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Fascinating ALS about Harvard’s Earliest Medical School Professors

Item: 22308
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[HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL.] ABBOT, JOHN. (1759-1843). ALS. (“J. Abbot”). 2pp. 8vo. On a single folded sheet with the integral address leaf attached. Cambridge, December 5 [1783?]. To Abbot’s younger brother Ezra Abbot (1760-1844).

“I have heard from home very seldom this Quarter, & from you as seldom as from any one. If I do not forget, little Phebe is the only one who has been so kind as to write this quarter. However, I shall reprove you no otherwise, then by writing to you out of turn; if that is any mortification to you, you are very welcome.

This afternoon & evening, the three Medical Professors, viz. Doctors, Warren, Waterhouse & Dexter, delivered in bublici (sic. public) a lecture each, as introductory to their stated lectures. They will, it is hoped, do honor to the University, their Constituents & themselves; and do essential service to the Community by advancing knowledge in their respective branches. They are all esteemed men of the first abilities in their profession. Dr Warren has had great experience, & has for some time been esteemed one of the greatest Anatomists & Surgeons in the State. Dr Waterhouse has had a regular Medical education at the University if Leyden, & studyed (sic.) with some of the most approved Physicians in Europe. Dr Dexter, tho’ a young gentleman, has distinguished himself, & become very famous as a Chymist (sic.).

Oil portrait of Warren

Dr. John Warren

Be so good as to present my duty to my Father, & tell him that the sweepers bill & a few other small matters, which I did not think of when he was at Cambridge, oblige me to request him to send me one or two Dollars, if he can conveniently. I also wish to have my breeches, which I suppose are made before now, sent down by the person who brings Billy Abbots horse, if there is not an opportunity sooner. My duty love &c to all friends. Your affectionate brother…”

A native of Andover, Massachusetts, Abbot graduated Philips Academy and studied divinity at Harvard College, graduating in 1784. Ill health prevented him from entering the ministry and he served as a tutor at Harvard for five years. In 1802, he became associated with recently established Bowdoin College, first as a professor of classical languages and, later, librarian, a position he held until 1828.

Benjamin Waterhouse

Benjamin Waterhouse

The present letter discusses lectures given by the three founding faculty members of Harvard Medical School. After offering private anatomy lectures in 1780 and again in 1781 under the auspices of the Boston Medical Society, Harvard’s president asked Dr. John Warren (1753-1815), a former Continental Army surgeon known for his pioneering abdominal surgery, to organize a medical curriculum. With the September 1782 establishment of Harvard Medical School, Warren was made professor of anatomy and surgery, the first member of the new school’s faculty. Warren was joined by Benjamin Waterhouse (1754-1846), as professor of the theory and practice of physic, and Aaron Dexter (1750-1829), professor of chemistry and materia medica. Waterhouse came directly from his studies in Edinburgh, London and Leiden; his roommate in the Netherlands was future U.S. President John Adams. Later, Waterhouse became a champion of Edward Jenner’s cowpox vaccine to protect against smallpox, the vaccination of his own children being the first employment of the technique in the United States. A Boston physician, Dexter was a founder of the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Massachusetts Humane Society.

Harvard’s medical school was only the third established in the U.S. (after those at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University). Rather than pay tuition, students purchased tickets to attend the daily lectures which were held in the basement of Harvard Hall beginning in 1783. The first medical students graduated in 1788.

Folded with some browning and wear in the folds. The top (blank?) margin of the first page has been trimmed.

Fascinating ALS about Harvard’s Earliest Medical School Professors

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