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


Effect of the American Revolution upon the College of Philadelphia—Abrogation of its charter and the establishment of the University of the State of Pennsylvania—Restoration of the charter and privileges to the college—Union of the two institutions under the name of University of Pennsylvania.

The fortunes of our medical school, for twenty years after the organization of the faculty in 1769, were checkered and unequal. An intermission of Dr. Morgan’s lectures took place in the winter of 1772-73, in consequence of his absence in the West Indies, whither he had been sent by the Board of Trustees to collect funds for the College. At this time the medical class had increased to between thirty and forty students. But soon the disordered condition of society, attendant upon the Revolution, disturbed the quiet flow of scientific pursuits, and led to the suspension or to the serious embarrassment of academic establishments on the American Continent. In illustration it may be stated that the Professors of the College of Philadelphia applied to the “Council of Safety” for relief from their annoyances, informing it “that the Schools were interfered with and inconvenienced by the occupation of the grounds and buildings by soldiers, who did much injury to the property.”[1]

In the years 1776 and 1777, the lectures upon anatomy were wholly suspended in the College, and afterwards necessarily shorter than usual, and, as far as can be ascertained, the lectures on the other branches were either interrupted or but partially given.[2] The occupation of the city by the British in the autumn of 1777 was the occasion of the removal of the effects of the College, which, as far as possible, were secured privately by the professors.[3]

Several of the medical professors took their place as medical officers of the army. Morgan and Shippen successively acted in the capacity of Medical Director-General during the Revolution, and Rush as Medical Director of the Middle Department. The latter was also a member of the Congress which signed the Declaration of Independence.[4] The account of the services rendered by the Medical Professors as well as by the members of the Profession generally, may be gathered from the biographies which have been given us of the most eminent physicians and surgeons of the period. Two of the graduates, of the Class of 1768 and 1771, of the College were useful and distinguished physicians of the Hospital Department of the American Army, viz., Jonathan Potts and James Tilton. An estimate may be formed of the difficulties encountered by the army physicians and surgeons from the transcript of part of a letter written by the former of these gentlemen, Dr. Potts, who was Director for the Northern Department.

Fort George, August 10th, 1776.

“The distressing situation of the sick here is not to be described; without clothing, without bedding, or a shelter sufficient to screen them from the weather, I am sure your known humanity will be affected when I tell you we have at present upwards of one thousand sick, crowded into sheds, and laboring under the various and cruel disorders of Dysentery, Bilious, Putrid Fevers, and the effects of a Confluent Small Pox. To attend this large number we have four surgeons and four mates, exclusive of myself, and our little shop doth not afford a grain of Jalap, Ipecacuanha, Bark, Salts, Opium, and sundry other capital articles, and nothing of the kind to be had in this quarter. In this dilemma our inventions are exhausted for succedaneums; but we shall go on doing the best we can in hopes of speedy supply.”

This letter was addressed to the Director-General.[5]

The spirit which actuated these gentlemen in the cause of their country may be learned from the following passage of a letter of Dr. Thomas Bond. Sen., to the Council of Safety, December 4th, 1776, giving his views in relation to the organization of military hospitals:—

“When I see so many of my friends and valuable fellow-citizens exposing themselves to the horrors of war, I think it my indispensable duty to make them a tender of the best services in my power, upon the condition that I can have the joint assistance of my son in the great undertaking, who I am certain you will find on enquiry has already distinguished himself in this Department. As I am told many of the sick are near the City, the sooner this matter is concluded the better.”[6]

Dr. Bond at that time was over sixty years of age.

The privations and hardships which were suffered, the difficulties and vexations which were encountered, and the sacrifices submitted to by the medical officers during the War of Independence have been graphically depicted in his Military Journal by that venerable sharer of them, the late Dr. Thatcher. When, on the conclusion of the contest, the services of these medical patriots were no further needed, they returned to their civil posts, imbued with knowledge and experience, from which in after life they derived the benefit.

So far as the concerns of the College were affected, it required time before they assumed their former tranquillity and regularity. The account of the next ten years is an eventful one in the history of the Medical School, until the University was placed on its present secure foundation.

The Institution, being of colonial origin and patronage, needed, as was thought, thorough reorganization to place it upon a basis harmonizing with the regime of Independence. The removal of constraint by a hostile force permitted it to be re-established under different auspices. It was alleged further that disaffection existed on the part of some of the members of the Board of Trustees to the new Government. By an Act of the Legislature, November 27th, 1779, the charter of the College was abrogated, its officers removed, and its property transferred to a new institution. This decree of the Legislature had been anticipated by authoritative interposition.[7]

From the Minutes of June 1st, 1779, we learn that Mr. John Foulke was examined for the Bachelor’s Degree, but after the mandamus was issued, the Commencement was interdicted by the President of the Executive Council of the State. This was the beginning of the difficulty which eventuated in the action of the Legislature above referred to. Still, the movement must have been more sudden than was expected, inasmuch as we find the following notice in the “Pennsylvania Gazette”:—

“College of Philadelphia, October 24, 1779. The Lectures on the different branches of Medicine will begin on the first Monday of December.”

The institution which superseded the College of Philadelphia was entitled the “University of the State of Pennsylvania,” to which were given more extended educational privileges and larger endowment.[8] The Trustees at once directed attention to the Medical Department in common with others, and it appears from the Minutes of the Board that on December 8th, 1779, it was—

“Resolved, that Dr. Shippen, sen., Dr. Bond, and Dr. Hutchinson be a Committee to inquire into the state of the late Medical School, as it stood in the late College, and what is the establishment thereof in Foreign Universities; and to digest a plan, for the consideration of the Board, for establishing the school on the most respectable footing. That the said Committee do request the several Medical Professors in the mean time to proceed in their lectures as heretofore.”

When the University was organized upon the basis mentioned, the Rev. John Ewing, D.D., was appointed Provost. In this office he remained until his death in 1802. Dr. Ewing continued the practice of delivering Lectures upon Natural Philosophy. These were published, in 1809, in a volume edited by Prof. Robert Patterson, who appended to them a Life of the author.

On May 11th, 1780, it was resolved, by the Board of Trustees of the University, “that the former Medical Professors be requested to examine such candidates as shall apply to them;” and on June 27th it was “agreed that on the present occasion the late Medical Professors take their seats.” This occasion was in connection with the preliminaries for the graduation of the classes. The Commencement was held, and the Degree of Bachelor of Medicine conferred on William W. Smith and Ebenezer Crossby, and that of Doctor of Medicine on David Ramsay.[9]

Dr. Shippen was the only one of the Professors who at once accepted the position he had held in the Faculty of the College; and an agreement not being effected with the others, the Chair of Practice was offered to Dr. Hutchinson, June 25th, 1781, and then, April 22d, 1782, to Dr. James McClurg, of Virginia. The Chair of Chemistry was, Nov. 7th, 1781, offered to Dr. Hutchinson, and on April 2d, 1782, the Chair of Materia Medica was offered to Dr. James Tilton, of Delaware. In each case the honor was respectfully declined. On April 22d, 1782, Mr. William Bartram was appointed Professor of Botany.

The Trustees evidently labored under embarrassment and difficulties which had to be met by temporary expedients, as is shown by the following public advertisement:—

“At a Meeting of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, on Wednesday, 81st of October, 1781, Resolved unanimously that Dr. Bond be requested to unite Lectures on the Theory and Practice of Physic with his course of Clinical Lectures, the ensuing season, until such time as a Professor in that Branch of Medicine be appointed and undertake the business.” Dr. Bond, who was present at the meeting, expressed his readiness to do so.

It was further “Resolved, that Wednesday next be appointed for the election of Professors of Materia Medica, the Theory and Practice of Physic, Chemistry, and Botany.” This attempt to fill the Chairs did not succeed, and in this state of irregularity medical instruction continued for three years. In the “Pennsylvania Gazette” of Nov. 14th, 1781, Dr. Rush announced a course of Lectures upon Chemistry and the Practice of Physic, “to begin on Monday next, at three o’clock in the afternoon.” There was no interruption, however, to the graduation of candidates each year. At the Commencement of 1782, eight students were graduated M. B., and the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Medicine was conferred upon Joannes Franciscus De Coste, Physician-General of the French Army in America, and also upon Maria Bernardus Borgetta, an eminent physician of the same army; and Fiacer Robillard, a Senior Surgeon in the French Army, received the Degree of Master of Arts.

In November, 1783, an election anew took place, and the former status of the Professors was accepted by them. The lectures then appear to have been conducted with some uniformity.

Although the University continued to perform its part successfully for ten years from the time of its foundation, the dissatisfaction on the part of the friends of the former College had only slumbered. The Act of the Legislature was regarded by them as unjust and unconstitutional, and their efforts in procuring its repeal, and in the restoration to the College of the powers and property possessed by it originally, were finally crowned with success. The new institution retained its position as a University, with its endowment from confiscated estates. The Act of repeal is dated March 6th, 1789.[10]

It is a circumstance worthy of record that, in consequence of his absence abroad for so many years in the service of the Colonies, Dr. Franklin, after the foundation of the College, “had but few opportunities of taking any further active part in the affairs of the Seminary, until his final return in the year 1785, when he found its charters violated, and his ancient colleagues, the original founders, deprived of their trust by an act of the Legislature; and although his own name had been inserted amongst the new Trustees, yet he declined to take his seat among them, or any concern in the management of their affairs, till the institution was restored by law to its original owners. He then assembled his old colleagues at his own house, and, being chosen their President, all their future meetings were at his request held there till within a few months of his death, April 17th, 1790, when, with reluctance, and at their desire, lest he might be too much injured by his attention to their business, he suffered them to meet at the College.”[11]

When the restitution of its rights was made to the College, the Trustees proceeded to the organization of the Schools. The Rev. Dr. Smith was restored to the office of Provost; and with respect to the Medical Professors, the Minutes of the Board inform us, dated March 13th, 1789, that

“The Committee who were appointed to wait upon the Professors and Masters formerly deprived, but now restored, made report that they had waited upon the following Professors in the Medical Schools, formerly instituted under the College, viz:—

Dr. William Shippen, Jr., Professor of Anatomy, &c.
Adam Kuhn, Professor of Botany and Materia Medica.
Benjamin Rush, Professor of Chemistry.

“Who severally expressed their satisfaction upon the renewal of their connection with the Trustees of the College, and their restoration to their Professorships under them, in discharging the duties of which as heretofore it was their wish and intention to continue.

“Dr. John Morgan, Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic, not being at present within the State, the Trustees consider him reinstated and entitled to continue in his office until his return home, when he is to be waited on by the Committee in like manner as the other Professors have been, in order to know whether it is his intention to resume the exercise of his Professorship as heretofore.”

In October, 1789, Dr. Morgan died at the age of fifty-four years. It is stated that he had retired very much from active life, actuated by chagrin at his treatment by Congress, in removing him from the post of Director General, upon charges from which he was ultimately exonerated. That Dr. Morgan had lost his interest in the duties of his Professorship, would appear from a communication from the Professors to the Trustees of the University in December, 1788, in these terms: “that the Faculty are of opinion that the Medical School suffers for want of a course of lectures being delivered annually on the Theory and Practice of Physic.”

On the 24th of October, 1789, Dr. Rush was elected to the Chair of Theory and Practice in the College; and on the 29th of October, Dr. Kuhn resigned his Professorship and took that of Practice in the University, to which he was elected November 4th, 1789. “At the same time a letter was read from Dr. Wistar recommending lectures on the Institutes of Physic, to be in connection with those of Chemistry by the Professor of the latter branch, which was agreed to.”

On November 17th, 1789, Dr. Caspar Wistar was unanimously elected Professor of Chemistry (to succeed Dr. Rush) and of the Institutes of Physic. Dr. Samuel Griffitts was unanimously elected Professor of Materia Medica and Pharmacy; and Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton was unanimously elected Professor of Natural History and Botany.

The Medical School of the College having been thus reorganized, and that of the University continuing in full operation, a rivalship naturally sprung up between the two institutions, or rather it may be called an antagonism, which was singular from the fact of an inosculation existing in the person of Dr. Shippen, who held his Professorship in both.

It has been seen that Dr. Kuhn had joined the University, as Professor of the Theory and Practice, and on the 19th of December, 1789, Dr. James Hutchinson, an active member of the Board of Trustees, was elected Professor of Chemistry and Materia Medica in that institution.

When, in 1789, the College was restored to its former position, with possession of its functions and privileges, it was determined no longer to confer the degree of Bachelor of Medicine. The reason for this course is thus stated: “It having been considered that it would not be for the honor of the College or the advancement of sound literature to continue the degree of Bachelor of Medicine, lest young and inexperienced men under the sanction of that degree and of their Collegiate education, assuming the name of Doctor, might be tempted to impose upon the public, by a too early Practice, it has, therefore, been determined that the Degree of Doctor in Medicine shall be the only medical degree conferred in this Seminary.”[12]

In point of fact it would appear from the early records that, as was anticipated, comparatively few of the primary graduates ever applied for the doctor’s degree, and even these bore no proportion to the whole class of students in attendance, most of them going into active service without the evidence of qualification. With regard to the system of degrees established, Dr. Rush, in his correspondence with Dr. Morgan, as early as 1768, makes this comment: “I have read the laws you have established with regard to the conferring degrees in Physic, and have shown them to several gentlemen in this place (Edinburgh) who, upon the whole, approve of them. Some of them have thought that conferring Bachelors’ Degrees in Physic would tend to depreciate their value, as few young men would ever have leisure enough after they began to practise, to return a second time to the College in order to write a Thesis or go through the other necessary forms, previous to being admitted Doctors of Physic. Upon this account they have proposed that no one should be admitted to the physical honors, until he had studied there two or three years, and afterwards published a Thesis. But you who are upon the spot can best judge of the propriety of the regulation.” The correctness of the prognostication contained in the foregoing extract was shown by the result, and led to the abandonment of the first degree.

On November 17th, 1789, the following rules respecting a medical education having been passed by the Trustees of the College, and ordered to be made public for the information of those students who desired the degree of Doctor of Physic, were published in the “Pennsylvania Gazette”:—

“1. No person shall be received as a Candidate for the degree of Doctor of Medicine until he has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and has applied himself to the study of Medicine in the College for at least two years. Those students, candidates who reside in the City of Philadelphia, or within five miles thereof, must have been the pupils of some respectable practitioner for the space of three years, and those who may come from the country, and from any greater distance than five miles, must have studied with some reputable physician there for at least two years.

“2. Every candidate shall have regularly attended the lectures of the following Professors, viz., of Anatomy and Surgery; of Chymistry and the Institutes of Medicine; of Materia Medica and Pharmacy; of the Theory and Practice of Medicine; the Botanical lectures of the Professor of Natural History and Botany; and a course of lectures on Natural and Experimental Philosophy.

“3. Each Candidate shall signify his intention of graduating to the Dean of the Medical Faculty, at least two months before the time of graduation, after which he shall be examined privately by the Professors of the different branches of medicine. If remitted to his studies, the Professors shall hold themselves bound not to divulge the same; but if he is judged to be properly qualified, a medical question and a case shall then be proposed to him, the answer and treatment of which he shall submit to the Medical Professors. If these performances are approved, the Candidate shall then be admitted to a public examination before the Trustees, the Provost, Vice Provost, Professors and Students of the College; after which he shall offer to the inspection of each of the Medical Professors a Thesis, written in the Latin or English Language (at his own option) on a medical subject. This Thesis, approved of, is to be printed at the expense of the Candidate, and defended from such objections as may be made to it by the Medical Professors, at a Commencement to be held for the purpose of conferring degrees, on the first Wednesday of June every year.

“Bachelors in Medicine who wish to be admitted to the Degree of Doctor in Medicine, shall publish and defend a Thesis agreeably to the rules above mentioned.

“The different Medical Lectures shall commence annually on the first Monday in November, the lectures in Natural and Experimental Philosophy about the same time, and the lectures on Botany on the first Monday in April.

President of the Board of Trustees.
Provost of the College and Secretary of Board of Trustees.

The University continued the practice of conferring two degrees; in other respects its rules and requirements were very analogous to those of the College.

The state of things exhibited with respect to medical teaching by two institutions, in so contracted a sphere as the city of Philadelphia then offered, could not be otherwise than unsatisfactory. This appears clearly from a statement made upon the Minutes of the University, April 6, 1791, being part of a report on the condition of the Schools, to wit: “Of the Medical students who have attended the lectures of the different Professors, since the separation of the College, it cannot be accurately ascertained how many are attached to this Seminary, with a view to graduation in it.

“The Professor of Anatomy, who is also Professor of Anatomy under the College, has been attended in his last course of lectures, which commenced in November, 1790, by one hundred and four. About twenty of these have not attended the lectures of any other of the Professors of either Seminary. Fifty-five, however, have attended the lectures of the other Medical Professors of the University with a view to graduation in it.”

The field for two establishments was proved to be too restricted, and after party spirit had subsided, and faction had been lulled to rest, a calm appreciation of the circumstances then existing led to the conclusion, that in union there would be additional strength and prosperity. In speaking of the condition of affairs that existed, the late Chief Justice Tilgh-man refers to the part that was taken by Dr. Wistar in bringing about the union of conflicting interests. “Philadelphia had then the misfortune to be divided between two rival schools, the Faculty of Medicine of the College and that of the University of Pennsylvania. He saw and lamented the consequences of this division. It was his wish to unite in one great institution the talents of the city. But finding that the period of union had not yet arrived, he accepted the Professorship offered to him by the College, in order to preserve an influence to be exerted at the proper season, and in this purpose he was not disappointed, for he had the satisfaction of contributing largely to the much desired union which was afterwards effected.”[13]

An amicable adjustment was brought about, followed by an Act of the Legislature, September 30th, 1791, passed in accordance with petitions from the two schools, setting forth the terms of the agreement upon which they had decided to unite. It was agreed that the name of the Institution should be “The University of Pennsylvania,” and that it should be located in the city of Philadelphia. Of this name her graduates have sufficient reason to be proud.

In the Introductory Lecture delivered by Dr. Rush in the month of November, 1791, he thus expresses himself upon the subject of the union: “I should do violence to my feelings should I proceed to the subjects of the ensuing course of lectures, without first congratulating you upon the union of the two Medical Schools of Philadelphia, under a Charter founded upon the most liberal concessions by the gentlemen who projected it, and upon the purest principles of patriotism in the Legislature of our State. By means of this event, the ancient harmony of the different professors of medicine will be restored, and their united efforts will be devoted, with accumulated force, towards the advancement of our Science.”

By the arrangement entered into, provision was made for the employment of all the Professors of the two previously existing Faculties, according to the especial predilections and fitness of each incumbent, although no doubt in the spirit of compromise some sacrifices of tastes and wishes were made highly honorable to the parties interested.

With this new era the Announcement of the Professors and their subjects was as follows:—

Anatomy, Surgery, and Midwifery, William Shippen, M. D.
Caspar Wistar, M. D., Adjunct.
Theory and Practice of Medicine, Adam Kuhn, M. D.
Institutes of Medicine and Clinical Medicine, Benjamin Rush, M. D.
Chemistry, James Hutchinson, M. D.
Materia Medica and Pharmacy, Samuel P. Griffitts, M. D.
Botany and Natural History, Benj. Smith Barton, M. D.

The elections according to the order given were made on the 23d of January, 1792. Dr. John Ewing was elected on April 3d, 1792, Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, and on the 26th was again chosen Provost.

At the time the Medical Professors were elected, it was “Resolved, that it shall not be essential to the obtaining a Degree in Medicine for the student to attend the Professor of Natural History and Botany.” With this exception the “Rules respecting a medical education and the conferring of Degrees in Medicine” were similar to those which have been given as adopted by the College. The Degree of Bachelor of Medicine was dropped by the University when thus reorganized, and the Doctorate alone conferred. In this particular the practice of the University of Edinburgh was followed.

  1. June 23, 1777, Pa. Archives, vol. v. p. 198.
  2. Eulogium on Dr. Shippen by Dr. Caspar Wistar, p. 29.
  3. It is a tradition in the family of the Provost, the Rev. Dr. Smith, that he thus saved the archives from which we have been enabled to compile much of our information.
  4. Dr. Rush was elected to Congress after the Declaration of Independence, for the express purpose of signing it.
  5. It is among the papers of Dr. Potts, in the collection of the Historica Society of Pennsylvania.
  6. Pa. Archives, vol. v. p. 89. Dr. Thomas Bond, Jr., here referred to, was Purveyor of the General Hospital.
  7. For an exposition of the circumstances which led to this act on the part of the Legislature, and for the full discussion of the merits of the transaction, we must refer to the History of the University of Pennsylvania by George B. Wood, M. D., in the 3d vol. of Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pa. Also to the Pa. Gazette, March and April, 1788, for a Remonstrance against the Act of Assembly of 1779 and an exposition of the origin of the College. In the same paper are “Reasons for abrogating the Charter of the College from Minutes of the Council of Censors,” August and September, 1784. Also an Exposition of the Controversy between the College and the University, March, 1789.
  8. We have seen a diploma of Bachelor of Medicine of 1785, in which the title University of Philadelphia is used. The title stated in the text is given in the Book of Charters and Statutes.
  9. The Historian of the United States. He wrote a Life of Dr. Rush, which has been quoted. The words in which the mandamus is expressed are the following: “And the Degree of Doctor of Medicine on David Ramsay, now prisoner with the enemy.”
  10. Charters and Statutes of the University of Pennsylvania.
  11. Life of Dr. Franklin by Dr. Stuber, Duo. ed., N. Y. 1825. See also remonstrance referred to, “Pennsylvania Gazette.”
  12. Pennsylvania Gazette.
  13. An Eulogium in commemoration of Dr. Caspar Wistar, late President of the American Philosophical Society, &c., delivered before the Society, March 11th, 1818, by the Hon. William Tilghman, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, &c., Philadelphia, 1818, p. 20.