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


Dr. Adam Kuhn; education and appointment to the professorship of botany and materia medica—Fees of the college—Degree of Bachelor of Medicine conferred in 1768—Degree of Doctor of Medicine conferred in New York in 1769—Commencement exercises of the college on the occasion of conferring the degree of M. B.—Dr. Benjamin Rush; his education and correspondence while in' Europe; appointment to the professorship of chemistry—First faculty of medicine organized—Commencement of 1771.

The next addition to the faculty was in the person of Dr. Adam Kuhn. He was born at Germantown, Philadelphia County, in 1741. His father was a native of Swabia, a physician by profession, and a man of bright parts and liberal education. Having removed to Lancaster in Pennsylvania, where he became a magistrate, “he was deeply interested in the promotion of classical learning amongst the youth of that place, and for this end procured the erection of a school-house, in which the Greek and Latin languages were taught by the best qualified masters.” Under such auspices Dr. Kuhn received his elementary education, and commenced his medical studies with the advantage of parental direction.

In 1761, Dr. Kuhn went to Europe, and, deviating thus far from the course pursued by his colleagues, resorted to Sweden for instruction in botany and materia medica, at the hands of Linnæus, then at the height of his renown. He subsequently went to Edinburgh, and received the degree of Doctor of Medicine from that University in 1767. The thesis, published by him on that occasion, “De Lavatione Frigida,” was dedicated to his friend and instructor Linnæus. The letters of that eminent naturalist to the father of Dr. Kuhn evince the deep interest he took in the son, and the particular estimation he had conceived of his abilities.[1] In January, 1768, Dr. Kuhn returned from Europe, when he was at once appointed the Professor of Materia Medica and Botany in the College. These subjects had been taught by Dr. Morgan in connection with his course on the Theory and Practice of Physic; but the necessity of creating a distinct Professorship, appropriated to their consideration, was impressed upon the Board of Trustees, and Dr. Kuhn, from his training in the natural sciences, was regarded as its most fitting incumbent. The record thus refers to his election:—

“Dr. Kuhn having made application to be appointed Professor of Botany and Materia Medica in this College, declaring that he would do the utmost in his power to merit the honor, and the Trustees having ample assurance of his abilities to fill that Professorship, for which he is likewise particularly recommended by the Medical Trustees and Professors belonging to the College itself, did therefore unanimously appoint him, the said Dr. Kuhn, Professor of Botany and Materia Medica in this College, agreeably to his request.”

His first course was on Botany, in May, 1768, three months after his arrival from Europe. In the following year, on May 1st, we find that Dr. Kuhn’s course on the same branch was announced, but it appears in subsequent years to have been dropped.

Dr. Kuhn held the Chair of Materia Medica during twenty-one years, under the auspices of the College and University, until he assumed the Chair of Practice, as will be seen by the account hereafter given of the changes in the Medical Faculty.

The subject of fees in the College is one of some interest. With respect to the particular compensation for instruction we cannot find that there was any legislative action when the lectures were first inaugurated, and can only judge of the amount from the advertisements of the professors. The first regulation with respect to fees, more especially having reference to graduation, is found on the Minutes of the Board of Trustees of May 17, 1768, to wit:—

“The following Rules brought forward by the Medical Committee of Trustees and Professors were agreed to, viz:— “1. Such Medical Students as propose to be Candidates for Degrees, and likewise such other Medical Students as shall attend the Natural Philosophy Lectures now given by the Provost, and whose names have never been entered in the College, shall enter the same, and pay the usual sum of Twenty Shillings Matriculation Money.

“2. Every student on taking the Degree of Bachelor of Physic shall pay not less than one Guinea to each Professor he has studied under in the College, from the time of his entering the Medical Classes; and likewise the usual Fees for the seal to his Diploma, and for the increase of the Library.

“3. Each Medical Student who shall pay one Dollar for the use of the Library (exclusive of the Fee of Commencements) shall have his name entered, and have the free use of the Books belonging to the Medical Library of the College during his continuance of the same and attendance of lectures under the Medical Professors.”

The price of tickets for a single course, i.e., to each professor, was determined not to exceed six pistoles ($20), and after two courses the students had the privilege of attending gratis.

The next event in the order of time is an important one in the history of the medical school. The bestowal of the first medical honors by the institution, and the first in America, in itself constitutes an epoch. Under the regulations that had been adopted this event took place on June 21st, 1768.

The question as to which medical school, that of Philadelphia or that of New York, the honor of priority is to be awarded in the bestowal of degrees has been a mooted one. Dr. Hosack claims the distinction for New York, and comments in the following language with reference to it: “Dr. Sewall, in his excellent Introductory Lecture, delivered at the opening of the Medical School of Columbian College, District of Columbia, also[2] is in error in his statement relative to the first medical degrees conferred in the colonies, now the United States. In the discourse referred to he dates the first medical degrees as conferred at the Commencement held in Philadelphia on June, 1771, whereas the doctorate had been previously conferred in the month of May of the preceding year in the city of New York. The same error has been committed by Dr. Thatcher, in the new edition of his Modern Practice recently published.”[3]

Dr. Beck reiterates this statement when referring to the schools. He informs his readers that the schools thus started in New York and Philadelphia were the only ones attempted before the Revolution. “The first medical degrees were given by the College of New York. In 1769, the degree of Bachelor in Medicine was conferred upon Samuel Kissam and Robert Tucker. In 1770 the degree of Doctor of Medicine was conferred on the last of these gentlemen, and in May of the following year upon the former. In June, 1771, the degree of Doctor in Medicine was conferred on four students of the Philadelphia College, being the first given in the institution.”[4]

The truth is that Dr. Sewall, in his lecture, correctly presented the fact, overlooked by Dr. Hosack, that in June, 1768, the first Commencement of the College of Philadelphia was held, at which the degree of Bachelor of Medicine was conferred, and further stated that “at the Commencement in 1771, the degree of M. B. was conferred on seven, and the degree of M. D. on four students.”[5] This latter statement is made by Dr. Thatcher in his History of American Medicine, prefixed to his Medical Biography, without reference to any previous Commencement. With respect to the prospective conferring of degrees Dr. Morgan, in writing to Mr. William Hewson, of London, November 20th, 1767, thus expresses himself:—

“I have twenty pupils this year at about five guineas each. Next year we shall confer the degree of Bachelor in Physic on several of them, and that of Doctor in three years after. New York has copied us, and has six Professors, three of whom you know, to wit, Bard, Professor of Physic; Tennant, of Midwifery; and Smith, in Chemistry; besides whom are Dr. Jones, Professor of Surgery; Middleton, of Physiology; and Clossy, of Anatomy. Time will show in what light we are to consider the rivalship; for my part, I do not seem to be under great apprehensions.”[6]

The degree of Bachelor of Medicine was conferred, in 1769, by King’s College, New York, and the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1770. From this it appears that the claim of priority in conferring degrees in medicine must be awarded to the Philadelphia School, while the precedence in conferring the Doctorate must be given to New York.

As all the points connected with the mode of proceeding in the infancy of the school are worthy of notice, the resolutions with regard to the examination of applicants have been transcribed from the Minutes of the College of May 17, 1768.

“It was agreed that in pursuance of a Proposal given in by the Medical Trustees and Professors, the examination of the Medical Students for the degree of Bachelor of Physic shall be made in the following mode, according to the Rule originally laid down for the Medical Schools, which requires a full private examination before admission to the public one.

“Wherefore the private examination shall begin in the College, on the 9th of May, being Monday next, and shall be finished on Monday, the 16th. Such of the Medical Students as may appear fit, after such private examination, shall be admitted to a public examination in the College on Wednesday, the 18th of May.”

The ceremonies attending the Commencement of June 21, 1768, are minutely detailed upon the Minutes of the Board of Trustees, and are full of interest in connection with the customs of the time. They are thus set forth:—

“This day may be considered as the Birth-day of Medical Honors in America. The Trustees being met at half an hour past nine in the forenoon, and the several Professors and Medical Candidates, in their proper Habits, proceeded from the Apparatus Room to the Public Hall, where a polite assembly of their fellow-citizens were convened to honor the Solemnity.

“The Provost having there received the Mandate for the Commencement from his Honor the Governor, as President of the Trustees, introduced the business of the day with Prayers and a short Latin Oration, suited to the occasion. The part alluding to the School of Medicine is in the following language:—

“‘Oh! Factum bene! Vos quoque Professores Medici, qui magno nummi, temporis et laboris sumptu, longâ quoque peregrinatione per varias regiones, et populos, domum re-duxistis et peritiam, et nobile consilium servandi, et rationali praxi, docendi alios servare valetudinem vestrûm civium. Gratum fecistis omnibus, sed pergratum certé peritis illis medicis, qui artis suæ dignitatis conscii, praxin rationalem, et juventutis institutionem in re medicâ liberalem, hisce regionibus, ante vos longé desideraverunt.’

“To this succeeded—

“1. A Latin oration, delivered by Mr. John Lawrence, ‘De Honoribus qui in omni ævo in veros Medicinæ cultores collati fuerint.’

“2. A dispute, whether the Retina or Tunica Choroides be the immediate seat of vision? The argument for the retina was ingeniously maintained by Mr. Cowell; the opposite side of the question was supported with great acuteness by Mr. Fullerton, who contended that the Retina is incapable of the office ascribed to it, on account of its being easily permeable to the rays of light, and that the choroid coat, by its being opaque, is the proper part for stopping the rays, and receiving the picture of the object.

“3. Questio, num detur Fluidum Nervosum? Mr. Duffield held the affirmative, and Mr. Way the negative, both with great learning.

“4. Mr. Tilton delivered an essay ‘On Respiration,’ and the manner in which it was performed did credit to his abilities.

“5. The Provost then conferred the degree of Bachelor of Medicine on the following gentlemen, viz: Messrs. John Archer, of New Castle County; Benjamin Cowell, of Bucks; Samuel Duffield and Jonathan Potts, of Philadelphia; Jonathan Elmer, of New Jersey; Humphrey Fullerton, of Lancaster County; David Jackson, of Chester County; John Lawrence, of East Jersey; James Tilton, of Kent County, Delaware; and Nicholas Way, of Wilmington.

“6. An elegant valedictory oration was spoken by Mr. Potts, ‘On the Advantages derived in the Study of Physic, from a previous liberal education in the other sciences.’

“The Provost then addressed the Graduates in a brief Account of the present state of the College, and of the quick progress in the various extensive establishments it hath already made. He pointed out the general causes of the advancement as well as decline of literature in different Nations of the World, and observed to the Graduates, that as they were the first who had received medical honors in America, on a regular Collegiate plan, it depended much on them, by their future conduct and eminence, to place such honors in estimation among their countrymen; concluding with an earnest appeal that they would never neglect the opportunities which their profession would give them, when their art could be of no further service to the body, of making serious impressions on their patients, and showing themselves men of consolation and piety, especially at the awful approach of death, which could not fail to have singular weight from a lay character.

“Dr. Shippen, Professor of Anatomy and Surgery, then gave the remainder of the charge, further inviting the Graduates to support the dignity of their Profession by a laudable perseverance in their studies, and by a Practice becoming the character of gentlemen; adding many useful precepts respecting their conduct towards their patients, charity towards the poor, humanity towards all; and with reference to the opportunities they might have of gaining the confidence of the sick, and esteem of every one who by their vigilance and skill might be relieved from suffering, and restored to health.

“The Vice-Provost concluded the whole with Prayer and Thanksgiving.”[7]

At a public Commencement held June 30, 1769, the degree of Bachelor of Medicine was conferred on eight candidates, viz: James Armstrong, John Hodge, John Houston, Josias Carroll Hall, Thomas Pratt, Alexander Skinner, Myndert Yeeder, and John Winder. The exercises were of a character similar to the preceding, the charge being given by Dr. Bond.[8]

In the year 1769, Dr. Benjamin Rush, on his return from Europe, was elected Professor of Chemistry. He was born in Pennsylvania, in 1745. His classical education was commenced at the celebrated school of Rev. Dr. Finley, at Nottingham, in Maryland; and so well trained was he that he entered the Senior Class at Princeton College, and graduated at the expiration of the term in 1760, when hardly sixteen years of age. President Davies was then at the head of the Institution. The next six years of his life were spent in the study of medicine with Dr. Redman, and he was one of the first pupils in attendance upon the lectures of Dr. Shippen. In 1766 he went to Edinburgh, where, in 1768, he took his degree of Doctor of Medicine; the same year in which the first medical honors were conferred in America. The subject of his thesis was “De coctione ciborum in ventriculo.”

It is stated by Dr. Ramsay, in his eulogium, “that the Writings of Hippocrates were among the first books Benjamin Rush read in Medicine, and, while he was an apprentice, translated his Aphorisms from Greek into English. He also began to keep a note-book of remarkable occurrences, the plan of which he afterwards improved and continued through life. From a part of this record, written in the seventeenth year of his age, we derive the only account of the yellow fever of 1762, which has descended to posterity.” An account of this same epidemic has recently been published by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, from a manuscript of Dr. Redman, found among its Archives.[9]

The desire of Dr. Rush to become the incumbent of the Chair of Chemistry in the Medical School of Philadelphia, was formed while he was still a student at Edinburgh, and in this he was evidently supported by the friendly suggestions of Dr. Morgan. In a letter to this gentleman, dated Jan. 20, 1768, he thus expresses himself: “I exult in the happy prospects, which now open upon you, of the success of the Medical Schools you have established in Philadelphia. The scheme you have published for conferring degrees in Physic has met with the approbation of Dr. Cullen himself, who interests himself warmly in everything that relates to your reputation or success in life; he thinks himself happy, he says, in educating those young men to whom so important a Medical College as that in Philadelphia will owe its foundation and future credit.”

“I thank you for the pains you have taken to secure me the Professorship of Chemistry. I think I am now master of the science, and could teach it with confidence and ease. I have attended Dr. Black for two years diligently, and have, I think, received from him a comprehensive and accurate view of the science, together with all his late improvements in chemistry, which are of so important a nature that no man, in my opinion, can understand or teach chemistry as a science without being acquainted with them.” “As to the experiments you speak of, there is scarcely one of them but what I have seen twice performed, either publickly or privately, by Dr. Black.” Again: “I would not, however, urge your interest too warmly in this affair; perhaps I may disappoint the expectations of the Trustees, and prevent a person better qualified from filling the chair. I should like to teach Chemistry as a Professor, because I think I could show its application to medicine and philosophy.” “I should likewise be able more fully, from having a seat in the College, to co-operate with you in advancing the Medical Sciences generally.”

Of the certainty of his election Dr. Rush must have received an intimation, as in October, 1768, he thus wrote from London to Dr. Morgan: “I am much obliged to you for continuing to read lectures upon Chemistry. I hope to be in Philadelphia in May or June next, so that I shall relieve you from the task the ensuing winter. Is it necessary for me to deliver publickly an Inaugural Oration? Something must be said in favor of the advantages of Chemistry to Medicine, and its usefulness to medical philosophy, as the people of our country in general are strangers to the nature and objects of the science.”

The language of Dr. Rush, in the extracts from his correspondence which have been presented, indicates that although conscious of his own acquirements, ambitious of advancement in connection with usefulness, animated almost by a prescience of the distinction to which he ultimately attained, and relying on a will and industry to secure success in the position he desired, he was still diffident in the expression of his fitness for the office.

The wishes of Dr. Rush were fully realized. At a meeting of the Board of Trustees, July 23, 1769, a letter was read from Thomas Penn, Esq., dated May, 1769, of which the following is a copy:—
Gentlemen: Dr. Rush having been recommended to me by Dr. Fothergill as a very expert Chymist, and the Doctor having further recommended to me to send a Chymical Apparatus to the College, as a Thing that will be of great use, particularly in the tryal of ores, I send you such as Dr. Fothergill thought necessary, under the care of Dr. Rush, which I desire your acceptance of. I recommend Dr. Rush to your notice, and humbly wishing success to the College, remain, with great regard,

“Your very affectionate friend,


“To the Trustees of the College of Philadelphia.”

The following is a part of an address to the Hon. Thomas Penn, Esq., approved and signed August 1, 1769:—

“We have likewise the pleasure to acknowledge a fresh instance of your benevolence in sending us a Chemical Apparatus under the care of Dr. Rush, who will meet with all the encouragement from us due to your recommendation and his own good character.”

At the same meeting, a letter was submitted by Dr. Rush, applying for the Professorship of Chemistry.

Gentlemen: As the Professorship of Chemistry, which Dr. Morgan hath some time supplied, is vacant, I beg to offer myself as a Candidate for it. Should you think proper to honor me with the Chair, you may depend upon my doing anything that lies in my power to discharge the duties of a Professor, and to promote the reputation and interest of your College.

“I have the honor to be, with the greatest respect,

Your most obedient, humble servant


“Philadelphia, July 31, 1769.”

“In consequence of the above application, and in consideration of Dr. Rush’s character as an able Chemist, he was unanimously appointed Professor of Chemistry in the College.”

From the more complete organization of the Medical Faculty, effected in the manner now detailed, the session of 1769-70 may be regarded as the commencement of greater vigor in the School. The Announcement stood as follows:—

Theory and Practice of Medicine, John Morgan, M. D.
Anatomy, Surgery, and Midwifery, Wm. Shippen, Jr., M. D.
Materia Medica and Botany, Adam Kuhn, M. D.
Chemistry, Benjamin Rush, M. D.
Clinical Medicine, Thomas Bond, M. D.

Additionally to the strictly medical courses, the Rev. Dr. Smith, Provost, delivered lectures on Natural Philosophy to the Class.[10]

It may be of interest to know the ages of the above-named members of the Faculty of Medicine at the period of its existence in 1769. Like the School itself, the Professors would, in these days, be considered juvenile; but in the vigor of their youth, they were capable of accomplishing great things, and failed not in their endeavor. Rush was but twenty-four years old; Kuhn but twenty-eight; Shippen thirty-three; and Morgan thirty-four. Bond only had arrived at that age when experience is supposed to bring the greatest wisdom; he was over fifty years.

At the Commencement before referred to in June, 1771, the degree of Bachelor of Physic was conferred on Benjamin Allison, Jonathan Easton, John Kuhn, Frederick Kuhn, Bodo Otto, Robert Pottinger, and William Smith.

Four graduates who had received the primary degree in 1768, now received that of Doctor of Medicine, viz: Jonathan Potts, whose thesis was “De Febribus Intermittentibus Potissimum Tertianis;” James Tilton, “De Hydrope;” Nicholas Way, “De Variolarum Insitione;” Jonathan Elmer, “De Causis et Remediis sitis in Febribus.”[11]

The theses of these gentlemen were written in the Latin language, and, according to the rule heretofore given, as enacted in 1767, were published.

Professor Beck has fallen partially into error in his interesting historical sketch, when he states that no medical journal of any description appears to have been published until after the war of our Independence; and that “the only inaugural dissertation that was published was from the New York College in 1771, by Samuel Kissam, M. D., ‘On the Anthelmintic Virtue of the Phasceolus Zuratensis;’ ‘Siliqua Hirsuta, or Cow-itch,’ a copy of which may be seen in the library of the New York Historical Society.” In this he is evidently mistaken, for the theses of the graduates of the College of Philadelphia were published in 1771, and are now in existence.

  1. A sketch of the life of Dr. Kuhn was communicated anonymously to the 8th vol. Eclectic Repository. It was written by Dr. S. Powell Griffiths.
  2. The word “also” has reference to a mistake of Dr. Miller in his Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century, who stated that no degrees in medicine were conferred by King’s College, New York, previously to the Revolution.
  3. An Inaugural Discourse delivered at the opening of Rutgers Medical College in the City of New York, on Monday the 6th day of November, 1826, by David Hosack, M. D., F. R. S.
  4. An Historical Sketch of the State of Medicine in the American Colonies, etc., ante citat.
  5. A Lecture delivered at the opening of the Medical Department of the Columbian College, in the District of Columbia, March 30th, 1825, by Thomas Sewall, M. D., Professor of Anatomy and Physiology, Washington City, 1825. Note to page 26 at p. 67. This note was furnished by Prof. J. R. Coxe, M. D., in a letter to Dr. Sewall, and is correct in all particulars.
  6. In July, 1767, the first measures were taken in New York; and in 1768, a Medical School was organized under the direction and government of the College, which was then called King’s College. A Board of Professors was then appointed to teach the several branches of Medical Science. The instructors in this early school were Samuel Clossy, M. D., Professor of Anatomy; John Jones, M. D., Professor of Surgery; Peter Middleton, M. D., Professor of Physiology and Pathology; James Smith, M. D., Professor of Chemistry and Materia Medica; John V. B. Tennant, M. D., Professor of Midwifery; and Samuel Bard, M. D., Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic.

    The occupation of the city of New York by the British army for so long a period of the war prevented the continuance of the operations of this school. After the peace of 1783, the former medical professors, being separated by death or accident, never as a body were reinstated in their former situation in the College. An effort was made to resuscitate the Medical School, but was unsuccessful. In 1792, Columbia College, which had superseded King’s College, instituted a Medical Faculty at the head of which was Dr. Samuel Bard. But the effort had not much success, as “it appears from the records of Columbia College since 1792, the time when the Medical Faculty of that School was organized, to the year 1811, thirty-four students have completed their courses of study, and received the medical honors of that institution.” The College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York was established in 1807.—Hosack's Introductory. Beck's Sketch; also Historical Sketch of the Origin, Progress, and Present State of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the University of New York. American Medical and Philosophical Register, vol. iv. 1814.

  7. The account is published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, July, 1768.
  8. See Appendix B.
  9. An Account of the Yellow Fever, as it prevailed in Philadelphia in the Autumn of 1762, by John Redman, M. D., First President of the College. A paper presented to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, at its stated meeting, September 7, 1793, now for the first time published by order of the College, 1865.
  10. Appendix C.
  11. Appendix D