The Journal of San Diego History
April 1968, Volume 14, Number 2
Rita Larkin, Editor

By Clifford L. Graves, M.D.

As far as we can judge from that diverting little volume “Who’s Who in San Diego,” published for the first and last time in 1936, the most outstanding person around town in those half-forgotten days was not Mayor Percy Benbough, not banker Aubrey Davidson, not merchant George Marston, not even General Joseph Pendleton, but the Honorable J. Fortescue, author, educator, scientist, man of letters, philanthropist, world traveler, and founder of the prestigious International Board of Hygiene. This is the way “Who’s Who” abstracted his remarkable career.


Born in Franklin House, Old Town, San Diego, February 29, 1868, a son of General and Delphine (Broutfeuille) Fortescue (Mrs. Fortescue’s stage name was Lola Montez ). One daughter Tamar Orestes Fortescue. Educated at Huntsville Male Academy, Alabama. Ph. D. (Wien): M.D., Calcutta; LL.D., Lima; S.T.B., Montpelier.

Philanthropist and scientist. Was one of the founders and first president of the International Board of Hygiene, founded in San Diego. Recognized by the League of Nations, 1926. Collaborator with H. M. Smythe in publishing of Food Products Surveys and with Don Eliseo Jesus Coraje of Tijuana on Inquiry into the Origin and Nature of the Sense of Modesty in the Child (Child Development Abstract, 1924). Director, National Research Council, Child Development Section, 1927-31. Honorary member, California Mycological Society. Vicepresident, Academy of Basidiomycologists, San Diego. Member Rice Leaders of the World Association, League for Medical Freedom, Pelicano Club, American Eugenics Society. Founder of Voters’ Unbiased Judgment League. Fleischmann Prize winner, 1928. Was on the list of collaborators of Dr. Stephanie Martin-Oppenheim’s Lehrbuch des Anthropologie, and was named for president of the projected University of Southern California during the eighties. Former president, Topeka College, Topeka, Kansas.

Residence: Hotel Garni, Rue des Abesses, 18c, Paris, France. Telephone Segur 67-43-ZZ. Address in the United States: care of the International Board of Hygiene, 1908 Eutaw Place, Baltimore, Maryland.

From this brief resume, it is quite clear that the Honorable Fortescue was no ordinary person. With his worldwide background, his academic degrees, and his singular list of honors, he towered head and shoulders above the somewhat foggy array of fellow citizens whose biographical sketches were often painfully pedestrian. Neither could it be said that he was a flash in the pan. On the contrary, for 30 years he made good copy, whether on the society page of the San Diego Union or between the hallowed covers of “Twenty Thousand Men of American Science.” Always the careful scientist, the diligent investigator, and the enthusiastic joiner, he pursued a range of interests from the sublime to the ridiculous with a resolve bordering on recklessness. To give only a few examples:

Long before Sabin and Salk, he wrote learned articles about polio, as vice-president of the respected Academy of Basidiomycologists.

Long before vitamin commercials, he appeared with a health message on billboards from one end of San Diego to the other.

Long before Kinsey, he made a survey of the sex habits of the American male, to the general discomfiture of the churchmen of the day.

Long before the Department of Public Health thought up restaurant inspections, he carried on a much more subtle program in a few carefully selected establishments south of the border.

But none of this could be called his most notable achievement. For this, we must look elsewhere. At a time when international cooperation in the field of public health was virtually non-existent or at best openly contentious, the Honorable Fortescue pulled divergent forces together and founded an extraordinary organization: the International Board of Hygiene. In this capacity, he presided over a group of dedicated searchers who operated on the principle of propination and received the unqualified endorsement of the League of Nations.

To understand the workings of the International Board of Hygiene and the character of its founder, we must go back not (as stated in “Who’s Who”) to the long-vanished Franklin House in Old Town, but to a more worldly institution, namely the Turf Bar in Tijuana. Now only a memory, the Turf Bar was during the “roaring twenties” the gathering place of a set of San Diego professional men who had their own idea about the Great American Drought and how to fight it. At the head of this somewhat loosely organized eating and drinking society functioned Dr. Rawson Pickard, a pathologist who practiced in San Diego from 1915 until his death in 1963. Dr. Pickard was a prankster. He was the kind of person who could spontaneously invent the most outrageous story and make it sound like solid truth. One of his most successful and durable inventions was the Honorable Fortescue.

The Honorable first saw the light of day in the summer of 1925. In the midst of one of the sessions at the Turf Bar, the assembled merrymakers came up with the idea that they needed a name commensurate with their high purpose. Since many of the members were doctors and since the meetings were always held outside the territorial limits of the United States, Dr. Pickard suggested the name International Board of Health. Obviously, the board could not be without a president. To fill this vacancy in perpetuity, Dr. Pickard nominated the Honorable J. Fortescue, an eminent English jurist who died circa 1476. The election was accomplished before Dr. Pickard had finished speaking. Next was a constitution. An exemplar of simplicity, this document merely stated that whosoever had attended one meeting would be a life member.

The only accouterment lacking now was a charter. Again, Dr. Pickard provided the inspiration. Since the board was international in character, he said, it could be sanctioned only by the League of Nations. Accordingly, a few weeks later, he dispatched a letter to the league on imposing stationery with a 24-point head.

International Board of Health Junta De Sanidad Internacional Counseil de Santa Internationale

The letter, written in impeccable French, went as follows:

A la Societe des Nations Geneve, Suisse

Monsieur le Secretaire: Nous avons l’honneur de vous annoncer laformation d’un Conseil de Santa Internationale sous la presidence de Monsieur J. Fortescue, avec un societariat actif recrute parmi les professions liberales, medecins, professeurs, avocats, etc. Notre but est la propagande de 1’hygiene physique et mentale sous les aspects les plus larges et generaux, la stimulation, et 1′ education spirituelle plutot que 1’oeuvre definitif, que nous laisserons aux societes et bureaux deja existants dans les divers pays.

Nous vous ferons part des propositions agrees dans nos seances, et nous vous enverrons des abreges de nos comptes rendues. Veuillez agreer 1’hommage du profond respect d’une societe qui sollicitelaclemenced’une societe bien grande, mais qui a communion de but et de pensee. — H. Marie Smythe, secretaire pro-tem.

In translation:

Secretary of the League of Nations Geneva, Switzerland

Mr. Secretary: We have the honor of notifying you of the formation of an international board of health under the presidency of the Honorable J. Fortescue, and with an active membership of doctors, professors, lawyers and other members of the liberal professions. Our object is the furtherance of mental and physical health in its most general and comprehensive aspects, the stimulation and the spiritual education rather than the practical measures which we leave to the various societies and bureaus already existing in the various countries.

We shall send you the constitution and bylaws and also the minutes of the meetings. Please accept the profound respect of a society which solicits the indulgence of the great League of Nations but which nevertheless has a common thought and a common goal with the league. — H. Marie Smythe, secretary pro-tem.

Just before the letter was to be mailed, somebody discovered that the league already had an International Board of Health, with the possible consequence that the entire venture might be exposed as a hoax, but Dr. Pickard allayed all fears by a simple substitution of the word hygiene for health. The letter went out as planned. The answer, somewhat delayed because it landed first on the desk of Dr. Alex Lesem, then director of the Department of Public Health in San Diego, read as follows:

Conseil d’ Hygiene Internationale San Diego, Californie, Etats Unis

Monsieur le Secretaire : J’ ai 1′ honneur d’accuser reception de votre lettre de 21 october 1926 par laquelle vous avez bien voulu m’ informer de la fondation d’un Conseil de Santa Internationale a San Diego sous le presidence de Monsieur J. Fortescue.

Je vous remercie de cette interessante communication et je vous prie d’agreer, Monsieur le Secretaire, les assurances de ma consideration tres distinguee. — Le Secretaire General, Sir Eric Drummond.

In translation:

International Board of Hygiene San Diego, California, USA

Mr. Secretary: I have the honor of reporting receipt of your communication of October 21, 1926, through which you have kindly informed me of the formation of an International Board of Hygiene in San Diego under the presidency of the Honorable J. Fortescue.

I thank you for that interesting report and I beg you to accept, Mr. Secretary, the assurances of my most earnest consideration. — The Secretary General, Sir Eric Drummond.

Thus began the Tyll Eulenspiegel career of the Honorable J. Fortescue, a career that spanned 30 years. During all that time, Dr. Pickard wrote dozens of articles and handed out dozens of news releases about this mythical character, and nobody ever questioned their authenticity. The biographical sketch in “Who’s Who” is a prime example. Almost every line in that little vignette is a patent fabrication. Yet, it went completely unchallenged. On the contrary, reporters were constantly after Dr. Pickard for the latest news. If Dr. Pickard was in his jovial and cooperative mood, he would let it be known that the Honorable had just joined another exclusive society or that he had received a decoration from the government of Lithuania or that he had finished a monumental book on sex or that he had entered into a debate with the National Research Council or anyone of a number of activities that sounded plausible to an outsider but hilarious to the members of the International Board of Hygiene in the Turf Bar. These meetings constantly increased in popularity on the strength of printed invitations of the most whimsical nature. For instance:

Dear Disciple of Hygiene: Your president invites you to the first meeting of the year and hopes that you will take up your problems (which undoubtedly are many and important) with renewed courage and solve them in the great universal solvent. The meeting will be held on Saturday, January 15, A.D. 1927 (new style Gregorian calendar), CXXXV since the revolution, VIII since the murder of liberty in the United States, and V since Mussolini. Papers will be presented on topics of the utmost importance by noted authorities on various lines of thought and feeling. — The Honorable Fortescue.

Sehr Geehrter Herr: Our newly constituted president advises me to inform you that there will be a meeting extraordinary of our society on Saturday next in Tijuana, Baja California. The glorious event of the day will be the presentation of a learned thesis by professor John Easterman who has but recently returned from that far-off land, so touchingly referred to by Montaigne in the second volume of his essays where he says that the citizenry have sperm of an unmistakably black color. — Hochachtungsvoll, Schmidt, Arbeitschreiber.

Dear Savant of Sanitation: Your esteemed presence is requested at an emergency session of the International Board of Hygiene. The Honorable J. Fortescue announces that the object is to listen to Dr. Lars Storkukk’s brilliant dissertation on pandemic monogamy in Albino Cavia Cobaya, the last sentence of which contains the beautiful words: “Ich weiss night was soil es bedeuten.” Dr. Storkukk is the eminent parasitologist of Svartvik who will present his credentials to the Hon. J. Fortescue and hopes to procure a position of trust and honor on the International Board of Hygiene. — Hochachtungvoll, Meier, Arbeitschreiber.

In his normal state, the Honorable Fortescue was a kind-hearted man with lofty ideals, but there were times when he could lash out with a chilling sarcasm that left his audience speechless. When the National Research Council questioned his qualifications to be included in a directory of child psychologists and asked him to define his field of research, he answered deadpan:

Research in progress: (1) The incunabula of prostitution throughout the ages. (2) Malnutrition as influenced by border conditions between different racial cultures. (3) Prohibition and prenubile development. My work on malnutrition will contain several chapters on the infant and the child of pre-school age. My studies on prohibition and prenubile development comprise children between the ages of five and 15.

The directory duly listed the Honorable J. Fortescue.

On another occasion, the Honorable Fortescue was invited to become a member of the American Conference on Hospital Service. In response to a letter from Dr. Harry E. Mock, president of the conference, the Honorable wrote in h i g h f l o w n gobbledygook:

I feel that it is more fitting that a membership in your conference be taken out by our organization than by one of our members. Our board has many obligations and is under considerable expense in connection with rather extensive work of correlation in many countries. We therefore hope that a nominal contribution will be acceptable. Further, I shall be very glad to appoint a committee to work with one from your conference for coordinative purposes with a view toward possible reduction of overhead by including your work under our broader and more general aspect. — The Honorable Fortescue.

Nothing was ever heard from the Conference on Hospital Service again.

Of all the honors heaped on his person and duly listed in “Who’s Who”, the most palpable and the one closest to the truth was the Fleischmann prize. To the uninitiated, the Fleischmann prize might be anything from an American version of the Noble prize to the gold medal of the American Medical Association. Actually, it was a ten-thousand-dollar letter-writing contest on “Why I Eat Fleischmann’s Yeast,” and the Honorable Fortescue finished in the money with the following “belle lettre:”

I have taken Fleischmann’s yeast for the past three years, one cake mashed with Roquefort cheese and butter, spread thin on a sandwich with a leaf of lettuce. I eat this for lunch, dinner and at bedtime. I enjoy perfect bodily regularity, good appetite, and physical vigor. The whites of my eyes are as clear as a boy’s, and at 65, I am the envy of my younger friends. — The Honorable Fortescue.

The Fleischmann people were so taken with this that they sent the check the next day. A list of winners was eventually published with the result that the Honorable got hundreds of letters from people all over the country, suggesting how he might spend his windfall. The most ludicrous letter came from a Vancouver man with a menagerie of wild animals. He wanted to take the Honorable’s picture against a background of wild animals at 100 dollars a shot. In spite of the great publicity value of such a picture, the board vetoed the idea in favor of an educational venture. Henceforth, every meeting of the board would be concluded with a scientific paper. Accordingly, the next meeting was announced as follows:

Messieurs: Our founder, the Honorable J. Fortescue, graciously commands your presence at the first commencement of the graduate school of the International Board of Hygiene. The exercises will be held in the college chapel, situated in the rear of Paul’s cafe. Dinner will precede the exercises. Those who wish pheasant will notify proprietaire Paul. Those failing to notify will have food in the crypt of the chapel. The program:

Invocation — The Paraclete

Welcome to the International Board of Hygiene — Dean Paul of the College of Culinary Arts

Presentation of candidate for the degree of Doctor of Biometrics — Dr. Pickard, professor of pathology and eugenics.

Reading of Thesis — — Bachelor Harold Torbert

Disputatio Thesis — — Dr. Leo F. Huevostibios

Advocatus Diaboli — Dr. Manuel Doria Doctorate Address — — Ex-Reverend H. Austin Adams

Presentation of Diploma — — Dr. Pickard

Doctorate Ode — — Bachelor Louis J. Gill

The program was a smash hit, and for a long time every new member was required to read a scientific essay.

Occasionally, the board would confer an honorary degree on some public-spirited citizen for work above and beyond the call of duty. One of the most impressive of these ceremonies took place in the reception hall of the (now defunct) ABC brewery, whose advertising manager invited the entire board for an evening of free beer in the belief that he was dealing with a bona fide group of health officials. The board put on a resplendent observance, complete with speeches, salutes, pledges and academic gowns. The manager was overwhelmed. To show his gratitude, he sent sixty cases of his best beer to Dr. Pickard, who rewarded him with a polite note over the signature of the Honorable Fortescue to the effect that the beer had been carefully tested and had been found to be absolutely non-fattening. The advertising manager was in seventh heaven. He plastered San Diego with huge billboards showing a svelte blonde guzzling a glass of beer with the caption: “International Board of Hygiene pronounces ABC beer absolutely non-fattening. — The Honorable J. Fortescue.”

But all this is now in the past. During his life, Dr. Pickard was a respected pathologist, the first to practice that difficult specialty in San Diego. In appearance he was a small man with a twinkle in his eye, a lilt in his voice, and a bounce in his step. In spite of all his pranks and capers, he was a scholar at heart. He was fluent in Spanish and French, and he had an excellent grasp of German. Well versed in the classics, he would entertain his friends with a stream of quotations whenever the occasion called for it. Every Thursday afternoon was open house. That is when he would greet the visitor with outstretched hand, conduct him around the laboratory, and treat him like a long-lost friend. He kept up this ritual, almost until the time of his death in 1963.

And what of the Honorable J. Fortescue? He died too. No longer does the Turf Bar ring with his incantations. No longer does the San Diego Union print his perpetrations. No longer does the National Research Council worry about his qualifications. All these antics have come to an end. Goodbye Dr. Pickard. Goodbye, Honorable Fortescue. We will miss you.


This is the second article Dr. Graves has contributed to our journal. His first was on Dr. David Hoffman in July, 1964. Dr. Graves was born in Holland. He came to the United States as a boy of 17 in 1924. Even though English is not his native tongue, he has put it to good use in many articles and one book. The book was “Front Line Surgeons,” published in 1950. For many years, he was editor of the Bulletin of the San Diego County Medical Society. He is a surgeon in La Jolla where he has lived for 20 years.