Archives > Historical Features > Exhibits > 19th Century

Medical School, 1791 to 1811

This exhibit was researched and prepared by Mary D. McConaghy, November 2010.


This page looks at Penn's Medical School (founded 1765) from the creation of the University of Pennsylvania in 1791 to the graduation of the College Class of 1811, focusing on a list of the medical faculty and the development of its organization and curriculum during these two decades.



The Medical Department (or Medical School) as organized after the 1791 charter consisted of six chairs, each correponding to a speicific area of study, each taught by the professor elected by the trustees. Included were a professor and adjunct professor of anatomy, surgery and midwifery; a professor of materia medica (knowledge of substances used for healing, now known as pharmacology); a professor of chemistry; a professor of natural history and botany; a professor of the practice of physic (art of healing or of medicine); and a professor of the institutes and clinical medicine.

During the next two decades there were only a few changes in the organization of the medical curriculum. First the chair of the Institutes and Clinical Medicine was combined with the chair of Theory and Practice, and then the subject matter of botany and natural history were folded into materia medica, eliminating the chair of botany. In 1805 a chair was established for surgery alone, and in 1810 midwifery was given its own chair as well.

Until the union of the schools in 1791, two degrees in medicine had been granted. The bachelor of medicine degree was granted if a student demonstrated competancy in Latin, mathematics and natural philosophy and a general knowledge of pharmacy and also had attended at least one complete course of lecutres and the practice of the hospital for one year as well as had served an apprenticeship with a respectable medical practitioner. Three years after earning his M.B. and at the age of least 24 years, a young man could apply for the degree of doctor of medicine after writing and publicly defending a thesis.

On March 1, 1792 the Trustees abolished the M.B. degree and set out the new qualifications for the M.D. degree. All degree recipients now had to be at least twenty-one years of age and had to have studied medicine for a minimum of three years, with at least two years of this study taking place at the University of Pennsylvania. The required course included anatomy, surgery and midwifery; chemistry; institutes and clinical medicine; and practice of physic. A course in natural and experimental philosophy was also necessary, unless they had attended these lectures in another educational institution. In the year he was to graduate, a student was to be examined privately by the medical professors and then again by the University faculty and trustees; finally the candidate wriote a thesis on an approved topic, paid for its printing, and finally defended this thesis at the annual May commencement. In 1810, the medical faculty asked that the three-year attendance requirement not take affect until the 1812 commencement.

Enrollment and the number of graduates expanded during these decades, especially after the University moved to its new ninth street campus. From the first commencement of the Medical School in 1768 until 1800, the number of M.D. degrees granted each year averaged seven with a high of 15. After 1800, the numbers began to increase rapidly so that by 1810 the number of medical graduates had reached sixty-five men; in 1811 the graduates numbered sixty-four.



Detail of portrait print of Benjamin Smith Barton

Benjamin Smith Barton, A.M. (hon.) 1787
Professor of Natural History and Botany, 1789-1813
Professor of Materia Medica, 1796-1813
Professor of Practice of Medicine, 1813-1815

Detail of portrait engraving of John Redman Coxe John Redman Coxe
Professor of Chemistry, 1809-1818
Professor of Materia Medica and Pharmacy, 1818-1835
Detail of portrait painting of Thomas Chalkley James Thomas C. (Thomas Chalkley) James, M.B. 1787, M.D. 1811
Professor of Midwifery, 1810-1834
Detail of portrait painting of Philip Syng Physick Philip Syng Physick, A.B. 1785
Professor of Surgery, 1805-1819
Professor of Anatomy, 1819-1831
Emeritus Professor of Surgery and Anatomy, 1831-1837
Detail from portrait engraving of Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush
Professor of Chemistry, 1769-1789
Professor of Theory and Practice of Medicine, 1789-1791, 1796-1813
Professor of the Institutes of Medical and Clinical Medicine, 1791-1813
Professor of the Practice of Physic, 1805-

detail from portrait engraving of Caspar Wistar

Caspar Wistar, M.B. 1782
Professor of Chemistry, 1789
Adjunct Professor of Anatomy, Mid-Wifery, and Surgery, 1791-1808
Professor of Anatomy and Midwifery, 1808-1810
Professor of Surgery 1810-1818

Detail of print of portrait painting of James Woodhouse James Woodhouse, A.B. 1787, A.M. 1790
Professor of Chemistry, 1795-1809