Moments of discovery...
moments of learning...
moments of greatness.

The Perelman School of Medicine has a rich history full of moments that first created it, propelled it forward and made it the exciting and leading medical school that it is today.


1749

In Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin presents his vision of a school in a pamphlet titled "Proposals for the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania."

Unlike other American colonial colleges, the new school would not focus on education of the clergy. Instead, it would prepare students for lives in business and public service. The proposed program of study becomes the nation's first modern liberal arts curriculum. The university—called The College of Philadelphia—opens its doors in 1751, when the first classes are held.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives. Read Biography

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives. Read Biography


1757

John Morgan, the son of a Philadelphia shopkeeper, graduates from The College of Philadelphia and becomes a regimental surgeon of Pennsylvania’s provincial troops.

Within a few years, he travels to Europe to advance his medical expertise at the University of Edinburgh and in London, but soon returns to his alma mater with plans to found a medical school there.

John Morgan, MD (1735-1789). Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives.
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1762

Dr. William Shippen, Jr. gives an introductory lecture for a course on anatomy at Pennsylvania Hospital.

The hospital’s board of managers, strapped for funds, does not start the school, but offers Shippen instructional materials; in return, Shippen charges a fee benefiting the hospital. His courses in anatomy and midwifery are the first systematic teaching of medical subjects that approach an academic level in the American colonies.

Dr. William Shippen, Jr. (1736-1808)
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Ticket to Anatomical Lecture given by Dr. William Shippen (1768). Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives


1765

In May, the trustees accept Dr. John Morgan’s request to be appointed professor of the theory and practice of Physick.

In September, they elect Dr. William Shippen professor of anatomy, surgery and midwifery. The School of Medicine dates its origin to these appointments. Bound in purpose, Morgan and Shippen remained rivals until Morgan’s death in 1789.


1768

The College of Philadelphia graduates its first Bachelor of Medicine degree students.

Adam Kuhn is appointed the first professor of botany and “materia medica” (pharmacology) in America.

Dr. Adam Kuhn (1741-1817)
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Ticket for student W. Jonathan Easton to attend a lecture on Materia Medica given by Dr. Adam Kuhn (1770). Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives


1769

Dr. Benjamin Rush is elected as the first professor of chemistry in America.

Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813)
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Ticket for Chemistry lecture given by Dr. Benjamin Rush (1769). Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives


1782

Surgeon’s Hall becomes the first building used specifically and exclusively by the University of Pennsylvania for medical teaching.

It is the first purposely built medical teaching facility in the new nation.

Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives.


1802

The School of Medicine moves to a new campus on the west side of Ninth Street, between Market and Chestnut Streets.

The University renovates the President's House at Ninth and Market Streets to be a new campus. The President's House was built in 1790 as the intended residence for the U.S. President.

The "President's House," viewed from the southeast, with the Medical Department wing at left of view. Engraved by Kneass, Young and Company. Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives.


1829

Penn demolishes the President's House and replaces it with twin marble-trimmed brick buildings designed in the Georgian style by William Strickland.

The Collegiate Department and the Medical Department each occupy one of the buildings, which are designed internally for their specific needs.

The Medical Department occupies the building shown at left. Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives

William Strickland's plans for the Medical Department building. Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives


1861

At the start of the Civil War, the surgeons general of both sides are Penn Medicine graduates: Dr. Clement A. Finley, M’1818, for the North and Dr. David C. DeLeon, M’1836, for the South.

In the next four years, some 1,700 graduates of the School of Medicine participate in the war: six percent of all Union Army physicians and 26 percent of all Confederates.


Late 1860s

Trustees discuss moving the University from Ninth and Market Streets to West Philadelphia.

A young lecturer in clinical medicine, Dr. William Pepper Jr., champions the move and advances the idea of building a teaching hospital at the site. At this time, medical students still train at Pennsylvania Hospital.


1873

In May, ground is broken for the first hospital building, designed in “university Gothic” style by Penn drawing instructor Thomas W. Richards.

In the center of the building is a laboratory, which links medical research with clinical care from the start. (The original hospital building was razed in 1950. The Gates Building now stands on the site.) Richards also designs College and Logan Halls. 

Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives.

Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives.


1874

On July 15, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, the nation’s first teaching hospital built expressly for that purpose, opens to patients.


1881

Penn surgeon Dr. D. Hayes Agnew, M’1838, is summoned to the bedside of President James Garfield, who has been wounded by an assassin’s bullet.

The president rallies despite his personal physicians’ failure to remove the bullet with their fingers and long forceps. By the time Dr. Agnew arrives, the damage is done; thus, he recommends conservative management. President Garfield dies of infection two months after the shooting.

Dr. D. Hayes Agnew. Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives

"The President's Room" by William A. Rogers. Courtesy U.S. National Library of Medicine


1882

Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell becomes the first African-American to receive a medical degree from Penn.

Later, he helps found the Frederick Douglass Hospital in Philadelphia, serving as chief of staff and medical director for nearly 40 years. Dr. Mossell dies in 1946 at age 90. 

Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives.


1887

Mary J. Burns become the first person to receive a degree in nursing from Penn.

Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives.


1888

Elizabeth Weston becomes the first Native American to receive a degree in nursing from Penn.


1889

Student medical societies and other extracurricular activities grow as an integral part of the medical students' learning experience at Penn.

The D. Hayes Agnew Surgical Society, the William Pepper Society, the Stillé Medical Society, and the H.C. Wood Medical Society hold weekly meetings for the purpose of reading and discussing papers dealing with the theory and practice of medicine and surgery. Four students of the medical class of 1889 are appointed president of each society. Read More