Thomas Jefferson UniversityJefferson Medical College

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The Early Years

Thomas Jefferson University was originally founded as Jefferson Medical College in 1824. In the early 1800's, only four colleges in the United States had medical schools affiliated with them, namely Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and Dartmouth. For many years, Penn alumni blocked all efforts to create an additional medical school in Philadelphia. Dr. George McClelland and associates devised a plan to bypass this situation. In 1824, McClelland petitioned Jefferson College at Canonsberg (now Washington and Jefferson College) to add a medical school to their institution. While technically part of Jefferson College in western Pennsylvania, Jefferson Medical College was to be located in Philadelphia under the direction of the medical faculty. Although the University of Pennsylvania challenged this action, in 1826, the state legislature passed a bill that ratified the actions of Jefferson College in establishing the medical school. This allowed Jefferson Medical College to grant medical degrees. By 1838, Jefferson Medical College gained its own charter and was no longer affiliated with Jefferson College. As a proprietary school, the faculty administrated and managed all the finances of the school. This included the sale of “tickets” to attend lectures.

An infirmary to treat the poor was established in 1825. The establishment of this dispensary to treat indigent patients under student observation was first the instituted by any medical school in the United States. Eventually, all medical schools in the United States adopted Jefferson's example of combining lectures with practical patient experience. In 1828, the Ely building provided space for a lecture hall and an amphitheatre, also known as the “pit”, for operations.

The Old Amphitheatre
The Old Amphitheatre, “pit”

By 1844, Jefferson Medical College was providing patient beds over a shop located at 10th and Sansom Streets. After the construction of Jefferson Hospital's first free The Old Amphitheatre, “pit” standing facility in 1877, clinical lectures and surgery were still held in the “pit”. Jefferson Hospital was a 125-bed facility and one of the first in the nation affiliated with a medical school, opened in 1877.

Throughout the 1800's Jefferson boasted of some of the strongest medical school faculty in the United States. Physicians such as Dr. Robley Donglison, Thomas Jefferson's personal doctor, Joseph Pancoast, Thomas Mutter, Charles E. Meigs, and others including one of the greatest surgical educators of all time, Dr. Samuel D. Gross, were on the faculty. Jefferson Medical College's proprietary school days ended in 1895 with a board of trustees administratively and financially responsible for both the Jefferson Medical College and the Jefferson Hospital. In 1969, Thomas Jefferson University was established, and incorporated Jefferson Medical College, the College of Allied Health Sciences, the College of Graduate Studies and the Jefferson Medical College Hospital.