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Notes from the Library Archives

A Doctor for the Common People

by Robyn Oro on 2022-02-16T13:43:01-06:00 in History of Medicine, Family Medicine, Osteopathy, Archives | Comments


This photo found in the D' Angelo Library Archives has small holes in it from being stapled to an application for admission to the The Kansas City College of Osteopathy and Surgery (now Kansas City University). The young man pictured, Leonard Smith, a 1950 graduate of Syracuse University, had always wanted to be a doctor but his prospects were not looking good. In the years after World War II it was almost impossible to get into medical school for a non-veteran and Smith had been too young to serve in the war. On a Wednesday night in 1950 he was getting ready to ship out to Korea with the Army the following Monday when his father, a grocer on Long Island, talked to a barber down the street. Leonard Smith, DO, sitting for an interview on the occasion of his 50th class reunion in 2004, recounted what happened that night.

"The reason I ended up at this school-Dr. Joseph Yasso, Sr. (COM '46), was at this college as an anesthesiologist. His father was my barber in New York City. He asked why didn't I give his son a call and he got me in touch with Dr. Peach [Joseph Peach, university president]. I spoke to Dr. Peach on that Wednesday. He sent me to an interview with a local doctor in Brooklyn who called Dr. Peach and said yes, I would make a good student. I had no idea what osteopathic medicine was at that time. Dr. Peach got in touch with my draft board and they released me and put me in the Reserves. I ended up being in the Reserves for sixteen years, but by the next Monday I had to be in K. C."

Dr. Smith graduated in 1954 and opened a practice in Pennsylvania.



"I started my practice on the outskirts of Philadelphia, thirty miles outside of town, all country," he continued. "They were just building the largest steel mill in the world there. People were coming in droves to work in the mill. They were coming from upstate Pennsylvania because the coal mines had closed. They came from Tennessee and Kentucky. There was no housing so most of these people lived in trailer parks. I was the only DO, all the doctors that came after me were MDs and they all looked down on me. This was in 1955 when I opened my office. I put DO after my name and no one knew what a DO was at the time. The MDs always made fun of me but I ended up with the biggest practice in town because no one would go out through the mud to the trailer park but I was used to it because we used to do rural practice in Missouri. I would go out there and get mud all over my car. The patients would come to the office and wash my car for me because they were so thrilled I would come out to the trailer parks.

"A lot of these people would start at the seven o'clock shift so I'd get to the office at six in the morning. Some worked three to eleven so I'd be having office hours at midnight. I was available seven days a week. I did home deliveries. If someone was in labor I would run out the back door, go deliver a baby, and people would never know I was gone. They would still be lined up outside the door. I started my practice in 1955, the first day I took off was in 1960.



"I just took care of the common people. A large part of them couldn't read or write. They'd give you a check and they would sign their name or maybe just make an X and we would fill out the rest. I took care of them, I didn't have a chip on my shoulder like most of the other doctors in town. Everybody called me by my first name and I called them by theirs. A lot of the patients that started with me fifty years ago still come to my office. My youngest son Michael has taken over my office and make's sure everyone is taken care of. Patients that I delivered now come to see my son. They will not go to anyone but us."

Dr. Smith passed away December 14, 2017 but his presence can still be felt on the Kansas City campus. In 1999 this doctor for the common people made what was, at that time, the largest single gift to the university. In his honor, the repurposed nurses' dormitory then known as Alumni Hall was rechristened Leonard Smith Hall.




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