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Historical Profiles

Thomas Dent Mutter, MD:

The Humble Narrative of a Surgeon, Teacher & Curious Collector


Third Chair (1841-1856)
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 5, May 2011 , pp. 662-664(3)


Early Life & Education

  • Born March 9, 1811 in Richmond, Virginia
  • Orphaned by age 8 & raised by a distant maternal relative
  • Attended Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia
  • Earned his MD from Penn in 1831
  • Studied under master surgeons of Europe for one year
  • Returned to Philadelphia to assist Dr. Thomas Harris


  • Joined Jefferson as part of the Famous Faculty of ‘41 along with:
    • Robley Dunglison
    • Joseph Pancoast
    • Charles D. Meigs
    • John K. Mitchell
    • Robert Huston
    • Franklin Bache
  • 1841-1856: Professor of Surgery
  • Forte in reconstructive surgery
  • Strong advocate of aseptic technique
  • First surgeon to use ethyl ether anesthesia in Philadelphia

Figure 2 - Mütter, Thomas Dent. Cases of deformity from burns, successfully treated by plastic operations. Philadelphia: Merrihew & Thompson, 1843.

Later Life

  • Married Miss Mary Alsop of Middletown, Connecticut (no children)
  • Resigned as chair of the Principles & Practice of Surgery in 1856 due to ill health
  • Succeeded by Samuel D. Gross
  • Elected Emeritus Professor
  • Returned to Europe for climate in 1857, but health continued to decline
  • Moved to Charlestown, SC where he died March 19, 1859 at the age of 48
  • Buried in Middletown, Connecticut


  • Immensely popular among students
  • Jefferson would have the Mütter Collection if we had a fireproof building
  • Dr. Mütter wills his collection along with a $30,000 bequest to the College of Physicians
  • Original museum completed in 1863 at 13th & Locust, later moved to 19 S. 22nd Street
  • Over 1700 items in his personal collection
  • Dr. John H. Gibbon researched and wrote on Dr. Mütter in 1925 while at Jefferson & the Mütter Museum later obtained a model of the Gibbon heart-lung machine

Images courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, TJU.