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


Degrees in Pharmacy—Foundation of six studentships in the Medical Department—Appointment of Dr. Dewees Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and the Diseases of Women and Children—Settlement of the ad eundem footing of other Schools of Medicine—Application for the transfer of the Botanical Professorship to the Medical Faculty—Appointment of Dr. Samuel Jackson as an Assistant to the Professor of Practice, &c., to teach the Institutes of Medicine—Resignation of Dr. Physick, sketch of his life and services—Election of Dr. Horner to the Chair of Anatomy.

Prior to 1821 no public facilities were afforded to apothecaries in the way of regular scientific instruction, nor were inducements held out for the encouragement of their apprentices to qualify themselves thoroughly in the practice of the Pharmaceutic art, which is subordinate to medicine, and indispensable to the success of the physician.

It will be found recorded on the Minutes of the University that, in 1816 and 1817, Dr. James Mease applied for permission (which was granted) to deliver the Introductory to his Lectures on Pharmacy in the College building. This was the first attempt, by private lectures upon the branch, to improve its condition. Upon the recommendation of the Professors of the Medical Faculty steps were taken by the Board to meet the urgent want presented, and on the 21st of February, 1821, the following resolutions were adopted:—

“1. That the degree of Master of Pharmacy be, and is hereby instituted, to be conferred hereafter by the Trustees of this University on such persons exercising or intending to exercise the profession of an apothecary as are and shall be duly qualified to receive the same.

“2. That the Faculty of Medicine be requested to report to this Board at their next meeting a proper form of diploma, and also a list of such apothecaries in the City and Liberties of Philadelphia as are desirous, and, in their opinion, deserving of the degree of Master of Pharmacy, and unless subsequent reason to the contrary shall appear, the degree of Master of Pharmacy shall be conferred on such individuals respectively.

“3. That every person who shall have served a regular apprenticeship, of at least three years, with a respectable Apothecary, or a Master of Pharmacy, and who shall exercise or intend to exercise the profession of an Apothecary, in this State or elsewhere, may, on application to the Board, obtain the degree of Master of Pharmacy: Provided he shall produce a certificate of the Faculty of Medicine, signed by the Dean thereof, of his being qualified to receive the same, which certificate the Faculty may grant on the attestation of the Professors of Chemistry and Materia Medica and Pharmacy, who shall have examined the candidate. He must also produce a certificate of his good moral character.

“4. That in future it shall be requisite for obtaining such degree that the candidate shall have attended at least two courses of Lectures on Chemistry and Materia Medica and Pharmacy in this University.”

At the ensuing Commencement in April, 1821, sixteen gentlemen of Philadelphia engaged in the practice of pharmacy received the degree of Master of Pharmacy.

This procedure on the part of the University, in the matter of improving and elevating the practice of pharmacy, aroused the enterprising spirit of the druggists and apothecaries of Philadelphia, and incited them to found a “College of Pharmacy,” an independent institution, which, through the instrumentality of its school and of its journal, and by its vigilance with reference to the conduct of its members, has been of incalculable service to the profession of pharmacy, not only in the city of Philadelphia, but throughout the United States.

Another step taken by the Medical School in 1821 is not without interest. In November the Medical Faculty addressed a communication to the Board of Trustees relative to the gratuitous admission of students. The terms of the proposition and the action of the Board sanctioning them are thus presented on the Minutes of April 2d, 1822:—

“The Committee to whom was referred the letter of the Dean of the Medical Faculty, of the 5th of November last, on the subject of admitting six students to gratuitous admission, report the following preamble and resolutions. The Board, taking into consideration the letter of the Medical Faculty communicating that the Faculty, desirous of extending the advantages of a medical education to deserving characters who may be unable to pay the fees of attendance, had resolved to establish, under the directions of the Trustees, a foundation of six studentships, for the gratuitous reception to these lectures of six students annually, to be recommended to the Board of Trustees in any manner they may please to adopt.

“Resolved, that a Committee of three in number be appointed by the Board, to be denominated a Committee on the foundation of six studentships, whose duty it shall be to give public notice, in due season, before the commencement of each course of Medical Lectures in this University, that applications will be received for the gratuitous admission to the Medical Lectures of six students, whose circumstances may not enable them to pay the expense of admission to said lectures.

“That the said Committee shall, on the first Monday in September of each year, examine and determine upon such applications as shall be made to them, and shall, as soon thereafter as convenience will permit, distribute the proper tickets to such applicants as they may approve, and give notice thereof to the Dean of the Medical Faculty.

“It will be expected that the applications made to the said Committee shall be accompanied by testimonials of the following qualifications: 1st, that the applicant is of good moral character; 2d, that he is in such restricted circumstances as to be a proper object of this foundation; 3d, that he shall have attained the age of eighteen years; 4th, that he is possessed of sufficient literary acquirements, and of studious habits.

“Resolved, that the said Committee have authority to prescribe such regulations for the form and manner of the transmission of application to be made to them as they may judge expedient.”

Under this benefaction twelve gratuitous students, at least, are annually upon the books of the Medical Faculty.

In 1824, the growing infirmities of age, in addition to the toil of a laborious life, prevailed with Dr. James to seek assistance in the performance of the duties of the Chair of “Obstetrics and the Diseases of Women and Children.” This was acceded to on the part of the Board of Trustees. The resolution of the Board is as follows:—

“Be it ordained that an Adjunct Professor of Midwifery shall be appointed, who shall hold his appointment so long as Dr. James continues to be Professor of Midwifery; Provided that the expenses of the students shall in no manner be increased by such appointment, and that such Adjunct Professor shall not have any vote in the Faculty of Medicine, except in the absence of the Professor of Midwifery to whom he is Adjunct.”

In accordance with this resolution, Dr. William P. Dewees was, on November 15th, 1825, elected Adjunct Professor.

In 1825, the subject of an “ad eundem” footing was settled on more liberal principles than had previously prevailed. It has been shown that the question of admission of students of other schools was considered in 1805, and then placed upon the individual merits of each case. In 1811, a general rule was adopted by the Faculty which imposed the necessity of attendance upon two courses of lectures in other institutions and one in the University as a qualification for graduation. On the 20th of August, 1825, the Trustees passed the subjoined resolution, which indicates the footing on which students of other schools shall be received, and which has always been adhered to since that time:—

“Be it ordained and enacted, that students who produce satisfactory testimonials of their having attended one or more courses of lectures in any respectable Medical School in the United States, organized on the plan of the School of this University, and having attended one full course in this School, and having in all other respects complied with the statutes, and being found on examination to be duly qualified, may be admitted to the degree of Doctor of Medicine, it being understood that nothing is hereby intended to be dispensed with which requires an attendance on two courses of lectures in this Institution.”

During the same year (1825) Dr. William P. C. Barton addressed a communication to the Trustees, desiring to have his Professorship of Botany again attached to the Medical Department; whereupon a report was made by the Committee to whom the communication was referred, to wit: “That it is of great importance to keep the Departments of Medicine and Natural Science under their present distinct arrangement, and that if at this or any other time it should be thought proper to make Botany a part of the necessary medical instruction, it will be most expedient to do so by the establishment of a new Professorship in the Medical Faculty, and not by the transfer of a Chair from one Department to another.”[1]

In 1827, it was deemed expedient to aid the Chair of the Theory and Practice of Medicine and Institutes of Medicine, in consequence of the wide range embraced by it. To effect this Dr. Samuel Jackson was chosen Assistant to the Professor, whose duties consisted in giving lectures upon the Institutes of Medicine. This he continued to do twice weekly, until the re-establishment of the Chair of Institutes in 1835.

At the termination of the session 1830-31, Dr. Physick resigned his active connection with the school, and was appointed Emeritus Professor of Surgery and Anatomy. The Chair of Anatomy was conferred on Dr. Horner.

Philip Syng Physick was born in Philadelphia in 1768, the year of the first Medical Commencement. After the requisite preparation in classical studies by Robert Proud, teacher of Friends’ Academy, and the historian of Pennsylvania, he was admitted to the Department of Arts of the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1785. The same year he commenced his medical studies under the direction of Dr. Kuhn, and attended the lectures delivered in the University.

In 1788 he embarked for Europe, and for two years resided in London, as a pupil of John Hunter and part of the time as House Surgeon of St. George’s Hospital. In proof of the estimation in which Dr. Physick was held while occupying this position, reference may be made to the laudatory testimonials of his medical qualifications and correct deportment from the governing authorities of that hospital. At the expiration of his services in the hospital, he received a license from the Royal College of Surgeons of London. It is stated that, at the conclusion of his studies in England, Mr. Hunter invited him to settle in London and to take a share in his professional business. In his Treatise upon the Blood, Mr. Hunter awards to Dr. Physick the credit of many of the experiments therein described.

The winter of 1791–92 was passed by him in Edinburgh, in attendance upon the lectures of the University, from which, at the conclusion of the course, he received the degree of M. D. His thesis, written in Latin, was entitled “De Apoplexia,” and dedicated to John Hunter.

There are two interesting facts in connection with his graduation as Doctor of Medicine, which may be noticed; the one, that it occurred at the time of the coalition between the two Faculties in Philadelphia, and the permanent establishment of the University of Pennsylvania, of which he was destined to become so conspicuous an ornament; the other, that he was placed upon an ad eundem standing with the University of Edinburgh, and permitted to graduate with attendance upon one course. We are told “that the Professors of the University of Edinburgh were very careful upon whom they conferred its honors, and have never deviated from the resolution they had taken that none should be promoted to the honorable degree of Doctor of Medicine without having studied medicine at least three years at this or some other University; at the same time producing certificates of having attended regularly the public lectures prescribed by the statute and submitted to be examined in the most solemn manner by the Faculty.”[2] We are not aware of an instance of a similar nature having previously occurred at Edinburgh in the case of an American student.

Upon his return home, Dr. Physick was soon called upon to exercise his knowledge and his skill in aid of his terror-stricken and afflicted fellow-citizens, during the fearful epidemics of yellow fever that prevailed from 1793 to 1798. In the latter year he filled the post of Resident Physician in the City Hospital (Bush Hill), where his post-mortem examinations still further confirmed him in the opinion he had previously entertained with respect to the gastric origin and character of the disease. In 1794 he became one of the surgeons of the Pennsylvania Hospital, where he not only attracted notice by his great expertness and skill, but by his lectures. His regular private course was commenced in 1800, and gave the promise of that reputation and authority he possessed in after years, which have truly warranted the appellation applied to him, “Father of American Surgery.”

Having been elected Professor of Surgery in the University of Pennsylvania in 1805, Dr. Physick was from that time in the possession of the widest field for the exercise of his talents, “and was listened to by the large classes in the University, through the members of which he could disseminate the principles of surgery imbibed from his celebrated preceptor, John Hunter—strengthened and enforced by his own meditation and personal experience obtained in hospital and private practice.”[3] The lectures were carefully written out, and delivered with the manuscript before him or in his hand; for it was an axiom with him that, on so important an occasion as the instruction of youth in an art so necessary to the well-being and happiness of mankind, every care should be taken to render the inculcation of principles and practice clear to the comprehension of students. To be ready with these lectures, his habit was to rise early in the morning and carefully study them before he breakfasted, so that in the delivery nothing would be trusted to the mere effort of memory or the impulses of the moment. To be enabled to do this he retired early, his feeble health entailing upon him the necessity of more than the usual amount of rest to sustain him under the labors performed for many years of his busy life.

Dr. Bell remarks that “Dr. Physick’s impressiveness as a lecturer arose from his entire mastery of his subject, which he was careful never to magnify beyond its due proportions, and hence he always kept it within his grasp. The same thoughts and inculcations might have been uttered in a more masculine, certainly in a more ornamental style, compatibly with good taste, but it is not certain that the essence itself would have been productive of a stronger sensation, or been longer remembered by its being blended with these pleasant adjuvants.”

Much comment has been indulged in with respect to the expediency of the step taken by Dr. Physick in acceding to the transfer of himself from the Chair of Surgery to that of Anatomy in 1819. The feeling at the time, and subsequently, was that a descent had been made from a position in which he was facile princeps to one where his eminent knowledge and skill were lost, and which might have been filled with equal, if not even greater efficiency by another individual. In any position, Dr. Physick was capable of commanding respect; his dignified bearing and imposing presence, his emphatic manner and painstaking execution of his duties, deeply impressed his pupils, and commanded the profoundest deference. We know from personal experience that the portions of the course of anatomy delivered by him were listened to with earnest attention; and the writer well recollects the last lecture delivered by this eminent man, at the conclusion of the course of 1830. It was upon the blood; a subject upon which he had experimented with Hunter. With the manuscript before him he descanted minutely upon all the points connected with the subject, and, with the interest almost of an enthusiast, performed the experiments. In this lecture he digressed to comment, in terms and with gestures eloquent from their force alone, upon the practice of vivisections, which to his sensitive feelings had always been repugnant, and earnestly to discourage their performance. It was the honest outbreak of his soul in public, accompanied by a flash of emotion which vividly affected the minds of all who heard him.

The health of Dr. Physick did not permit him to assume the entire labor and fatigue of instruction, and during the period of his connection with Anatomy, embracing twelve sessions, a large share of the work devolved upon his adjunct, Professor Horner.

Although having withdrawn himself from his public occupation as a teacher, and in a great measure as a practitioner, Dr. Physick took part in important cases whenever his health permitted, until a short time before his death. In the autumn of 1831, he performed the operation of lithotomy successfully upon Chief Justice Marshall, then in the seventy-fifth year of his age; an operation remarkable in view of the professional position of both the individuals concerned in it, as well as of the advanced age of the patient. The oldest and the first of the legal profession in the United States had sought relief from the most painful of maladies at the hands of the oldest and first of American surgeons, whose effort to relieve him was blessed by Providence.[4] This was not, however, the last operation of Dr. Physick, as he performed one on the eye four months before his decease. He died on the 15th of November, 1837, at the age of sixty-nine years.

Dr. Physick himself published little. Some papers, hardly more than half a dozen, referring to cases, or the description of instruments and surgical appliances, are to be met with in contemporaneous journals. For the account of the improvements in Surgery made by him, the world is indebted to others. To the Treatise on Surgery by Dr. Dorsey, and to the Memoirs, more particularly those of Drs. Randolph and Bell, must reference be made for an enumeration of the contributions to the especial department of this eminent Professor.[5]

  1. Soon afterwards Dr. Barton resigned his Professorship of Botany in the University to take that of Materia Medica in the Jefferson Medical College.
  2. Bower, History of the University of Edinburgh.
  3. Life of Dr. Physick, by John Bell, M. D. Lives of Eminent Physicians and Surgeons. Edited by S. D. Gross, M. D.

    The Life of Dr. Physick was written by his son-in-law, and entitled “A Memoir of the Life and Character of Philip Syng Physick,” by Jacob Randolph, M. D., Lecturer on Surgery. Read before the Philadelphia Medical Society, 1839.

    Another Memoir, entitled “Necrological Notice,” &c., was written by William E. Horner, M. D., Professor of Anatomy, University of Pennsylvania. Read before the Philosophical Society, May 4th, 1838.

    Dr. Caldwell, of Louisville, Ky., also published a notice of the Life of Dr. Physick in the Louisville Journal.

  4. For the interesting details of this operation, see Life of Dr. Physick by Dr. Randolph.
  5. In the North American Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. ii. p. 269, is an account of Dr. Physick’s operation for artificial anus, by Benjamin H. Coates, M. D. In the same volume, p. 192, is a vindication of Dr. Physick’s claim to originality in its performance.