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


University Buildings and accommodations for the delivery of the medical lectures.

The inquiry will naturally arise with respect to the nature of the accommodations possessed by the Medical Faculty, from the earliest period, for conducting their courses of instruction; and, in connection with this inquiry, the precise locality of such accommodations is not without interest.

When Dr. Shippen commenced his labors as an instructor in Anatomy, he occupied apartments in the rear of his father’s residence in Fourth Street above Market, which had been prepared for this especial purpose. There the lectures on Anatomy, Surgery, and Midwifery, were delivered even some years after he was installed Professor of the College. Access to these apartments was by an alley-way from Market Street above Fourth. In speaking of these arrangements, Dr. Wistar remarks: “He had apartments of his own construction every way adequate to the accommodation of his class, with proper arrangements also for teaching practical anatomy.”

The probability is that the other lectures were delivered in the old Academy Building in Fourth Street, near to Arch. This building had been erected for religious purposes at the time of Whitfield’s popularity in America, to accommodate those who were attracted by his preaching, and for free religious services. In 1749, upon the establishment of the Academy, it was conveyed to the Trustees, upon the assumption of a debt that existed, and with the condition that it should be used by such ministers as were approved by the Trustees. An attraction which it possessed was a hall, which, at the time, was regarded as spacious, and adapted for public gatherings. From the Minutes of the Board of Trustees we are informed that subsequent improvements and alterations were made with the view to the accommodation of the several schools connected with the Institution.

The first building specially erected for the use of the Medical Professors was situated in Fifth Street below Library—the edifice to the south of the Philadelphia Dispensary. It is figured in Birch’s Views of Philadelphia, published about 1800, as “Surgeons’ Hall.” The exact time that this building was erected seems to have escaped recollection or record. In reporting upon a claim to title involving some portion of the lot adjacent, which had been ceded in 1788, the Committee of the Trustees, to whom the question was years afterwards referred, remark that “at the date of this deed, and long before, as the Committee have understood, the building called the Anatomical Hall, was erected, &c.”[1] As the University superseded the College in 1779, this building must have been erected for the accommodation of a part of the Medical Faculty attached to the former. In the early advertisements of the Lectures, there are no references to the location of their delivery, nor have we any record by which we can be guided in designating exactly where each course was given.

Upon the resumption of its charter and privileges by the College in 1789, the University was compelled to provide new accommodations, and it leased a portion of the building then recently erected by the Philosophical Society on Fifth Street, for the term of five years. Upon the union of the schools in 1791, this lease was not resumed. It is evident, from perusing the documents referring to the subject, that the several schools pertaining to the University were cramped for want of room in which to carry on their operations. In an address to the Legislature, on Jan. 3, 1792, the following language is used by the Trustees: ‘'We are desirous that additional buildings may be erected, and that our Library and Philosophical Apparatus should be enlarged, but we find that the revenues at present belonging to the Institution will not be sufficient to accomplish these purposes, and the benevolent and liberal views of the Legislature without further aid.”

In July, 1800, the Trustees became possessed, by purchase, of the edifice that had been built by the State of Pennsylvania, on Ninth Street, between Chestnut and Market, for the accommodation of the President of the United States.[2] The acceptance of this building on the part of the General Government was declined by Mr. Adams, and as the government was soon afterwards removed to Washington City, the edifice was sold at auction, and purchased, with adjacent property, by the Trustees of the University. The cost of the edifice itself was twenty-four thousand dollars, and the expense was met by the sale of the south end of the old Academy in Fourth Street.

In 1800, at the time of opening the session, the Medical Faculty applied for accommodation in the building on Ninth Street, and in April, 1802, the Committee on the “New Building” reported that “they have the pleasure of announcing to the Board that all the schools, except the Charity School, were removed to the new University on Ninth Street. They have fitted up the west Bow Room in the second story for the Medical Schools, and if the Chemical Professor should desire a room for his chemical apparatus, he can be accommodated in the lower story.”

That this arrangement was not satisfactory is learned from the Minutes of the Medical Faculty, March 17, 1804.

“To the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, the petition of the Medical Professors in said University respectfully showeth: That from the late increase of medical students, amounting last winter to one hundred and fifty, the rooms in which Anatomy and Chemistry are taught, in Fifth Street, are too small to accommodate them:[3]

“That the room in the University on Ninth Street, in which the other branches of Medicine are taught, is so remote from the Anatomical and Chemical Rooms as to make it disagreeable and inconvenient for the students of medicine to pass successively from one to the other in the inclement season of the year in which the lectures are usually delivered.[4]

“Under these circumstances your petitioners request the appropriation of four rooms on the first floor of the north end of the building in Fourth Street, formerly the seat of the University, exclusively for their use.

“The advantages of this situation for the delivery of their lectures they conceive to be as follows:—

“First. It will be the centre of population of the city.

“Secondly. It is well sequestered from the streets, and unconnected with dwelling-houses, and thus defended from accident, injuries, and inspection.

“Thirdly. It will readily admit of additions, when they shall become necessary, from the extent of the lot westward on which the building stands.

“Fourthly. It will enable the students to pass with ease from one teacher to another, without exposing themselves in a long walk in bad weather; and, lastly, it will establish a relationship and uniformity between the accommodations of the medical sciences and those respectable and decent apartments in which other branches of science are taught in the University.

“The building now occupied by the Professors of Anatomy and Chemistry, your petitioners conceive, may be rented for a sum nearly equal to that which arises from the rent of the rooms which are the objects of the petition.”

This petition appears not to have met a favorable reception on the part of the Board of Trustees, and in 1806 a new proposition was submitted to the Board, by which the medical professors held themselves responsible for the interest of a sum to be expended in their behalf in the erection of apartments suitable for the medical lectures. This proposition was acceded to, and an addition was made to the building in Ninth Street, in which the lectures were delivered, while the room which had been occupied by Dr. Rush and Dr. Barton, on the second floor of the main building, was appropriated for the Museum.

The new apartments were occupied in 1807, and here Dr. Shippen took part in the course which was the last in which he was engaged. Dr. Wistar thus refers to Dr. Shippen in this connection: “Last winter (1807) he delivered the introductory lecture, though very infirm, and unlike what he had formerly been. Yet he was much roused by the appearance of the class in the new theatre, and feelingly described his emotions upon comparing these with his original set of students forty years before.”

In 1817, the Medical Hall was further enlarged, and on Nov. 4th, 1828, it was “resolved that the present Medical Hall is, in the opinion of the Committee (to whom the subject had been referred), inconvenient in several respects, and as it is incapable of being so altered as to afford accommodations suitable to the flourishing condition of the school, it is deemed advisable to erect a new building.” In 1829, the Trustees determined to remove all the buildings, and to substitute for them upon the same lot the two buildings now constituting the Medical Hall and that for the other departments of the University.

The Medical Hall was planned and built under the supervision of the Faculty. It contains three large lecture rooms, a spacious museum, rooms for anatomical purposes, and small apartments for the use of the professors and for the business of the institution. The corner-stone of this building was laid on the occasion of the commencement of 1829. The following is the account of the ceremonies at the time published:—

“At a Medical Commencement, held March 21st, 1829, in the saloon of the Masonic Hall, Chestnut Street, the Degree of Doctor of Medicine was conferred on one hundred and seven gentlemen, who had passed the examination by the Medical Faculty. On the same occasion the corner-stone of the new Medical Hall was laid, and an inscription to the following effect, along with the list of graduates, was deposited; a suitable address being delivered to the graduates and the public in the Masonic Hall by the Rev. William H. Delancey, D. D., Provost.”[5]

The medical lectures of the session 1829-30 were delivered in the new building, and the first class of medical graduates issued from its walls in 1830.

The history of the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania is here brought to a close. The author has endeavored to present a clear exposition of the circumstances connected with the rise and progress of this School of Medicine, and at the same time to give a succinct account of the lives and labors of the illustrious members of the Profession whose reputation is inseparably connected with it.

In this narrative, omission has designedly been made of any extended exposition of the character and services of the distinguished men still living, who have so greatly added to the strength and contributed to the prosperity of the school; who have retired from the scene of their usefulness, and who now enjoy the reward of consciousness that their talents and acquirements have been employed honorably and effectively in the cause of science and humanity. They now continue in connection with the University in the honorary position of emeritus professors. Their distinctive qualities and merits will be the theme of the future historian.

From the uniform success which has attended the career of the medical school of the University, assurance is given that the responsible charge which has been transmitted from generation to generation has been faithfully preserved; that the trust committed to its professors has always been regarded as a sacred one, and that as such it has been emulously cherished. Nearly eight thousand pupils have graduated from the halls of the institution, and have diffused the blessings of their calling throughout the length and breadth of these United States. But another mission has been assigned to this ancient school of medicine; it has been the nursery of teachers. Deriving its descent from the University of Edinburgh, and more remotely through that institution from the University of Leyden, the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania has in turn become the parent of numerous schools of medicine, and has thus been the means of transferring the facilities of acquiring and cultivating medical science from the Old World to the New. To the compeers which have been brought into existence by its own and other instrumentalities and which are engaged in laudable and honorable efforts to disseminate true learning and science, and to improve the efficiency and maintain the exalted character of the Medical Profession, the University should ever extend a cordial sympathy. The reputation acquired by them is reactive. It is only by mutually sustained energy that the good of mankind can be successfully promoted.

  1. Upon a close examination of the Minutes of the Board of Trustees, we have been unable to find any reference to the erection of Surgeons’ Hall. The Committee referred to, Messrs. Binney and Gibson, accurate lawyers, had they been more successful, would not have used the indefinite language quoted in giving an opinion upon a title. Surgeons’ Hall was subsequently the Board of Health office.
  2. The following is from the “Pa. Gazette,” May 16, 1792: “On Friday last the Governor of this State laid the Corner Stone of the President’s House in Ninth Street. The inscription on the stone is—

    This Corner Stone was laid
    On the 10th day of May, 1792,
    The State of Pennsylvania out of debt.
    Thomas Mifflin, Governor.”

    The edifice was completed in 1797. It was commenced at the time Washington was President, and is said to have cost one hundred thousand dollars.

  3. In allusions made to this building, it is sometimes called the Laboratory, and sometimes the Anatomical Hall.
  4. Ninth Street, at the time, was upon the extreme verge of the city.



    The Governor of the State (ex officio), President of the Board.
    Rt. Rev. William White, D. D., Nicholas Biddle
    Edward Burd, Zaccheus Collins,
    William Rawle, LL.D., P. S. Duponceau, LL. D.,
    Benjamin R. Morgan, Joseph Hopkinson, LL. D.,
    Horace Binney, LL. D., James Gibson,
    William Meredith, Joseph R. Ingersoll,
    Benjamin Chew, Rev. Philip F. Mayer, D. D.,
    Rev. James Wilson, D. D., Philip H. Nicklin,
    Robert Waln, Rt. Rev. Henry U. Onderdonk, D. D.,
    John Sergeant, LL. D., John C. Lowber,
    Thomas Cadwalader, Robert Walsh, Jr., LL. D.,
    Charles Chauncey, Rev. Thomas H. Skinner, D. D.
    Joseph Reed, Secretary.

    Professors of the Collegiate Department.

    • The Rev. William H. Delancey, D. D., Provost, Professor of Moral Philosophy.
    • Robert Adrian, LL. D., Vice Provost, and Professor of Mathematics.
    • The Rev. Samuel B. Wiley, D. D., Professor of Languages.
    • Alexander Dallas Bache, A. M., Professor of Natural Philosophy and Chemistry.
    • The Rev. Edward Rutledge, A. M., Assistant Professor of Moral Philosophy.

    Professors in the Medical Department.

    • Philip Syng Physick, M. D., Professor of Anatomy.
    • Nathaniel Chapman, M. D., Professor of the Institutes and Practice of Physic and Clinical Medicine.
    • William Gibson, M. D., Professor of Surgery.
    • John Redman Coxe, M. D., Professor of Materia Medica and Pharmacy.
    • Robert Hare, M. D., Professor of Chemistry.
    • Thomas C. James, M. D., Professor of Midwifery.
    • William E. Horner, M. D., Adjunct Professor of Anatomy.
    • William P. Dewees, M. D., Adjunct Professor of Midwifery.
    • Samuel Jackson, M. D., Assistant to the Professor of the Institutes and Practice of Medicine and Clinical Medicine.

    William E. Horner, Dean.

    • Andrew Jackson, President of the United States.
    • John C. Calhoun, Vice-President.
    • John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States.
    • John Andrew Shulze, Governor of the State of Pennsylvania.
    • John B. Gibson, Chief Justice.
    • George M. Dallas, Mayor of the City of Philadelphia.

    “This inscription, deposited March 21st, A. D. one thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine, commemorates the laying of the corner-stone of the new Medical Hall, sixty-four years after the original organization of the Medical Faculty by Drs. Morgan and Shippen; the institution having in the meantime conferred the degree of Doctor of Medicine upon upwards of two thousand gentlemen educated within its walls, who, dispersed in different quarters of the United States, have thus extended the blessings of sound medical instruction, and in many instances organizing themselves into new schools of medicine, have thus made the University of Pennsylvania the parent of Medical Science in the United States.”