American Medical Biographies/Bridges, Robert

Bridges, Robert (1806–1882)

Robert Bridges, physician, chemist and botanist, was born in Philadelphia March 5, 1806. His lineage was pure English and his ancestors were "vigorous, enterprising, intelligent and respectable." The first Edward Bridges, was a lieutenant in the English Army in 1648, another Edward Bridges settled in Philadelphia in 1739 and was in the dry goods business at Front and Walnut Streets where his place was called "the Scales." He left three sons; one of these had a son, Culpepper Bridges (1776–1823), who married Sarah, fifth daughter and eleventh child of William Cliffton, of Southwark—and these were the parents of the subject of our sketch.

With his brother, William Cliffton, Robert received his early education at the University Grammar School; he was a member of the sophomore class of the University of Pennsylvania (there was no freshman class at that time), then left and went to Dickinson College where he graduated in 1824. Returning to Philadelphia he became the pupil of T. T. Hewson (q.v.) who had a large class of students and several assistants in a two-storied house on Library Street near Fourth Street. Bridges became assistant to Franklin who taught chemistry at the school, and served him in this capacity when Bache lectured at Franklin Institute, at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, and at Jefferson Medical College, an association altogether of 40 years; he thus became an excellent teacher as well as expert chemist. He studied with Hewson four years, received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1828 with a thesis on "Neuralgia," and immediately opened an office on the corner of Vine and Thirteenth Streets and practised there until 1837.

From 1839 to 1846 he was assistant editor of the American Journal of Pharmacy. In 1831 he began his work at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy as assistant to Franklin Bache (q.v.), became an active member of the Society in 1838, member of the board of trustees in 1839, and professor of general and pharmaceutical chemistry in 1842; when he resigned in 1879 he was made emeritus professor of chemistry with a salary attached.

He was one of the committee to revise the 1840 issue of the Pharmacopoeia, and was on the committee to revise the issue of 1870.

Bridges joined the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1835; in collaboration with Paul B. Goddard he prepared an index of the genera in the herbarium of the Academy, presented in 1835, and in 1843 he presented a new index of the herbarium, as well as one of Menke's Herbarium. He served the Academy as librarian, secretary, auditor, vice-president, and in 1864 as president. In 1844 he became a member of the American Philosophical Society.

When the Philadelphia Association for Medical Instruction was formed (1842) Bridges taught chemistry; his associates were: Joshua M. Wallace, surgery; Francis Gurney Smith, Jr., physiology; Joshua M. Allen, anatomy. Briggs was the only original member who remained when the Association dissolved in 1860.

From 1846 to 1848 he was professor of chemistry in the Franklin Medical College.

Besides his papers on chemistry, many of which appeared in the American Journal of Pharmacy, he wrote reviews of books on chemistry for the American Journal of Sciences; he edited several American editions of Fownes's "Elementary Chemistry…" (1852); also the American edition of Graham's "Elements of Chemistry;" and assisted George B. Wood in preparing the twelfth (1865), the thirteenth (1870) and the fourteenth (1877) editions of the United States Dispensatory.

A portrait of Bridges hangs in the Library of the Academy of Natural Sciences.

For a few years before his death he suffered from chronic cystitis. He died on February 20, 1882, in the house in Philadelphia in which for twenty-eight years he had lived with his brother and his family. He never married.

Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc., W. S. W. Ruschenberger, 1884, vol. xxi, 427–447.