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American Medical Biographies/James, Thomas Chalkley

James, Thomas Chalkley (1766–1835)

Thomas Chalkley James, first to occupy a separate chair of obstetrics in the University of Pennsylvania, was born in Philadelphia, August 31, 1766, and was the youngest son of Abel and Mary Chalkley James. The ancestors of Dr. James were originally from England, and on both sides were connected with the Society of Friends. His father was for many years one of the leading merchants in Philadelphia.

James was well educated after the manner of Friends, especially at their school, under the superintendence of Robert Proud, the historian of Pennsylvania. James studied medicine under the direction of Dr. Adam Kuhn(q. v.), a disciple of Linnaeus, whose opinion always carried weight among his medical brethren, and who had the honor of educating some of the first physicians of our country. In 1787, at the age of twenty-one, he received a diploma of bachelor of medicine from the University of Pennsylvania and in 1811 that of doctor of medicine.

When in London, in 1790, he found his countryman and fellow student, Dr. P. S. Physick (q.v.), a pupil and an assistant of the celebrated Mr. John Hunter, pursuing his studies in St. George's Hospital. By Physick's advice, Dr. James entered (May 30, 1791) as a house pupil of the Story Street Lying-in Hospital under the care of Drs. Osborne and John Clarke, the two leading obstetric teachers in London. There he had soon the pleasure of receiving as companion his friend, Dr. J. Cathrall, who was also with him at Canton. The winter of 1791–2 was spent in London chiefly in attending lectures, and also as an attendant at St. George's Hospital.

After much deliberation respecting the relative advantages of spending a winter in Edinburgh or Paris, and after consulting by letter his friends on this side of the Atlantic, he finally followed the example of Drs. Physick and Cathrall, and went to Edinburgh in the spring of 1792. Here he remained and attended the lectures during the succeeding winter, in company with Hosack of New York.

It does not appear that Dr. James graduated at Edinburgh in imitation of his friends, Dr. Wistar and Dr. Physick, being content with the honors of his own university in Philadelphia, then in its infancy. In the month of June, 1793, Dr. James, accompanied by Dr. Ryan, arrived at Wiscasset, in the then district of Maine. They reached Philadelphia only a short time before the terrible and then Unknown yellow fever visited this city. Dr. James had hardly time to receive the congratulations of his anxious friends when the fatal scourge appeared, bringing dismay and terror even to the boldest spirits.

He married Hannah Morris, a lady connected with one of the first families in Pennsylvania, "eminently adapted by her mild, but decided character, her judicious, yet cheerful disposition to meet the peculiarities of Dr. James's character."

November 27, 1802, James, in conjunction with the late Dr. Church, began his first regular course of lectures on obstetrics.

The first course of lectures on midwifery in the University of Pennsylvania was begun by James in November, 1810. In 1807 (January 26) he was appointed physician to the Pennsylvania Hospital, as successor of Dr. J. Redman Coxe (q v.), and on the twenty-fifth day of June, 1810, was changed at his own request to the station of obstetric physician. The duties of this appointment he continued to discharge with scrupulous attention and punctuality until the twenty-sixth of November, 1832. He was elected fellow of the College of Physicians and Surgeons on the sixth of October, 1795. On the fourth of September, 1810, he gave the details of a case of premature labor, artificially induced by himself, in the case of a contracted pelvis, after the expiration of the seventh month, with the gratifying result of recovery of mother and child. This was the first record, we believe, in this country, of the scientific performance of this operation.

On the seventh of August, 1827, he read a paper on extrauterine pregnancy, in which he seemed anxious to establish the opinion, from the historical detail of cases, that ventral or abdominal pregnancy never originally occurred; that tubal or uterine pregnancy had previously existed in cases where the child was found in the cavity of the abdomen, the tube or uterus having been ruptured or ulcerated so as to allow the escape of the fetus from its original location into the peritoneal cavity. His reasoning from the anatomy and functions of the parts concerned and from the facts on record was ingenious and powerful.

With Hewson, Parrish and Otto, he edited the Eclectric Repertory, which for eleven years gave important abstracts and original papers from foreign medical journals.

About the year 1825 the result of uninterrupted mental and bodily exertion began to be manifest in muscular tremor and impairment of utterance, and Dr. Dewees became his assistant. Ten years later, after twenty-five years valuable service to the Pennsylvania Hospital, he died on July 5, 1835.

Amer. Jour. Med. Sci., Phila., 1843, n. s., vol. vi.
Life of W. P. Dewees, by H. L. Hodge.
Lives of Emin. Amer. Phys., S. D. Gross, Phila., 1861.
Hist. of Med. Depart. of the Univ. of Penn., J. Carson, Phila., 1869.