A History of the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania/Chapter II


The first physicians of Pennsylvania—Their education abroad—Their professional and public influence—The succeeding generation of medical men, and their education at home and abroad—Their character and labors—The institution of the American Philosophical Society, and of the Pennsylvania Hospital.

When Penn made up his company of emigrants, which, under his own guidance, landed on the shores of the Delaware in 1682, he was not unmindful of the medical wants of his incipient colony. Several well-educated members of the profession united their destiny with that of the party who arrived that year. It is known that one at least of these physicians was on board the Proprietary’s own vessel, the Welcome, where his services were called into requisition on the voyage from England, as smallpox broke out among the crew and passengers shortly after their embarkation. The attention of a practitioner of the healing art must have been beneficial to those who were attacked by the disease, and, under such appalling circumstances, his presence must have been a source of encouragement and comfort to all who constituted the adventurous company. The individual referred to as having been on board the Welcome was Thomas Wynne.[1] Another skilful physician who arrived at this period was Dr. Griffith Owen. It appears from the records that the sphere of operation in the immediate line of medical practice was too limited for all of the gentlemen who had arrived, and as they were men of the highest order of intelligence and acquirement, their talents were turned to account in organizing the settlement. Dr. Wynne was a Welsh gentleman, and is said to have practised previously with reputation in London. After serving as Speaker of the first Provincial Assembly of Pennsylvania, and being much employed in political business, he died in ten years from his arrival. From his public position he appears to have paid but little attention to medicine. Dr. Wynne left a son-in-law, Dr. Edward Jones, also one of the emigrants of 1682.[2] He settled in Merion Township, near Philadelphia, and enjoyed considerable repute as a physician.

Dr. Griffith Owen, whose merit and ability raised him to several offices of trust, continued his vocation as physician, “in which he was very knowing and eminent,” as we are informed by Proud.[3] This gentleman, indeed, appears to have been the chief medical practitioner of Philadelphia, and was highly respected for his professional talents, integrity, and spirit. He left no record of a medical sort, and dying in 1717, at about the age of seventy, was succeeded by a son, who practised some time after his father’s death.[4] Dr. Owen, besides his medical employment, was a preacher among Friends. The individuals of whom mention has been made were in the prime of life when they identified themselves with the success of the newly-created Province.

A narrative has been given by Thomas Story, of the first recorded surgical operation in Pennsylvania, as follows: “The next day, being the 1st of the 10th month (December, 1699, old style), we went over Chester Creek on a boat to the town, and as the Governor landed (William Penn’s second visit), some young men, officiously, and contrary to express command of some of the magistrates, fired two small sea pieces of cannon, and being ambitious of making three out of two, by firing one twice, one of the young men, darting in a cartridge of powder before the piece was sponged, had his left hand and arm shot to pieces; upon which a surgeon being sent for from on board a ship then riding, an amputation of the member was quickly resolved on by Dr. Griffith Owen (a Friend), the surgeon, and some other skilful persons present. But as the arm was cut off, some spirits in a basin happened to take fire, and being spilt on the surgeon’s apron, set his clothes on fire, and there being a great crowd of spectators, some of them were in the way, and in danger of being scalded, as the surgeon himself was upon his hands and face, but running into the street, the fire was quenched, and so quick was he that the patient lost not very much blood, though left in that open, bleeding condition.”[5]

In the progress of time, the inhabitants of the thriving and extended colony of Pennsylvania became so numerous as to require a greater number of medical attendants. In the year 1711, Dr. John Kearsley arrived; and in 1717, Dr. Thomas Graeme. Both of these medical men were well educated, and became distinguished citizens. Dr. Kearsley, although throughout his career extensively engaged in the practice of medicine and surgery, was not inattentive to the public interests of the province. He was a favorite of the people, and as a member of the House of Assembly, after advocating their interests in debate, was carried to his home upon their shoulders. From the Rev. Dr. Dorr we learn that “he was for fifty-three years a member of the vestry of Christ Church, and always took an active interest in all its concerns. To him, more than to any other individual, we are indebted for the present beautiful edifice, he having superintended the building from the commencement to its completion, and often was in advance large sums of money to defray the expense of materials and the bills of workmen.” When the church was completed, “on May 11, 1747, the vestry passed a vote of thanks, and ordered a piece of plate of the value of forty pounds, to be given to Dr. John Kearsley, for his care and trouble in rebuilding and ornamenting the church, and as a lasting testimonial and acknowledgment of his services done for this church and congregation.”[6]

Dr. Kearsley died in January, 1772, at the advanced age of eighty years, and “left by his will a large part of his estate both real and personal, in trust to the corporation of the united churches of Christ Church and St. Peter’s, to found the institution which he named ‘Christ Church Hospital,’ the design of which is to afford a comfortable home for respectable, aged, indigent females.”[6] By judicious management this benefaction has proved a munificent one.

Dr. Thomas Graeme, after a long career in medicine, in which pursuit he from time to time performed the duty of health officer, became an officer of the customs, and a justice of the Supreme Court.[7] He finally retired to his country seat in Bucks County, where he spent the remainder of his life. This country seat has been known by the name of Graeme Park.

The influence of the intelligent and educated men whose names have been mentioned, was of incalculable advantage in all the ways where science and learning could be brought into requisition, but especially were their services important as teachers of their art and preceptors of the rising generation. The physicians who succeeded them were natives of the country. Of their number may be named Lloyd Zachary, Thomas Cadwalader, William Shippen, Sr., Thomas Bond, Phineas Bond, Cadwalader Evans, John Redman, John Bard, and John Kearsley, Jr. Several of these, as Zachary, Redman, and Kearsley, Jr., were the pupils—or, in the language then in vogue, the apprentices of the elder Kearsley, who, if the account speaks truly, was no lenient master. “He treated his pupils with great rigor, and subjected them to the most menial employments.” An apprenticeship at that time was no sinecure; it was a period of probation attended with toil and exactions. The pupil lived, for the most part, with his master—was constantly subject to his orders, whether in the task of preparing medicines to be used in his daily rounds, in carrying them to the patients, or in making fires, keeping the office clean, and other household duties now devolving upon domestics. “To these, Dr. Bard has been often heard to say, he would never have submitted but from apprehension of giving pain to his excellent mother, and the encouragement he received from the kindness of her particular friend, Mrs. Kearsley, of whom he always spoke in terms of the warmest gratitude, affection, and respect. Under such circumstances he persevered to the end of seven tedious years, stealing his hours of study from sleep, after the family had retired to rest, and before they arose from their beds”[8]

The desire for medical knowledge was not satisfied, on the part of these American pupils, with the limited means of education at the command of their preceptors, who, as far as they were able, bestowed a training in the handicraft of the profession; and it was regarded as important that a visit should be made to Europe to complete the course of acquirement. We therefore find that most of the individuals alluded to pursued this plan, and returned to the field of their duty with all the accomplishments that a residence at the schools of the old world could afford to zealous aspirants for usefulness and distinction. The facilities for improvement which were presented in Edinburgh, in London, or in Paris, attracted thither these neophytes in the healing art; and to good account, as was shown in their subsequent career, did they apply the fund of information there acquired. Another seat of medical improvement was Leyden, which possessed attractions from the distinguished reputation of Boerhaave, of Albinus, and of Gaubius. Not a few of the earlier physicians of our country graduated at that famous University.

The fruits of the assiduity of these earnest inquirers into the nature and cure of disease are manifest in the valuable contributions made by them to the literature and practice of the profession. Their observations in so novel and undescribed a field as the maladies of a recently-settled country, whose geographical position was so remote from the ancient haunts of men, could hardly fail to elicit materials for publication which would be received with interest and thankfulness by contemporaries and colaborers, as well as be calculated to excite attention in foreign lands.[9] The endeavors of the early physicians to contribute a share to the advancement of medical science are proofs of a thoughtful cultivation of it, and of a laudable desire to render the experience acquired available to others. They may be referred to with interest as the only means at our command of ascertaining the spirit which actuated and the principles which guided the pioneer fathers of the profession.[10]

But not solely from the achievements of medical men within the limited circle of their professional occupations must we judge of their character and worth. As liberally instructed individuals and as citizens, from the very nature of their position, there are duties and obligations imposed upon them which must be responded to in the readiest spirit. To act up to the demand of their noble avocation, they must either be leaders or associates in enterprises that are calculated to expand the domain of true learning and information, or that, originating in benevolence, will conduce to an amelioration of the social, moral, or physical condition of the community. It can, without fear of contradiction, be asserted that such a course has been pursued by the medical profession from the very foundation of the Colonies to the present time of their development into wealthy and prosperous commonwealths. It does not enter into the design of this history to trace out all the manifold channels of exertion into which intelligence and philanthropy were directed in connection with the medical profession; yet, when adverting to occurrences which preceded the establishment of the School of Medicine, it would be an omission if we were to take no notice of some of them which have had an influence upon its rise and progress. We may, then, pertinently refer to the origin of two institutions in which medical men took part, and to whose success they have largely contributed their share of labor. The first of these was founded with the design of reciprocal culture and the advancement of science and philosophy; the second was a benevolent and philanthropic undertaking.

The history of the American Philosophical Society has been particularly detailed in an interesting and elaborately prepared discourse by the Vice-President, Dr. Robert M. Patterson, delivered on the occasion of celebrating the Hundredth Anniversary, May 25, 1843. It is our purpose now to exhibit the part taken in its concerns by the members of the medical profession.

The originator of this Society was Franklin, who, finding that the time had come for a more extensive combination than that which for many years had borne the name of the Junto, on May 14, 1743, corresponding in the Gregorian Calendar to May 25, issued a “Proposal for promoting useful knowledge among the British Plantations in America.” The enumeration of the subjects on which it was designed that the society should be occupied, included botany, medicine, mineralogy and mining, chemistry, mechanics, the arts, trades and manufactures, geography, topography, agriculture, “and all philosophical experiments that let light into the nature of things, tend to increase the power of man over matter, and multiply the conveniences and pleasures of life.” Upon its going into operation Dr. Franklin himself acted as secretary.

In the life of Dr. Cadwallader Colden, given in Rees’ Encyclopædia, it is stated, in a letter to a friend, that Dr. Franklin acknowledges that the idea of founding a Philosophical Society was suggested to him by Dr. Colden, and this has been repeated in every account of the life and of the labors of that distinguished physician in the cause of science and general knowledge. The name of the individual to whom this communication was made is not mentioned. From the following letter it is very clear that Dr. Colden must have been deeply interested in the success of the Society, or Franklin would not have been so explicit in his exposition of its prospects.

New York, April 5th, 1744.

Sir: Happening to be in this city about some particular Affairs, I have the pleasure of receiving yours of the 28th past, here. And can now acquaint you that the Society, as far as relates to Philadelphia, is actually formed, and has had several Meetings to mutual Satisfaction. As soon as I get home I shall send you a short account of what has been done and proposed at those Meetings. The members are—

Dr. Thomas Bond, as Physician.
Mr. John Bartram, as Botanist.
Mr. Thomas Godfrey, as Mathematician.
Mr. William Parsons, as Geographer.
Mr. Samuel Rhodes, as Mechanician.
Dr. Phineas Bond, as Gen. Nat. Philosopher.
Mr. Thomas Hopkinson, President.
Mr. William Coleman, Treasurer.
B. F., Secret.

To whom the following Members have since been added, viz: Mr. Alexander, of New York, Mr. Morris (Ch. Justice of the Jerseys), Mr. Horne, Secretary of do., Mr. Jno. Coxe, of Trenton, and Mr. Martyn, of the same place. Mr. Nicholls tells me of several other gentlemen of this city that incline to encourage the thing. And there are a Number of others in Virginia, Maryland, Carolina, and the New England Colonies who we expect to join us as soon as they are acquainted that the Society has begun to form itself.

I am, sir, with much Respect,
your most humble Servant,

The Hon. Cadwallader Colden, Esq.

It will thus be seen that in the organization of the Philosophical Society our profession occupied a prominent place. The subjects of inquiry pertaining to it stood at the head of the list, and of the nine original founders two were medical men.

Another society came into existence about the year 1750, which in a considerable measure took precedence of its elder sister. This association had its origin very much in the same way as the first, and was likewise, in its infancy, called the Junto. In April, 1766, it assumed the name, and went into operation as the “American Society for Promoting and Propagating Useful Knowledge.” It was likewise supported by the medical men of the day, and the names of Morgan, Evans, Cadwalader, Bard, Redman, Kuhn, Moore, Graeme, and Shippen may be enumerated as contributing to give weight and dignity to its proceedings.[11]

In the year 1768, greater activity was infused into the “American Society;” large additions were made to the list of fellows and correspondents, and among them were Dr. Franklin himself, then in England, and other men of great distinction. “The proceedings were no longer those of a debating club, but of a learned Society.” At the same time the Philosophical Society appears to have acquired additional vitality, as it were, from emulation infused into it by the activity of its younger sister. Nevertheless, “the necessity for the existence of two societies devoted to the same extended field of research and inquiry did not exist, and it is an evidence of the good sense and kindly feeling of both parties interested that the proposition of union prevailed when the proper influence was brought to bear upon them.”[12] From the minutes of the American Society, January 28th, 1768, it appears that the overture came from the younger association, and in the negotiation that ensued the medical members were influential in securing the result, as the following letter from Dr. Bond to Dr. John Morgan will show:—

Dear Sir: I have considered the proposals you made me yesterday of our taking some further steps towards your uniting with us in a Philosophical Society, and as it was always my desire, and I think may yet be readily effected, I should be pleased to confer with you about it, and will do everything in my power to cultivate that harmony which should subsist among the lovers of science.

I will confer with such of our members as I can meet with this morning, and I shall be glad to meet you, with such of your members as you think proper, at my house, or any other place, at half-after twelve o’clock this day, that no time may be lost.

I am, yours respectfully,

January 28th, 1768.

At the end of the year (December 30th, 1768), the two societies were united under a title which was derived from both, “The American Philosophical Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge.”

Throughout the entire subsequent career of the Philosophical Society the medical profession has had its full share of honor in the bestowal of offices upon its members. This distinction has been fully earned by the deep interest taken by them in its welfare, and by their contributing to its transactions scientific investigations and papers which have promoted its reputation. Of the thirteen presidents elected by ballot five have been medical men.[13]

In the “Transactions of the American Philosophical Society,” printed in 1769, which contain the joint contributions of the two societies for the previous year, of twenty papers upon various interesting subjects eight pertain to medical science.[14]

The subsequent volumes contain many important and interesting medical communications, as well as others upon general science from members of the medical profession.

The other institution to which we must now allude, as filling a large space in the affections of the public, and quite as much dependent for its successful operation upon the medical profession as upon legislative or private aid, and whose annals in connection with the medical administration are blended with those of the University, is the Pennsylvania Hospital. It is not necessary to detail minutely the circumstances under which this noble charity sprung into existence. A professor of the University has accomplished the task of writing its history, and it may be said of this, as of all his literary labors, “nihil tetiget quod non ornavit.”[15] The fact on which we desire to dwell is that the instigation to meet the requirements of the sick and wounded indigent citizens of the increasing colony emanated from its most natural source, the medical profession, in the person of Thomas Bond, who, although most ably seconded by the suggestive mind of Benjamin Franklin, may be regarded, without disparagement to the benevolence and efficiency of the great philosopher, as the originator of the undertaking.

The physicians of the hospital first appointed were Lloyd Zachary, Thomas and Phineas Bond. To these were soon added Thomas Graeme, Thomas Cadwalader, Samuel Preston Moore, and John Redman. It is worthy of notice that at the time of the incorporation of this charitable institution, when, on an appeal for assistance being made to the Provincial Assembly, one of the objections offered to the measure was that the cost of medical attendance would alone be sufficient to consume all the money that could be raised, it was met by the offer on the part of Drs. Zachary and the Bonds to attend the patients gratuitously for three years. This became the settled understanding with the Board of Physicians and Surgeons; nor have we learned that the compact has ever been annulled or abrogated during the period of one hundred and seventeen years (from 1751 to the present date), an instance of disinterested philanthropy which has been generally followed in the charitable institutions depending on medical attendance, not only of this city, but throughout the length and breadth of the land.[16]

In this institution was the first clinical instruction given by Dr. Thomas Bond in connection with the collegiate course, and it may be stated, so close has been the association between the hospital and the medical school, that of the twenty-nine professors, who have occupied collegiate chairs, eighteen have been attending physicians or surgeons of the hospital, and five of the seven medical men first elected to these positions in the hospital were trustees of the college.

The foundation of the medical library of the hospital dates as far back as 1763. The first medical book possessed by it appears to have been a gift from that warm friend and generous benefactor of the institution, Dr. John Fothergill. It was the Materia Medica of Dr. William Lewis, London, 1761. “When the managers resolved to demand a fee for the privilege of attending the wards of the hospital, and consulted with the physicians in regard to the destination of the sum raised, these gentlemen, Thomas Bond, Phineas Bond, Cadwalader Evans, and Thomas Cadwalader, although having claims upon such gratuities, according to the custom of the British hospitals, full of scientific zeal, proposed to apply the money to the foundation of a medical library for the advantage of the pupils of the institution.”[17] In 1767, Hugh Roberts and Samuel Neave presented as executors of Dr. Zachary, forty-three volumes from his library. The Library of the Pennsylvania Hospital contains by donation and purchase between ten and eleven thousand volumes.

  1. Mr. Edward Armstrong, the editor of the reprinted vol. i. of the Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, has taken pains to ascertain who were the individuals accompanying William Penn in the Welcome. The name of Thomas Wynne has been determined to be upon the list. We have reason to suppose that there were many, not enumerated, with respect to whom the direct proof is lost that they were in the same vessel as the Proprietary. With the scanty data that are now accessible, it is impossible to specify with accuracy of whom the entire company was composed. Several vessels arrived during the autumn and winter of the same year, and other individuals of the medical profession may have been passengers in them.—Appendix to vol. i. Mem. of Hist. Soc. of Pa., p. 32, and note.
  2. Prior to 1700, Dr. John Goodson is spoken of as a surgeon of the city, as also Dr. Hodgson; of these gentlemen nothing has been transmitted to us.
  3. Proud’s History of Pennsylvania.
  4. Eulogium upon Dr. William Shippen, Jr., by Dr. Caspar Wistar. Reference is made to these early physicians by Dr. Caspar Morris, in “Contributions to the Medical History of Pennsylvania.”—Trans. Hist. Soc. of Pa., vol. i.
  5. Journal of the Life of Thomas Story: printed at New Castle-upon-Tyne; fol., 1747, p. 245. Dr. Owen could not have been the surgeon of the vessel; he probably had gone to Chester to pay his respects to the Proprietary, William Penn, on his arrival.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Historical Account of Christ Church, of Philadelphia, etc., by the Rev. Benjamin Dorr, D. D., 1841, p. 835.
  7. Pa. Archives, 1728 to 1759.
  8. Memoir of the late Dr. John Bard (American Medical Register, New York, vol. i. p. 61). Dr. Bard subsequently settled in New York, and both he and his son, Dr. Samuel Bard, one of the founders of the New York Medical School, were distinguished practitioners of that city.
  9. Dr. Cadwalader published an “Essay on the West India Dry Gripes, with the Method of Curing that Cruel Distemper. To which is added an Extraordinary Case in Physic. Printed and sold by B. Franklin, 1745.” In the “Gentleman’s Magazine” of 1769 appeared an account of Angina maligna, which prevailed in Philadelphia in 1746 and 1760, by John Kearsley, Jr.
  10. The subject of inoculation as a protection from smallpox was a prominent one among the physicians of Philadelphia. It was discussed publicly, and had its advocates and opponents. In 1736 the success of the practice was published. Drs. Kearsley, Zachary, Hooper, Cadwalader, Shippen, Bond, and Somers, advocated and practised it. (Watson, vol. ii. p. 373.) See also a valuable exposition of inoculation in the Transactions of the State Medical Society of Pennsylvania, 1865, by J. M. Tonner, M. D. A number of papers by American physicians may be found in the “Medical Observations and Inquiries by a Society of Physicians of London.” Among them is a relation of a cure performed by electricity, by Dr. Cadwalader Evans, at Philadelphia, dated October 21, 1754. This cure was effected by the apparatus of Dr. Franklin, applied by himself in September, 1752.
  11. Minutes of the American Society.
  12. Discourse of Dr. Patterson.
  13. The names of the physicians elected to the Presidency of the Society are, Caspar Wistar, M. D., Nathaniel Chapman, M. D., Robert Patterson, M. D., Franklin Bache, M. D., and George B. Wood, M. D.
  14. The small volume of Transactions to which reference is here made was the first published by the Society. It is of the small octavo size. A copy is not in the possession of the Society, whose first series of Transactions is a reprint in quarto form, not following the order of the original. We met with this original publication in the Philadelphia Library in connection with the “Pennsylvania Magazine” for 1769, edited by Lewis Nichola, and bound with it. The number in the catalogue is 1504 O. Apparently this early volume of Transactions had been lost sight of and forgotten.
  15. An address on the occasion of the Centennial Celebration of the Founding of the Pennsylvania Hospital, delivered June 10, 1851, by George B. Wood, M. D., published by the Board of Managers.
  16. In his “Travels in the United States” in 1788, this fact was thought by Brissot de Warville of sufficient importance to be particularly noted and published.
  17. Preface to Catalogue of the Medical Library of the Pennsylvania Hospital, by Emil Fischer, M. D.