Medicine at Yale, 1810 - 1910


Medicine at Yale, 1810-1910, the first of three Bicentennial online exhibits, is an update of a Yale Tercentennial exhibit that was on display in the rotunda of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library in 2000. It features books, photographs and ephemera from the collections of the Historical Library on eighteenth-century doctors who graduated from Yale College, and on the formation and growth of the Medical School from its charter in October 1810 to the first (of two) celebrations of the School of Medicine's Centennial in June 1910.

Medicine at Yale, 1701-1901 was curated Toby A. Appel, Historical Librarian of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, and was based in part on the manuscript histories of the Medical School by Elizabeth Thomson and Gerard N. Burrow, M.D.

Medicine at Yale in the Eighteenth Century


Medical Graduates of Yale College in the 18th Century

Yale College, founded in 1701, began to produce doctors almost from the beginning. Herbert Thoms, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and medical historian, identified some 240 graduates of Yale in the 18th century who practiced medicine at some point in their careers. This represents about 10% of the graduates of Yale in this period. Shown is the beginning of Thoms' list. No credentials were required to practice medicine through most of the 18th century. The leading physicians of the state in the eighteenth century were mostly graduates of Yale College who then acquired practical training in medicine through an apprenticeship to a practitioner. Few physicians practiced full-time. They combined healing with farmoing, business, an sometimes, the ministry. This section highlights serveral Yale graduates of the 18th century who contributed to medicine.

Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6.

Herbert Thoms, The doctors of Yale College 1702-1815 and the founding of the Medical Institution. Hamden, Conn.: Shoe String Press, 1960.


Medical Books at Yale in the 18th century

The first printed catalog of Yale College shows that, early in its history, Yale had acquired a number of medical books. These books, which include the donation of Daniel Turner (see right), are now part of the 1742 Library housed at the Beinecke. Some medical knowledge was part of the equipment of every educated man in the eighteenth century.

A Catalogue of the Library of Yale College. Facsimile, n.d., of New London, 1743.


Yale's First M.D., 1723: Daniel Turner of London

The first M.D. granted by an American university was an honorary M.D. granted by Yale College to Daniel Turner (1667-1741), a popular and controversial London practitioner. Turner answered a general call for gentlemen to donate books to Yale College. However, with his gift of 25 titles, Turner requested that he be awarded an honorary M.D. Yale agreed and presented Turner with the degree in 1723. Turner did not have an earned M.D., but was licensed to practice by the College of Physicians of London -- degrees were not necessary to practice medicine at the time. He hoped that the additional credential would allow him to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. He did not succeed in this ambition, but he proudly used his M.D. in his later books without mentioning that it came from Yale.

Shown here are two books by Turner. In the first, De Morbis Cutaneis: A Treatise on Diseases of the Skin. London, 1714, Turner is identified as "Daniel Turner, licentiate of the College of Physicians." In the second, The Art of Surgery, 6th. ed. London, 1741, Turner styled himself with the more impressive "Daniel Turner M.D., of the College of Physicians in London."


Jared Eliot (1685-1763), Yale 1706, Minister/physician

For most physicians in the eighteenth century, medicine was a part-time profession and not the sole means of earning a living. In the first half of the century, Connecticut was home to several prominent minister-physicians, the most influential of whom was Jared Eliot, a learned and well-respected Congregational minister of Killingworth, Connecticut and at the same time a highly regarded physician. He received his training in medicine from the Reverend Joshua Hobart and in turn, he trained, it has been said, some fifty of the next generation of Connecticut physicians, including his son-in-law, Benjamin Gale. The original of this portrait of Eliot hangs in the Beaumont Room, Sterling Hall of Medicine.


Jared Eliot on Agricultural Improvements

Jared Eliot wrote on religious and agricultural subjects. Shown is: A continuation of the essay upon field-husbandry, as it is, or may be ordered in New England. New London: Printed, and sold by T. Green, 1751.


Benjamin Gale (1715-1790), Yale 1733, and His Article on Inoculation for Smallpox

Benjamin Gale studied medicine under the preceptorship of Jared Eliot, minister/physician of Killingworth. Gale married Eliot's daughter, gradually took over Eliot's practice, and acquired a wide reputation as a physician. His article on inoculation for smallpox read before the Royal Society in 1765 by John Huxham and printed in its Transactions, is one of the earliest medical publications by a Connecticut physician. It discussed the Boston epidemics, Connecticut legislation on inoculation, and the medications to be given in preparation for inoculation. Gale served as a representative to the General Assembly of Connecticut from 1747 to 1767 and wrote a number of controversial political tracts including attacks on state grants given to Yale College.


Elihu Hubbard Smith (1771-1798), Yale 1786, and The Medical Repository

After graduation from Yale, Elihu Hubbard Smith was apprenticed to a physician and also attended Benjamin Rush's medical lectures in Philadelphia. At the time of the founding of the Connecticut Medical Societyin 1792, Smith was in practice in Wethersfield, Connecticut and active in a literary circle. He was a founding member of the Medical Society. Soon after, he left for New York City where he was instrumental in starting the first American medical journal, The Medical Repository (1797), which he edited along with Samuel Latham Mitchill and Edward Miller. His diary, owned by the Historical Library and transcribed and published in 1973, recorded his desire to publish a medical journal as early as 1795. Dr. Smith's promising career was cut short by the yellow fever epidemic in New York City in 1798. The original of this pastel portrait by James Sharpless hangs in the Steiner Room, Sterling Hall of Medicine.


Volume 1 (No. 1) of The Medical Repository, 1797

This pioneer medical journal was published in New York until 1824. Elihu Hubbard Smith, Yale 1786, was one of the founding editors.


Noah Webster (1758-1843), Yale 1778, Epidemiologist

Noah Webster, the noted lexicographer, was the author of the most important eighteenth-century medical work published by a graduate of Yale, A Brief History of Epidemic Diseases (1799). It is a founding work in the field of epidemiology. Although he was not a physician, Webster was well read in the medicine of his day, and corresponded extensively with physicians. He took a major role in the medical debate over the the cause of the yellow fever epidemics in the 1790s.


Noah Webster on Epidemics

The great clinician William Osler called Noah Webster's A Brief History of Epidemic Diseases (Hartford, 1799) “the most important medical work written in this country by a layman.” In two lengthy volumes, Webster surveyed epidemics and mortality data from the Bible to 1799 in order to demonstrate that pestilences such as the bubonic plague in Europe and the yellow fever epidemics in the United States in the 1790s were not “contagious” and “imported” but rather originated from environmental changes in the atmosphere.


New Haven County Medical Society, founded in 1784

Beginning in the 1760s, Connecticut physicians tried to join together to obtain legislation to limit who could practice medicine through licensing. These efforts failed presumably because the state legislators distrusted a self-perpetuating monopoly that would limit patient choice. The founding of the New Haven County Medical Society in 1784 set the stage for a series of renewed attempts at obtaining a charter for a state society. Especially important in this campaign was the society's publication, Cases and Observations, in 1788, the first published transactions of an American medical society. This publication eased the concerns of legislators by emphasizing the educational function of societies, rather than their regulatory function.


Founding of the Connecticut Medical Society, 1792

After several attempts, the physicians of Connecticut, led by the members of the New Haven County Medical Society, were able to obtain a charter from the State Legislature to form the Connecticut Medical Society in 1792. The charter provided for the creation of medical societies in each of the eight counties, which would in turn elect voting representatives to the state meetings. The membership of the Connecticut Medical Society would include all the members of the county societies. In 1793, after the county societies were formed, there were 309 members. Although licensing began immediately, it was not until an amendment of 1800 that the Society could require new physicians in the state to obtain a license. The Connecticut Medical Society participated in the creation of many of the state's medical institutions including the Medical Institution of Yale College (1810), the New Haven Hospital (1826), and the Hartford Retreat for the Insane (1823).