Thomas Jefferson University

Historical Profiles

Samuel D. Gross, MD:

An Innovator, Even in Death


Fourth Chair (1856-1882)
Co-Chair (1882-1889)
Department of Surgery
Jefferson Medical College

Peter R. Bucciarelli, BS
John C. Kairys, MD, FACS
Ernest L. Rosato, MD, FACS
Charles J. Yeo, MD, FACS
Scott W. Cowan, MD, FACS

Submitted for publication.
The American Surgeon,
March 2012.

Early Life & Education

  • Born on a farm near Easton, Pennsylvania in 1805.
  • Gross completed his medical education at Jefferson Medical College in 1828.

Affects on Medical Education

  • Anatomy at the time of Dr. Gross was learned in the dissecting room.
  • In the mid-1800s cadavers that found their way to the tables of anatomists were often persons unlucky enough to fall victim to resurrectionists who dealt in the trade of the dead.
  • In 1835, Gross delivered the first systematic course of lectures on morbid anatomy ever given in the United States as the chair of Pathological Anatomy in the Medical Department of Cincinnati College.
  • In 1839, he published his second text entitled Elements of Pathological Anatomy that went on to produce three editions and is considered by some to be his most original achievement.
  • Gross was part of a committee along with Dr. William S. Forbes of Thomas Jefferson Medical College and Dr. D. Haynes Agnew of the University of Pennsylvania that passed a resolution of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1867 calling for the state to pass the Anatomy Act of Pennsylvania, “For the Promotion of Medical Science and to prevent the Traffic in Human Bodies.”

Academic Contributions

  • A founder of the American Medical Association.
  • Founder and first president of the American Surgical Association.
  • Founder and first president of the Alumni Association of Jefferson Medical College.
  • First alumnus to be appointed to a professorship at Jefferson.

Later Life

  • Retired in 1882.
  • Samuel Gross died on May 6th, 1884, at nearly seventy-nine years of age.
  • His will was found to specify exactly how his wishes were to be executed from his autopsy, to his funeral party, to the specifics of his cremation and, finally, to were his ashes were to be laid to rest. 
  • After a small, private ceremony Dr. Gross’s remains were transported to Washington, Pennsylvania where his body was cremated at the crematory of Dr. F. Julius LeMoyne, a fellow Jefferson Medical College graduate, who had opened the crematory in 1876, the first in America. 
  • He was a high-profile early adopter of cremation. Numerous newspaper articles of the day reported and commented on his decision to be cremated. 
  • Dr. Gross’s remains were laid to rest in the family vault at Woodlands Cemetery, next to his late wife, Louissa Ann.

Images courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, TJU.