William Shippen Jr

views updated

William Shippen Jr.


American Physician, Surgeon and Medical Educator

Shippen was the co-founder of the first medical school in America and the first professor of anatomy, surgery, and obstetrics in America.

The son of a prominent Philadelphia physician, William Shippen Jr. ("Billey") attended Rev. Samuel Finley's boarding school in West Nottingham, Pennsylvania, then the College of New Jersey, later called Princeton University, where he was valedictorian of the class of 1754. He was apprenticed to his father from 1754 until 1758, when he went to Great Britain to continue his medical training. In London until 1760, he studied anatomy under John (1728-1793) and William Hunter (1718-1783), obstetrics under Colin Mackenzie, and clinical medicine and surgery at St. Thomas's Hospital. Thereafter in Edinburgh he studied under William Cullen (1710-1790) and Alexander Monro secundus (1733-1817). He received an Edinburgh M.D. in September 1761. Before he returned to Philadelphia in 1762, he married Alice Lee, an aristocratic Virginian whom he had met in England.

In November 1762 the Shippens, father and son, began offering private anatomical lectures, but Billey was the prime mover. In 1765 he began offering private obstetrical lectures as well. During this period he was active in the development of the Pennsylvania Hospital, the first hospital in America, founded in 1751 by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Bond. He helped to persuade Franklin's friend, London physician John Fothergill (1712-1780), to donate teaching materials to the hospital. Shippen used Fothergill's gifts in his anatomical lectures.

With John Morgan (1735-1789), a schoolmate from Finley's who had received his Edinburgh M.D. in 1763, Shippen co-founded in 1765 the first medical school in the Western Hemisphere, the Medical Department of the College of Philadelphia, later called the School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. Morgan taught the theory and practice of physic while Shippen taught anatomy and surgery. The third professor was Adam Kuhn (1741-1817), who began teaching materia medica and medical botany in 1768. The fourth was Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), who taught chemistry starting in 1769.

The interaction of Shippen, Morgan, and Rush during the American Revolution was a tangled mess. The first Director-General of Military Hospitals and Physician-in-Chief of the American Army was Benjamin Church. This position later evolved into that of Surgeon-General. In November 1775 Church was court-martialed for treason and convicted. The Continental Congress appointed Morgan to replace him. Among his subordinates was Shippen. Among his supervisors was Rush, in his capacity as a member of the Continental Congress and chair of its medical committee. Partially because of Shippen's and Rush's complaints about his leadership, the Continental Congress summarily dismissed Morgan in January 1777. Morgan spent the next two years defending himself and received full exoneration in 1779.

In April 1777 the Continental Congress appointed Shippen as the third Director-General and Physician-in-Chief. Among his subordinates was Rush. Shippen lacked administrative ability, but his father had influence and was a member of the Continental Congress from 1778 to 1780. Rush accused Shippen of mismanaging hospitals, misappropriating supplies, neglecting patients, and running a slipshod department. Disgusted, Rush resigned his military commission in 1778 but continued his intrigues against Shippen. Rush and Morgan succeeded in having Shippen court-martialed in 1780. He was acquitted, but resigned in 1781 and returned to teaching.

After the war Shippen, Rush, and Morgan were all again members of the same medical faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. How they managed to co-exist harmoniously within a single educational department remains a mystery to historians, but the fact that they did is testimony to their professionalism. Shippen on his deathbed forgave Rush, and Rush presented a eulogy of Shippen to his medical students.

Along with Abraham Chovet, Gerardus Clarkson, Samuel Duffield, George Glentworth, James Hutchinson, John Jones, Kuhn, Morgan, Thomas Parke, John Redman, and Rush, Shippen was one of the 12 founding fellows of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in January 1787.


About this article

William Shippen Jr

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article