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


Death of Dr. Hutchinson—Sketch of his life—Election of Dr. Woodhouse to the professorship of chemistry—Resignation of Dr. Griffitts—Sketch of his life—Election of Dr. Barton to the chair of materia medica—Resignation of Dr. Kuhn and election of Dr. Rush to the chair of practice—Creation of the chair of surgery and election of Dr. Physick Professor—First recognition of the ad eundem footing—Petition to the legislature with respect to irregular practitioners—Death of Dr. Shippen and election of Dr. Wistar—Death of Dr. Woodhouse and sketch of his life— Election of Dr. Coxe to the chair of chemistry—Opinion of the faculty with respect to chemistry.

Not long after the coalition of the medical schools and the arrangement of the Faculties under the auspices of the University, a change occurred in the chair of chemistry. Its incumbent, Dr. Hutchinson, died in the autumn of 1793, of the epidemic yellow fever.

Dr. James Hutchinson was born in 1752, in Bucks County, Pa. He was educated at the College of Philadelphia, and graduated with the first honors of his class. He commenced the study of medicine with Dr. Cadwalader Evans, and attended the medical lectures of the college.[1] In the year 1774, at the time he graduated Bachelor of Medicine, the trustees presented him with a gold medal for his superior knowledge in chemistry. On one side of this medal was represented a circle of laurel, with the inscription on the exergue, “Jacobus Hutchinson 1774.” On the reverse a retort; on the exergue, “Naturæ artisque arcana retexi, Col. Phil.”

Dr. Hutchinson subsequently went to London and continued his medical education under the protection and guidance of Dr. Fothergill. It is stated by his biographer that “while pursuing his studies in Europe the disputes between England and the American Colonies were approaching a crisis, which he saw must end in an open rapture. The prospect of this event hastened his return to his native country, the cause of which he warmly espoused. He returned home by way of France, and was entrusted with important despatches from Dr. Franklin, the American Minister there, to the Congress of the United States. When near the American coast, the ship in which he was a passenger was chased by a British armed vessel, and being anxious to save the despatches, he left the vessel in an open boat under a heavy fire from the enemy and landed safely. A short time after he left the vessel, she was captured by the enemy in sight, and he lost everything he had, including a fine medical library collected in England and France.” Dr. Hutchinson served in the army during the Revolution, and was especially interested in public affairs. In a vindication of himself from the charge of receiving pay to which he was not entitled, published in the “Pennsylvania Journal,” Feb. 6, 1782, Dr. Hutchinson gave an account of the services rendered by him during the war. In this he states that he was in the employment of the United States for upwards of one year, and of the State of Pennsylvania from the latter part of 1778 till the beginning of February 1781. While in the Continental service, he had a commission as the Senior Surgeon to the Flying Hospital in the Middle Department, and with only six assistants inoculated 3496 men, while the army lay at Valley Forge. When the army moved across the North River, after the battle of Monmouth, having no duty to perform in his own department, and desirous of being useful to his country, he went to Rhode Island as a volunteer in the expedition against that place under General Sullivan. Soon afterwards he resigned his commission. On his return to Philadelphia he was appointed Surgeon to the State Navy. The emoluments derived for medical services may be learned from the following statement: “The pay annexed to this station (state navy) was three continental dollars and five rations per day. The duty consisted in taking care of the officers and men belonging to the gallies, and of the Militia who were occasionally at Fort Mifflin. This, though considerable, was performed without an assistant.” The first pay he received from the State was in March, 1779, when it was equal to three shillings specie per day, and thus gradually decreasing as continental money depreciated till it was reduced to about three pence or four pence. In Feb. 1781, there being no longer need of his services, he was discharged.[2]

In 1779, when the University superseded the College, Dr. Hutchinson was appointed one of the Trustees by the Legislature, and took great interest in its prosperity. In 1781 he refused the chair of practice, and in 1783 that of chemistry, influenced doubtless by the wish to see them filled by the previous incumbents of the College; and further, not to embarrass the organization of the medical faculty, in the existing unpleasant state of affairs occasioned by the abrogation of the College charter.

In 1789, when the restitution of the rights of the College was effected, he accepted the Chair of Materia Medica and Chemistry in the University; and on the union of the schools, in 1791, was chosen the Professor of Chemistry. The further arrangement of the Professorships concentrated the medical talents of the city. In this result he heartily cooperated.

At the time of his death he was one of the Secretaries of the Philosophical Society, and for fifteen years had been one of the Physicians of the Pennsylvania Hospital.

The Chair of Chemistry, left vacant by the death of Dr. Hutchinson, was conferred, January 7th, 1794, on Dr. John Carson, a member of the Board of Trustees, but this gentleman dying before entering upon the duties, the position was offered to Dr. Priestley, by whom it was declined.

The reasons assigned by Dr. Priestley for the non-acceptance of the appointment for which he was so eminently qualified, were that his views were directed to a country life as best calculated to permit indulgence in his tastes, and to aid him, by its seclusion, in his pursuits, and that this course would be of further advantage to himself and wife in consequence of a weak state of health. He therefore left the city, and settled at Northumberland, Pa.[3]

On July 7th, 1795, the vacant Chair of Chemistry was filled by the appointment of Dr. James Woodhouse, who in the following session commenced his course of lectures.

In 1796 Dr. Griffitts resigned the Chair of Materia Medica.

Dr. Samuel Powell Griffitts was a prominent member of the Society of Friends. He was born in Philadelphia in 1759. Having been classically educated at the College of Philadelphia, he studied medicine with Dr. Kuhn. He attended lectures during the troubled times of the Revolution, and graduated Bachelor of Medicine in the University, July 4th, 1781. He then proceeded to Europe, but, on account of the war existing between Great Britain and the United Colonies, went first to France. After spending some time in attendance upon the lectures and hospitals of Paris, he went to Montpellier, where, in the winter of 1782-83, he attended a course of lectures. An attraction of this celebrated school at that time was the distinguished medical philosopher Barthez. The following year was spent in London and at the Medical School of Edinburgh, when, after an absence of three years, he established himself in his native city.

The first public enterprise in which he was engaged was the foundation of the Charity which has operated so beneficially in relieving the miseries of the poor, known as the “Philadelphia Dispensary.” This institution went into operation in 1786; and, either as one of its Physicians or in the capacity of Secretary of the Board of Managers, his services were given to it till the close of his useful life.[4]

Dr. Griffitts’ connection with the College and University continued during six sessions, and throughout this period his lectures are said to have “evinced great industry in the acquisition of useful materials, method and perspicuity in their arrangement, and zeal for the advancement of his class in solid information. But the situation of a public lecturer was not altogether congenial to his feelings, which were most gratified by an active discharge of the less conspicuous duties of life. Perhaps, too, the disinclination which he always manifested to hold any place of emolument may have exercised some influence in producing his resignation of a chair which was every year becoming more profitable, and even at that period conferred one of the highest honors within the reach of the profession.”[5]

In consequence of his early studies in connection with Materia Medica and Pharmacy, Dr. Griffitts was deeply interested in the formation of a National Pharmacopœia. In June, 1788, he was placed on a Committee of the College of Physicians to form a Pharmacopœia for the use of the College, but this undertaking was permitted to slumber until 1820, when the College united with other societies for the formation of our present national work. Dr. Griffitts served upon the Committee then appointed, and for this duty his former experience well qualified him.[6] He died in 1826.

Upon the resignation of Dr. Griffitts, Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton succeeded to the Professorship of Materia Medica, still retaining that of Natural History.

After twenty nine years of active service in the School of Medicine, Dr. Kuhn retired from the Chair of Practice in 1797. He continued to practise medicine, however, until within a few years of his death, which occurred in 1819. In his person, movements, and manners, as well as in his mental constitution, Dr. Kuhn was rigid, stately, and punctilious, and has been represented as a “true type of the Old School of Society.”

Upon the resignation of Dr. Kuhn, the duties of his place were performed by Dr. Rush until the year 1805, when the two Chairs—of the Theory and Practice of Medicine, and of Institutes and Clinical Medicine—being united, he was elected unanimously to the Professorship.

At the same time a change was deemed to be expedient in the Chair which had been held so long by Dr. Shippen. Surgery, during this period, had remained in association with Anatomy and Obstetrics, when Dr. Physick presented himself, the vindicator of its just claims, and the representative man of its dignity and importance. He was unanimously elected Professor of that branch in the University of Pennsylvania on June 4th, 1805. It may be stated that the Chair of Surgery was created for him and by him.[7]

In 1805 the first action was taken with respect to the position of the University relative to other schools that had arisen in the United States. It appears from the Minutes of the Faculty, December 12th, that the subject was considered as a special one. It is the first time that any action was taken upon the question of the footing upon which students from other schools should be admitted, as follows:—

“It was agreed that Daniel Newcomb, who had attended one course of Medical Lectures in the University of Cambridge, Mass., and another course of ten weeks in the University of Dartmouth, N. H., and had also studied medicine under the care of a respectable practitioner two years, should be admitted to an examination as a candidate for the Degree of M. D., after the expiration of the present session, during which he has attended each of the Professors.”

In 1806, the subject of irregular practitioners was taken up by the Medical Faculty, and a petition laid before the Legislature in the following terms:—

“That many lives of the citizens of Pennsylvania are yearly lost by their being committed to the care of men, not qualified by education or talents to practise medicine.

“That this calamity has been very much lessened in several of our sister states by Laws to prevent any one exercising the profession of a Physician or Surgeon, who is not a graduate in some University or College, in which the branches of Medicine are taught by different professors, in an extensive manner, or who has not been approved after a previous examination by persons qualified for that purpose and appointed by the Government. Your memorialists therefore humbly solicit that a similar law be passed in Pennsylvania. They do not wish it to have a retrospective operation, but request that its obligations and penalties take place from the date of the law.”

This, like every subsequent effort on the part of the Profession to regulate its practice in accordance with enlightened legislation, had no influence with our political rulers. Indeed, the time has not yet arrived when restrictions upon assumptive claims to skill or wisdom can be tolerated by the community, the members of which must either suffer, or protect themselves by their own intelligence and discrimination between true and false claimants for public patronage.

The year 1808 was marked by the death of Dr. Shippen, whose career had been a distinguished one. Nature had been uncommonly lavish in his form and endowments. “His person was graceful, his manners polished, his conversation various, and the tones of his voice singularly sweet and conciliatory. In his intercourse with society he was gay without levity, and dignified without harshness or austerity.” With respect to his powers of teaching, it is stated that those pupils who went abroad “declared that they had met with no man who was superior to Dr. Shippen as a demonstrator of anatomy, and very few, indeed, who were equal to him.” “In explaining the success of Dr. Shippen in teaching anatomy, we may take into view another faculty which he also exerted with great effect. He went through the subject of each preceding lecture by interrogation instead of recapitulation—thus fixing the attention of the students; and his manner was so happy that this grave process proceeded like a piece of amusement. His irony was of a delicate kind, and so blended with humor that he could repress forwardness and take notice of negligence so as to admonish his class without too much exposing the defaulter.”[8]

In speaking of Dr. William Hunter, it was remarked by Dr. James that “it was under the tuition of this truly ingenious anatomist and physician that the late amiable and sagacious Professor of Anatomy and Midwifery in this University laid the foundation of that celebrity which many years of extensive professional employment nurtured and matured. It was by forming himself after this model that, in the delivery of his interesting lectures, he at once delighted the gay and instructed the grave by the amenity of his manner and the utility of his practical precepts.

‘Methinks I hear him now, his plausive words
He scattered not in ears, but grafted them,
To grow there and to bear.’”

The merits and reputation of Dr. Shippen were recognized abroad as well as at home. From the “Pennsylvania Chronicle” of May 2, 1768, the subjoined notice has been taken: “Dr. William Shippen, Jr. of this City, was on the third of February last unanimously elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.” In 1805 he was chosen President of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, succeeding, as the second President, the venerable Dr. John Redman. This office he held until his death.

On the decease of Dr. Shippen, the full duties of the Professorship were assumed by Dr. Wistar, by whom for some time previous they had been performed, teaching during the succeeding years both anatomy and midwifery.

In 1809, a change was brought about in the Chair of Chemistry by the death of Dr. Woodhouse. This gentleman was born in Philadelphia in 1770, and was educated at the University, from which, in 1787, he received the degree of A. B. He studied medicine with Dr. Rush, and graduated in 1792, as Doctor of Medicine, at the first Commencement after the union of the Schools. His Inaugural essay was upon the “Persimmon.” Before his graduation he had served in the army as a medical assistant, and took part in the unfortunate campaign of General St. Clair against the Indians, during which he was exposed to the risk of massacre which befell the army of that commander.

The attention of Dr. Woodhouse had been especially directed to chemical pursuits, in which he had acquired some reputation, and hence his election in 1795, under the circumstances that have been detailed, although he had as his competitor so able a chemist as Dr. Adam Seybert. Immediately upon his appointment, it is stated, “he went to work with zeal, and delivered a course of lectures with great applause; and as almost the whole of his time was devoted to the study of his favorite science, he added to the number, variety, and brilliancy of his experiments.”[10] Dr. Caldwell, who was an attendant upon his lectures, informs us that he became in a short time so expert and successful an experimenter as to receive from Dr. Priestley, who had just arrived in the United States, and had declined the appointment, very flattering compliments upon his dexterity and skill. That distinguished gentleman, on seeing him engaged in the business of his laboratory, did not hesitate to pronounce him equal, as an experimenter, to any one he had seen either in England or France.[11] His enthusiasm was unbounded, and his style of speaking of his subject sentimentally impressive. He introduced to his juvenile auditors the science by the term of “Miss Chemistry,” and strenuously urged fidelity and devotion to her as a chaste and eminently attractive mistress. Dr. Woodhouse adhered to the doctrine of Priestley, and may be said to have been the last of the American chemical philosophers entertaining the belief in Phlogiston. His published contributions to chemical science were numerous.

Dr. Woodhouse was succeeded by Dr. John Redman Coxe, who for two years previously had been a member of the Board of Trustees. The date of his election was July 10. 1809.

While the election of a successor to Dr. Woodhouse was pending, the Medical Faculty took decided ground with reference to the qualifications needed in the Professor of Chemistry of a Medical School. Their views are thus presented in a letter to Chief Justice McKeen, one of the Trustees, at his request.

“It is particularly expedient that the Professor of Chemistry should have a full and extensive knowledge of Medicine, because very many valuable articles of the Materia Medica are derived from Chemistry; and the nature of these articles can only be understood by a person who has a competent knowledge both of Chemistry and Medicine. The students of Medicine, who almost exclusively support the Professorship of Chemistry, are induced to do so in consequence of its application to Pharmacy and the different branches of Medicine, viz., Physiology, Pathology, Therapeutics, Materia Medica, and the Practice of Physic. No man can teach Pharmacy unless he has had some knowledge of the Practice of Medicine, and the application of Chemistry to Physiology; and the other branches of medical science above mentioned can only be taught by a chemist who understands them.

“The teaching of Chemistry in this University has hitherto been confined to the Professors of Medicine; and the success attending this arrangement appears to us good reason for continuing it.

“In addition to this it may be observed, that we believe Chemistry is taught by Medical Professors in all the Universities of Europe, that of Upsal excepted, where the late Sir T. Bergman was Chemical Professor. But in Sweden Chemistry is cultivated principally on account of its application to Mineralogy, and the Chemical Professors are not members of the Medical Faculty.

“We beg leave again to suggest that our Professor of Chemistry has always taken an active part in the business of the Medical Faculty, judging of the qualifications of the respective candidates in every branch of their profession, and examining Inaugural Theses on subjects relating to Medicine.”

The letter was signed by Drs. Bush, Wistar, Barton, and Physick.

This expression of opinion was called for by a resolution pending before the Board of Trustees, that the Professorships of Natural History, Botany, and Chemistry, “should not hereafter be considered as pertaining to the Medical Department of the Faculty, although gentlemen of the medical profession are and shall continue eligible to those professorships.” The proposition was not entertained.

  1. The tickets of admission to the lectures of the professors are in possession of his grandson, Dr. James Hutchinson. They are written on the back of “Playing Cards.”
  2. Pa. Journal, Feb. 6, 1782.
  3. Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley, to the year 1795, written by himself, with a continuation to the time of his decease, by his son Joseph Priestley. Northumberland, 1806. Vol. i. p. 163.
  4. The Attending Physicians and Surgeons were Dr. Samuel Powell Griffitts, Dr. James Hall, Dr. William Clarkson, Dr. John Morris, Dr. John Carson, and Dr. Caspar Wistar.

    The Consulting Physicians were Dr. Jones, Dr. Wm. Shippen, Jr., Dr. Adam Kuhn, and Dr. Benjamin Rush.

    To promote the aims of this institution, various means were adopted. From the “Pennsylvania Gazette” of Feb. 8th, 1786, we obtain the following notice.—

    “We are happy to inform the Public that Dr. Moyes has kindly offered to deliver Lectures in the Hall of the University, upon the most interesting and useful parts of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy, after he has finished the present course, at half a dollar a ticket for each lecture, for the benefit of this charity.”

    The Dispensary was opened in Strawberry Alley.

  5. Memoir of Dr. Samuel Powell Griffitts, by Governeur Emerson, M. D. North American Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. iii. p. 151, 1827.
  6. In 1782 a small collection of receipts was published by Dr. William Brown, more particularly intended for the use of the Army. In 1788 the following action was taken by the College of Physicians: “On Motion, ordered that a Committee of eight, viz., Drs. Redman, Jones, Kuhn, Shippen, Rush, Griffitts, Wistar, and Hutchinson, be appointed to form a Pharmacopœia for the use of the College.” The U. S. Pharmacopœia was first issued in 1820. In the Life of Dr. Thos. T. Hewson by Dr. Franklin Bache, and in the Life of Dr. Bache by Dr. G. B. Wood, will be found an interesting account of this work.
  7. On Dr. Physick’s election, it was Resolved by the Board of Trustees “That it shall be essential to obtaining a Degree in Medicine for the students to attend the Lectures of the Professor of Surgery.” Minutes of the Board.

    In the University of Edinburgh Surgery was not early taught as a distinct subject; “and even so late as 1777, when the College of Surgeons petitioned the patrons to institute a separate Professorship of Surgery in the University, they were opposed by Monro, then Professor of Anatomy, as interfering with his subject; and he succeeded in getting his commission altered, so as to include Surgery, which was thus made a mere adjunct of the anatomical course, and continued to be so taught (if it could be said to be taught) until the institution of the chair of Surgery in 1831.”—(The Edinburgh School of Surgery; an Introductory Lecture by James Spence, F. R. C. S. E., Professor in the University of Edinburgh. Ed. Med. Journ., vol. x. Part I. p. 482.)

  8. Wistar’s Eulogium.
  9. MS. Lecture, Introductory to his Course on Obstetrics, 1810, by Thomas C. James, M. D., etc.
  10. Thatcher’s Lives, p. 222.
  11. Autobiography of Dr. Charles Caldwell.