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Historical Profiles

George McClellan, MD:

The Man, the Surgeon, the Founder


First Chair (1824 - 1838)
Department of Surgery
Jefferson Medical College

Jordan P. Bloom, BS
Charles J. Yeo, MD
Pinckney J. Maxwell IV, MD

The American Surgeon
(full text PDF)
Volume 77, Number 6, June 2011 , pp. 801-802(2)

The Man

  • Born December 22, 1796
  • 1816: Received AB from Yale
  • 1819: Received MD from University of Pennsylvania
  • 1820: Married Elizabeth Steinmetz Brinton, daughter
    of Civil war surgeon John Hill Brinton, MD (JMC 1852)
    of Philadelphia. They Had three sons and two daughters.

The Surgeon

  • 1820: Opened a dissecting room and began lecturing privately to medical students to augment the education that students received at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Maintained large clinical practice as a prominent surgical ophthalmologist
  • 1821: Established nation’s first free eye clinic: the “Institution for the Diseases of the Eye & Ear”

The Founder

  • At the beginning of the 19th century, only four Colleges in the United States possessed medical schools –Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and Dartmouth.

  • For several years, Penn alumni and supporters successfully blocked all efforts to form an additional school.

  • In 1824, Dr. George McClellan promoted an audacious idea never tried before
    • Teaching medical students by having them observe experienced doctors treating patients.
    • McClellan’s revolutionary idea, and his willingness to act on it, created Jefferson Medical College, reshaping the way medicine would be taught throughout the world.

At Jefferson Medical College

  • 1824 - 1838: Chair of surgery at Jefferson
  • 1838: Board of Trustees reorganized the college and McClellan
    was dropped from the faculty
  • 1839: McClellan responded by establishing
    Philadelphia’s third medical school: the Medical Department of Pennsylvania College

Later Life

  • May 9, 1847: McClellan died suddenly from an ulcerative perforation
    of the small intestine
  • McClellan is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia

Images courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, TJU.