicine at the Sesquicentennial. Little Rock: Arkansas Sesquicentennial Commission, 1986.

Note: A longer version of the aboveĀ informationĀ can be found at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture