Honoring the Center for Education Class of 2021

The Center for Education of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is proud to honor the 2021 graduating seniors from our youth programs.

The College of Physicians hosts summer and after-school youth programs for Philadelphia high school students from historically excluded communities who are interested in careers in healthcare and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This past month, we celebrated the graduation of seniors from two of our programs.

The Out4STEM program provides Philadelphia’s LGBTQIA youth with an inclusive, safe space to learn about science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and healthcare/medicine and the career opportunities they provide alongside like-minded, motivated Philadelphia LGBTQIA students and professionals. It also cultivates a greater understanding of LGBTQIA history.

The Girls One Diaspora Club is an after-school internship program for teen girls in Philadelphia and attending high school in Philadelphia who are from Africa or the African Diaspora, were born outside of the U.S. or are first-generation Americans, and have an interest in healthcare or STEM careers.

The club provides teen girls living in Philadelphia who are from Africa or the African Diaspora with academic and personal support to address issues related to schooling, ancestry, ethnicity, and the challenges of adjusting to a new culture. The facilitators of the club also provide mentorship and assistance with academic issues including tutoring, career development, and college/career preparation in a safe, positive, affirming space.

In June, we gathering in a virtual graduation ceremony to honor 13 seniors from these programs. All 13 graduated high school on time, and all 13 will be attending a two or four-year college or university in the fall. They will be pursuing such fields as psychology, nursing, cybersecurity, environmental science, chemistry, computer science, biomedical engineering, and medicine. We are proud of their accomplishments and excited to hear about their future adventures.

Philly 10th graders: We’re accepting applications for the Wohlreich Junior Fellows!

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows program hold up a sheep heart during a sheep heart dissection.

Philly high school students, we have some questions for you: are you starting 10th grade in the fall? Are you interested in healthcare or medicine? Interested in a paid internship that will help you prepare for college and careers beyond? If YES, we have a program that may be perfect for you.

The Center for Education of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is accepting applications for the newest cohort of the Wohlreich Junior Fellows program.

Founded in 2009, the George and Judy Wohlreich Junior Fellows Program is for Philadelphia high school students interested in careers in healthcare and medicine. Through hands-on activities, innovative educational programming, interactions with healthcare professionals, and engagements through the unique resources of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia (including the world-renowned Mütter Museum and the Historical Medical Library), the Program introduces students to the diverse fields available in healthcare and medicine. It also empowers students to take charge of their health and encourage healthy lifestyle choices for their families and their communities.

The Program is named after George and Judy Wohlreich. From 2006 to 2021, George M. Wohlreich, MD, MA, DSc (Hon), FCPP, was the President, CEO, and Thomas W. Langfitt Chair of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. During his tenure, Dr. Wohlreich spearheaded the creation of the program, which led the Center for Education to develop its unique educational model.

The next summer program will take place August 9-20, 2021. This summer’s theme will be “Lessons of 2020,” examining the tumultuous year through the lens of health. Topics will include public health, vaccines, epidemiology, coping with stress, and addressing social justice.

Students who complete the summer program may also have the possibility to stay for a multi-year after-school program focused on healthcare, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), academic and career advisement, and college preparation that goes through 12th grade.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining the program, here are the requirements:

Must be entering the 10th grade in Fall 2021.

Must be a Philadelphia resident.

Must be attending a Philadelphia public or charter high school (home schooled students are also encouraged to apply).

Must have an interest in healthcare fields.

Will be the first in their immediate family to graduate from a college or university.

Must qualify for a FREE or REDUCED PRICE school lunch.

May not have any disciplinary problems on their school record.

Must have permission from a parent/guardian to take part in the program.

Must be prepared to provide a work permit if they are contacted for an interview.

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program demonstrate specimens to attendees of the Halloween Family Fun Day event at the Woodlands Cemetery

Interested students can complete our online application form. The application must include the name and contact information of an adult supporter (parent, guardian, or adult over the age of 18 willing to vouch for the student), a reference from a teacher or counselor, and a brief personal statement in the form of an essay, video, or audio clip.

To learn more about the program, check out our website, read our FAQ, or send a question to Kevin D. Impellizeri, Assistant Director of the Center for Education (email: kimpellizeri@collegeofphysicians.org; phone: 215-372-7313).

CPP Curiosities: Black Cemeteries and Grave Robbing

Logo for CPP Curiosities

Hello, fellow historic-medico aficionados, and welcome to the latest installment of CPP Curiosities, our semi-regular series on unusual and interesting aspects of medical history. This month’s article comes from regular contributor Amanda McCall. Amanda has put together several pieces examining the history of medical exploitation. Past works include examining Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were extracted without her consent and used in countless medical advances, and J. Marion Simms, a pioneer in gynecology whose advances came at the expense of enslaved women.

This time around, she is addressing bodysnatching in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the ways medical education often came about by exploiting marginalized communities.

Over the centuries, medicine has walked many shadowy paths in the pursuit of knowledge and experience, and the acquiring of cadavers for dissection remains one of the darkest. The ability to study human cadavers is a vital part of any medical student’s training, and the knowledge gained from dissection would be impossible to get elsewhere. Unfortunately, throughout history acquiring the necessary remains has presented a sizeable challenge. Often people have been reluctant to part with the bodies of their loved ones for what might be argued the good of science. How, then, did medical schools provide cadavers for their students? For many schools, accepting bodies obtained illegally and without familial consent presented itself as the best option. Frequently cemeteries and graveyards of poor and Black communities were the ones pillaged to provide cadavers.

In the UK, where many of the first medical schools were started, there was also a struggle to obtain enough bodies for students to dissect. By the late 1700’s, English Parliament had passed a law allowing judges to sentence people convicted of murder to dissection as well as death. It was thought this action might deter possible future murderers, but even so there were still not enough cadavers to go around. Teaching physicians recognized it was only a matter of time before they needed to do something else to keep their students, and this involved accepting recently dead community members who had been unwillingly pulled from their graves for dissection.

A crowd of people try to force their way into a room where a surgery is taking place. Men inside the room push on a door, holding back a crowd.
W.A. Rogers, “An Interrupted Dissection,” Harpers (1882)

At the same time in the US, medical schools were just beginning to find their footing in certain cities. They were having an even harder time supplying enough bodies for every year’s incoming students. It seems like the path to grave robbing was even shorter in the US. In the 1780s in New York City, most of the bodies that ended up on dissection tables were Black despite comprising only 15% of the city’s population. Graverobbers targeted Black graveyards at a much higher rate than their white counterparts. The Black community tended to be poorer and lacked the social and moral protection that the white community was afforded. Moreover, Black graveyards tended to be geographically isolated and further out of the city. The community noticed how often the graves of their loved ones were being disturbed and pled with the New York City Council to do something about it. They were denied any help. It was not until a white body was accidentally stolen out of the Trinity Church cemetery that there was any public outcry, and a move toward change occurred. In 1789, New York made graverobbing illegal and allowed judges to add dissection to sentences of murder. However, this did little to help curb the problem and graverobbing continued.

During the nineteenth century, the need for medical schools soared in the US, expanding from four schools in 1800 to over 160 by 1900, and the need for cadavers soared along with them. Families and loved ones were increasingly aware of the crimes executed after dark in their cemeteries and graveyards, and they were becoming angry and frustrated. These groups sought justice for their loved ones who had been stolen from their graves. There are at least 20 accounts of “Anatomical Riots” between 1788 to 1857 in the US. The most memorable of these occurred in April 1788 in New York City. One account says that a group of young boys was playing in a field near the Columbia College medical school when one of them noticed something hanging out of a second story window. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a severed arm from one of the school’s cadavers. The arm might have belonged to a deceased mother of one of the boys. Understandably alarmed, the boys told one their fathers who gathered a small group of fellow citizens and stormed Columbia College. They ransacked the medical school and forced the physicians and medical students to flee to safety. The group of citizens found enough evidence that they felt it necessary to return the next morning with even greater numbers. The Governor of New York felt compelled to call in the state militia due to the reported hundreds of concerned citizens roaming the streets near Columbia looking for guilty medical students. Six people died over the course of this conflict.

Street view of a white marble building with Greek columns
Photograph of Jefferson Medical College, ca. 1850-1860. Taken by Frederick De Bourg Richards. Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Philadelphia, home to prominent medical schools such as Jefferson Medical College and Pennsylvania Hospital, was not exempt from the graverobbing controversies during this time. In late 1882, Philadelphia suffered through its own graverobbing crisis. On the night of December 4, 1882, the superintendent of Lebanon Cemetery in Southwest Philadelphia and three accomplices were found digging up a corpse. Reporters from The Philadelphia Press had been tracking the occurrences at the cemetery for months (according to them) and performed a citizen’s arrest that night. Lebanon Cemetery was an African American cemetery located on the outskirts of the city. At that time, there were very few buildings and houses surrounding it, making it a logical choice for possible graverobbers. After interrogation, the men admitted they were obtaining bodies for dissection on behalf of Jefferson Medical College, specifically, a prominent anatomist that taught there named William S. Forbes, who was also a Fellow at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. When The Philadelphia Press article broke, there was a significant amount of community outrage, and a large mob even threatened to lynch the guilty parties. They were convicted within two weeks which many believe might have helped to alleviate much of the anger. Forbes was arrested on December 15th and charged for his involvement. However, he argued he had never had direct dealings with the accused men and was only there to receive the bodies. He claimed had no idea where they were actually coming from. Forbes was acquitted for these reasons, and then went on to author the Pennsylvania Anatomy Act of 1883 which allowed unclaimed bodies from jails, hospitals, and poorhouses to be distributed to the area medical schools.

An elderly, bald, white man in a suit leans against a table. The table has a skull and a piece of paper on it. Behind the man is an operating theater with people in suit jackets seated.
Portrait of William S. Forbes by Thomas Eakins

By the mid-1800s a few states had passed laws to allow medical schools access to unclaimed bodies or bodies that would be buried at the public’s expense. The states felt this was a suitable way to reassure “respectable” people that their graves would be safe, but it also succeeded in making the less privileged feel even more targeted. They probably felt they were being punished for being poor, and the stigma attached to having your body dissected added insult to injury. After all, up to that point, only criminals had their bodies taken for use in the medical schools. By the beginning of the 20th century, most medical school cadavers came from the unclaimed dead. The scandals surrounding anatomical dissection continued into the mid 20th century when regulated body donation programs became more common.

Few can argue against the importance of dissection in the education of physicians and the progress of medicine. The ability to study the inner workings of the human body has proven indispensable. In order to best treat their patients, a physician needs to have a solid grasp on what is happening inside us, but it is easy to see how medicine’s desire for knowledge has outweighed its sensitivity to the concerns of the community. Agency and understanding were as important then as they are now. Science and medicine cannot ignore the concerns and needs of their community in pursuit of progress.

Thanks, again, Amanda! If you want to read more by her, check out her look at eating mummies for medicinal reasons and the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th century guide to hunting witches. If you want to read more about bodysnatching, check out our works on whether Josef Hyrtl owned Mozart’s skull, a fake Persian mummy, and the relative of two U.S. Presidents whose body was stolen by Ohio grave robbers.

Until next time, catch you on the strange side.


Ghosh, Sanjib Kumar. “Human cadaveric dissection: a historical account from ancient Greece to the modern era.” Anatomy and Cell Biology 48. No. 3 (September 2015): 153-169.

Halperin, Edward C. “The poor, the Black, and the marginalized as the source of cadavers in United States anatomical education.” Clinical Anatomy 20. No. 5 (July 2007): 489-495.

Lovejoy, Bess. “A Brief History of American Anatomy Riots.” National Museum of Civil War Medicine (February 12, 2017). Accessed June 8, 2021.

            “The Gory New York City Riot that Shaped American Medicine.” Smithsonian Magazine (June 17, 2014). Accessed June 8, 2021.

Mathis, Rachel H., Jill H. Watras, and Jonathan M. Dort. “Grave robbing in the North and South in Antebellum America.” American College of Surgeons CC2016 Poster Competition. Accessed June 8, 2021.

McLeary, Erin. “The Curious Case Of Body Snatching At Lebanon Cemetery.” Hidden City (April 13, 2015). Accessed June 8, 2021.

Pietila, Antero. “In Need of Cadavers, 19th-Century Medical Students Raided Baltimore’s Graves.” Smithsonian Magazine (October 25, 2018). Accessed June 8, 2021.

Docent Discussions: Body Modification Across Cultures

Greetings, loyal readers, and welcome to another installment of Docent Discussions, our semi-regular series where we feature works by our dedicated Mütter Museum docents. This article comes courtesy of Angelie Cesario. Angelie offers an overview of body modification across different cultures.

A young white woman. She wears a frilly, sleeveless dress with a corset along her midsection. She holds tailor's tape along a very thin waist.
Belgian actress/model Camille Clifford demonstrates her corseted waist, ca. 1905. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

With popular shows such as Bridgerton and The Great, corset searches and purchases have increased significantly in the past year. According to Vogue, with this rising popularity, corsets are now found all over social media and in many clothing stores both online and offline. But where did corsets originate? What effects did they have on the body? And what can they tell us about other forms of body modifications and beauty standards?

Although corsets can be traced back to as far as 1600 BC, they became most noticeably popular in the 16th century. They were often worn by women but were sometimes were worn by men as well. Although garments similar to corsets have been used around the world, they were and continue to be mostly associated with Europe and the western world. Over the years, the design of corsets has changed, but the purpose has not: they were meant to shape the body into a desirable figure during each time period. In pursuit of the “hourglass figure,” tight lacings of corsets often lead to reduced lung capacity, hardness of breathing, and fainting. In more serious situations, it would lead to chest deformities and compressed organs.

X-ray image of a human midsection constricted by a corset. The x-ray labels the heart, spine, and three ribs bent out of shape by the corset.
X-ray image of a woman with corseted midsection. Image Source: Cathie Jung

In cultures all around the world, body modifications are done for a number of reasons, including meeting a beauty ideal, signifying social status, or marking membership to a group. In Indonesia, a popular type of body modification is dental filing. In one area of Indonesia, women file their teeth into sharpened points to be seen as more beautiful. Meanwhile, in Bali, Indonesia, both men and women have their canine teeth filed down ceremoniously as way to ward off evil spirits and represent the change from animal to human.

Similar to Indonesia, the pre-Columbian Mayans also partook in dental modifications. In Central America, dental inlays were very popular among the Maya. These dental inlays consisted of drilling the frontal teeth (the incisors and canines) and then filling those holes with semi-precious stones such as jade, turquoise, or obsidian. According to anthropologists at the University of Western Ontario, these dental modifications are believed to be related to ritual traditions or for aesthetic purposes.

Sections of the upper and lower jaw of a human skull. Carved stone inlays appear in several teeth in the upper jaw.
Maya jaw with inlaid stones. Image Source: Vera Tiesler

In Thailand, a popular body modification is neck elongation where brass coils, also known as neck rings, are used to elongate the neck of women in the community. Anthropologists have dated this practice back to the 11th century, and it has been practiced in other areas such as Africa and India. Contrary to popular belief, these rings actually do not elongate the neck. Instead, these brass coils push the collarbone and ribs down, giving the illusion of a longer neck. Although the origins of neck rings are debated, today they are associated with beauty and wealth.

Two side-by-side X-ray images. The x-ray on the left represents an extended neck. The collarbone has been pressed down away from the neck bones, giving the illusion of an elongated neck. The x-ray image on the right shows the "normal" skeletal structure of the neck with no extensions.
(Left) X-Ray image of a Burmese woman with neck elongation. (Right) X-Ray image of non-elongated neck for comparison. Image Source: Reddit.

When looking at different types of body modifications cross-culturally, it’s important not to judge and recognize that each culture has their own standard of what is considered beautiful. So what can beauty standards tell us when looking at them cross-culturally? And what are the things around you that might make you want to “modify” your body? Let me know in the comments!


Bass-Krueger, Maude, and Elle Timms. “The Corset’s Recurring Comeback Goes Further Than ‘Bridgerton’.” British Vogue, British Vogue, 21 Jan. 2021.

“The Body Project.” Bradley University

Goldberg, Johanna. “Did Corsets Harm Women’s Health?” Books, Health and History, The New York Academy of Medicine, 29 May 2015.

Harris, Karen. “Neck Elongation: Rare Facts & Stories About It You Haven’t Heard.” History Daily, 15 Aug. 2019.

National Geographic, director. Teeth Chiseling | National Geographic. YouTube, YouTube, 28 Apr. 2011.

Ramírez-Salomón, M., et al. “Pulp Pathosis Associated with Ancient Maya Dental Inlays.” Archives of Oral Biology, vol. 95, 2018, pp. 202–208., doi:10.1016/j.archoralbio.2018.08.008. 

Wijana, Hannah. “A Tooth-Filing Ceremony.” AFAR Media, 9 Dec. 2020. 

Williams, Jocelyn S., and Christine D. White. “Dental Modification in the Postclassic Population from Lamanai, Belize.” Ancient Mesoamerica, vol. 17, no. 1, 2006, pp. 139–151., doi:10.1017/s0956536106050267.

Docent Discussions: Pennsylvania Hospital

Greetings, loyal readers, and welcome to another installment of Docent Discussions, our semi-regular series where we feature works by our dedicated Mütter Museum docents. This article comes courtesy of Julie Rakestraw. You may recall her past article on Benjamin Rush and the Medicinal Plant Garden. This time Julie delves into the history of Pennsylvania Hospital and its significant contributions to healthcare and medicine.

Several hospitals claim to be America’s first hospital. Philadelphia General Hospital, an almshouse for the poor, was founded in 1729. The original incarnation of Bellevue Hospital in New York City was a six-bed infirmary which opened in March 1736 on the current site of City Hall. However, many people designate the title of the first American hospital to Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia which received its charter on May 11, 1751. Pennsylvania Hospital was the home of many of the key developments of modern medicine.

Image courtesy of the author

In 1751, Philadelphia was a city of 15,000, the second largest English-speaking city in the British Empire behind only London. Dr. Thomas Bond (1712-1784), a native Philadelphian, studied medicine in the colonies and traveled to Europe to obtain a more advanced education. While studying in London, Bond became convinced that a hospital should be built in Philadelphia. His original vision was that building a hospital for the “poor sick” would get the suffering people off the streets and out of the sights of the other citizens.  

In the 1700s, wealthy people were treated at home, with house calls made by minimally trained doctors and then cared for by family members, often the women of the household who provided food, cleaning and such comfort care as was available. The almshouses of colonial times were places to house the poor who did not have sufficient means or family to provide care.  General hospitals developed to provide medical and rudimentary surgical care for those poor sick needing medical care by physicians, beyond what the almshouses could provide. Seamen’s hospitals developed to provide care for sailors who arrived in port cities, and were designed to isolate sick and potentially contagious arrivals. Women in need of maternity care were treated at home if possible and in specialized women’s facilities if not. 

When Bond returned to Philadelphia, he attempted to convince others to support the idea of building a general hospital to take care of the “poor, sick and insane.” Everyone Bond approached for support inquired what Benjamin Franklin thought of building a hospital. Bond had not initially approached Franklin, but when he did Franklin was supportive and went to the Pennsylvania Assembly for matching funds. As described by Benjamin Franklin in the original Petition to the Assembly of Pennsylvania to establish the hospital: the poor sick who had no place to go or family support and those who “were deprived of their rational Faculties” and “are a Terror to their Neighbors” could be contained and confined within such a hospital and thus removed from view of the other citizens. 

The Assembly members were skeptical that the hospital would benefit the more rural areas of the colony, but Franklin garnered their support by requesting matching funds if he could raise 2000 pounds. He already knew he could raise that much, so when the Assembly agreed the funding was well established. Francis Scott Key, author of the “Star Spangled Banner,” praised the hospital in a poem for keeping the sick and contagious away from society. 

Francis Scott Key, “On Visiting Pennsylvania Hospital,” in Thomas G. Morton and Frank Woodbury, The History of The Pennsylvania Hospital, 1751-1895 (Philadelphia, PA: Times Printing House, 1895), 1

Pennsylvania Hospital first opened to patients in 1753, in temporary space near Independence Hall in the former mansion of Judge John Kinsey, a Quaker who had recently died. The site at 8th and Pine was considered out in the country by the standards of the time. Benjamin Franklin laid the cornerstone of the new hospital and included the Good Samaritan seal with the motto “Take care of Him and I will repay thee,” affirming the charitable purpose. The building included rooms in the basement for the insane, first floor for men, second floor for women, and third floor for servants and isolation areas. Keeping the poor sick individuals away from the other citizens of Philadelphia was one way to reduce contagion during a time of frequent epidemics. The time spent by patients in the hospital was meant to be short; those judged to be incurable were not admitted. Patients were accepted after providing proof of burial funds so that the hospital did not end up covering those costs. Patients were to be discharged as soon as they were either cured or judged to be incurable. In those days, patients with cancer and long-term mental illness were considered “incurable.”

No patient was to be accepted who played cards, dice or any other game or was known to beg in the city. Patients were expected to assist, as they were able, in nursing, working on the floors, washing and ironing the bed linens, washing and cleaning the rooms, and other services. Without antibiotics and with minimal pharmaceuticals, little medical treatment was available and infections were common. The poor patients arriving at the hospital had usually lived in crowded conditions, sharing beds and outhouses with many others, and often arrived covered with lice.  Pennsylvania Hospital finally established an Officer of Hygiene to attempt to mitigate these issues in 1874.

Dr. Bond was a volunteer member of the first medical staff and was associated with the hospital until his death in 1784. He is viewed as the “Father of Clinical Medicine” because of his contributions to clinical instruction, providing lectures to students. When the Revolutionary War began, Bond and his son helped organize the medical section of the Continental Army. Bond was also a founder and trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and an officer of the American Philosophical Society. 

Early medical training for physicians in the American colonies was minimal; there were few requirements for either admission or graduation. It was possible to become a doctor after just two four-month series of classroom lectures, without even touching a body, much less a live patient. The ability to pay for the classes seemed to be the primary criteria for medical school. No tests or evaluation were required, and physicians were often completely inexperienced. 

The staff members of Pennsylvania Hospital were integral to the formation of the University of Pennsylvania College of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the first medical college in the colonies. Dr. John Morgan, a physician trained in Edinburgh, was the founder of the College. Students enrolled in anatomical lectures and classes on the “theory and practice of Physick.” Morgan supplemented the traditional minimal classroom studies with actual bedside training, practicing on patients at Pennsylvania Hospital. The hospital was staffed by unpaid interns who lived in the hospital during the 2+ years of their training. 

Dr. Benjamin Rush was a member of the medical staff of Pennsylvania Hospital from 1783 until his death in 1813.  Rush was dedicated to his patients, even staying during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793, when many other affluent members of society fled the city.  Rush is known as the “Father of American Psychiatry” due to the many developments in treatment of the mentally ill which he instituted. From a 21st century viewpoint, many of the advances that Rush promoted, such as bloodletting, look primitive and have been disproved. However, at the turn of the 19th century, improving the lives of mental patients by reducing the use of straitjackets, removing confining locks and cuffs, and moving the ward from the basement to hospital floors with windows for natural light were breakthrough advances. In 1787, Rush, along with Morgan and 22 other Philadelphia physicians, founded The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

Dr. Phillip Sung Physick joined the staff in 1794 and served as a professor of surgery and anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania. Physick, considered the “Father of American Surgery,” developed many new techniques for treating fractures and dislocations as well as inventing needle forceps. In 1804, the surgical amphitheater opened at Pennsylvania Hospital, allowing students to observe operations from raised seating. The amphitheater was used for operations until 1868. Large audiences of medical students and practitioners watched surgeries. The surgeon was often silent during the operation, with discussion among the medical team kept to an absolute minimum of glances or nods, with the watching audience eagerly interpreting every word or movement. 

Because of the extreme pain and high risk of post-operative infection, surgeries before the development of anesthesia were limited to those critical to saving a patient’s life. Pain management at the time was limited to providing patients the option of opium, liquor or a knock on the head with a mallet. Surgeons tried to avoid entering the abdomen, thorax or cranium as the inability to control or prevent post-operative blood loss or infection often killed the patient. Surgery requiring entry into the body was undertaken only when all other options were exhausted, and operations often were accompanied by loud screams until the patients went into shock.

Ether had been used as a medication to reduce spasms or convulsions for about 200 years before its use as a party drug began in the United States in the early 19th Century. Crawford Long was a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania during the days of the “ether frolics” when students covered their noses and mouths with ether-soaked rags to induce euphoria. Long noted that people appeared to not feel pain after breathing ether. In 1842, by then a Georgia surgeon, Dr. Crawford Long first used ether as an anesthetic during an operation to remove neck cysts. He did not immediately publish his findings, though, so the first surgical use of ether was initially reported by another.  

Pennsylvania Hospital was also the first hospital in the colonies to have an apothecary shop in the hospital. The apothecary was initially stocked with the import of 112 pounds of drugs imported from London. Many of these initial drugs were minerals and herbs, often compounded with animal fats or other substances. An early plan to develop a garden of medicinal plants in the courtyard was approved in 1774 but not implemented until the Bicentennial of the United States in 1976. At that time, the Physic Garden was designed to grow a number of plants which would have been commonly grown in the 18th and 19th centuries, including digitalis for heart concerns and ginger for gastrointestinal upset.

Image courtesy of the author

Walking the grounds now provides a glimpse into the lengthy history of medicine in Philadelphia and the first general hospital of the colonies.


“America’s Oldest Operating Theater.” Atlas Obscura. Accessed April 27, 2021. 

“Anesthesia: Innovative Surgical Pain Relief!” America’s Civil War. Accessed April 27, 2021. 

Bicker, Josh. “Ether in Surgery.” Fugitive Leaves, December 18, 2020. Accessed April 27, 2021. 

Brown, Michael. “Surgery and Emotion: The Era Before Anaesthesia.” In T. Schlich, ed., The Palgrave Handbook of the History of Surgery. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. Accessed April 27, 2021. 

Ewing, Rachel. “Then and Now: The Healing Power of an Urban Garden,” May 1, 2017. Accessed April 27, 2021. 

“History of Anesthesia.” Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology. Accessed April 27, 2021. 

History of Pennsylvania Hospital. Accessed April 27, 2021. 

“John Kinsey.” Pennsylvania House of Representatives: House Speaker Biographies. Accessed April 27, 2021. 

Morton, Thomas G. and Frank Woodbury. The History of The Pennsylvania Hospital. Philadelphia, PA: Times Printing House, 1895. Accessed April 27, 2021. 

“Pennsylvania Hospital.” Benjamin Franklin Historical Society. Accessed April 27, 2021. 

Wust, MaryKate. “The Evolution of the Apothecary for the Apothe-curious.” Penn Medicine News. October 13, 2017. Accessed April 27, 2021. 

Teen Health Week℠ 2021: Mütter Youth Run the Virtual Gauntlet

April 5-11, 2021, is Teen Health Week℠ 2021, an initiative of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia to raise awareness of the unique health issues facing teens. Through a wide variety of programs and activities, Teen Health Week℠ encourages teens to take charge of their physical and mental health to facilitate healthy habits they will carry with them throughout their lives.

A Teen Health Week℠ tradition at The College is to host an event for students in our youth programs to learn about facts and resources related to the themes of Teen Health Week℠. These events often culminate in a massive quiz game testing our students’ knowledge of teen health. With the pandemic, the event changed to a virtual program; however, we kept the game tradition alive. This week, students in the College Junior Fellows, the Out4STEM program, and the Girls One Diaspora Club gathered for a Zoom session and played a game we call “The Virtual Gauntlet.”

Through the magic of Kahoot, a useful site for educators that allows you to build your own virtual quiz games, our students ran the virtual gauntlet, answering questions related to the five themes of Teen Health Week℠ 2021: Gender and Sexual Development, Nutrition and Oral Health, Preventive Care and Vaccines, Violence and Mental Health, and Substance Use and Misuse. In between multiple choice and true or false questions they could answer on their computer or mobile device, they learned facts about teen health. With some healthy competition, we hope our students took away some useful information that will help them make informed choices about their health throughout their lives.

If you would like to learn more about Teen Health Week℠ and access valuable teen health resources, lesson plans, and even some virtual quiz games, check out our website and follow Teen Health Week℠ on your preferred social media platform, using the hashtag #TeenHealthWeek.

Mütter Youth Meet with Standardized Patients

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia hosts four after-school youth programs that put Philadelphia high school students interested in careers in healthcare and STEM in direct contact with professionals in various fields. Recently, the students in our youth programs had a virtual meeting with people representing an unsung but nonetheless important role in medicine: standardized patients.

Standardized patients are trained professionals who portray patients in simulated medical scenarios and assess healthcare professionals’ responses. These scenarios include various medical emergencies as well as conveying news about patients’ health. For example, a medical professional in training may encounter a “patient” who has experienced severe trauma, or they may need to inform a “patient” they have a life-threatening illness. Standardized patients play a vital role in medical education, emphasizing strong communication and empathy as essential skills for healthcare professionals. 

Last week, students in the College Junior Fellows, Out4STEM, and Girls One Diaspora programs met with Mario Cotto, Meg Foley, Jess Rivera, and Allyson Washington who shared their experiences as standardized patients. Working in pairs, our guests acted out common medical scenarios and walked our students through the process. Then, they put the students themselves in the role of healthcare professionals. The class divided into breakout rooms and students interacted with our guests as they portrayed medical experiences healthcare professionals might face.

Empathy and effectively framing questions were some of the key takeaways from the session, and our students came away with a greater appreciation for the work standardized patients perform in the healthcare system. 

Fellows Spotlight: Helen O. Dickens, Trailblazing Gynecologist

Greetings, again, fellow historio-medico aficionados, Kevin here for the second part of a series spotlighting the achievements of BIPOC Fellows. Last month, in honor of Black History Month, I introduced readers to DeHaven Hinkson and Edward E. Holloway, the first Black Fellows of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. For March, in honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, this article highlights Dr. Helen O. Dickens (1909-2001), the first Black woman admitted into the College Fellowship.

Helen O. Dickens in 1950. Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

Helen Octavia Dickens was born in Dayton, OH, on February 21, 1909. Her father, Charles Warren Dickens, had formerly been enslaved. Self-educated and well-read, he took on the last name Dickens after emancipation in honor of famous British author Charles Dickens. A believer in the power of education, he and his wife, Daisy Jane Dickens, encouraged Helen to get an education and pursue a professional career. Her family initially encouraged her to become a nurse; however, Helen had bigger dreams. She later recalled, “I got it into my head that if I were going to be a nurse, I might as well be a doctor” and looked to break into a field dominated by white men.

Rampant racial and gender discrimination did not deter her. In 1932, she completed her bachelor’s degree in medical science at the University of Illinois. Despite receiving rejections from several white and HBCU medical schools, she persevered and earned her medical degree at the University of Illinois in 1934. Reflecting on the prejudice she faced both as a person of color and a woman pursuing a career in medicine, she later told a reporter, “In medical school, I used to say I’m laboring under a double handicap.”

Racist and sexist practices in the medical field made it difficult for her to get a foothold in the medical field. However, a flyer at the University of Illinois Medical school offered an opportunity. Philadelphia physician Virginia M. Alexander put out flyers at medical schools looking for “a Black female to join her in Philadelphia.” Another pioneering Black physician, in 1931, Alexander founded Aspiranto Health Home, a clinic that provided free and low-cost healthcare to North Philadelphia’s predominantly poor and Black residents. Healthcare services offered at Aspiranto included gynecological and post-natal care. Dickens joined Alexander at Aspiranto in 1935 and continued to help disadvantaged communities throughout her career.

Dickens spent the rest of her medical career breaking through barriers. In 1945, she became the first Black woman in Philadelphia to become a certified OB-GYN. Over a career spanning nearly five decades, she became the first Black woman to be named a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She was the first Black woman in Philadelphia to work in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania. On January 7, 1959, she was inducted into The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the first Black woman accepted into the Fellowship. From 1948 to 1967, she was head of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Mercy-Douglass Hospital. She also held faculty positions at the Women’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.

Helen O. Dickens and Emily Mudd. Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

Dickens was also a vocal advocate for women’s health, especially for teens of color. In 1967, she established a clinic for pregnant teenagers at the University of Pennsylvania and participated in research programs and public health campaigns related to youth reproductive health, sexually transmitted infections, and teen pregnancy. She was also an early advocate for pap smears to detect cervical cancer. In fact, she offered pap smears for free to Black women in low-income areas of the city, providing mobile services in her van. “If every woman in Philadelphia had a Pap test once a year,” she told a newspaper reporter in 1968, “no woman need die of uterine cancer.”

1994 Certificate of Appreciation awarded to Dr. Dickens for her service on The College’s Committee on Fellowship. Image courtesy of the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

During her storied career, she won numerous awards, including Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania (1952), Woman of the Year by the Philadelphia branch of the American Medical Women’s Association (1960), the Gimbel Philadelphia Award (1971), and the Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women (1986). In 1999, the University of Pennsylvania renamed its center for women’s health the Helen O. Dickens Center for Women. 


Delach, Katie. “Helen O. Dickens: A Figure Who Was Anything But Hidden,” Penn Medicine News, February 22, 2017. Accessed March 2, 2021.

“Dr. Helen Dickens: A Lifetime of Helping and Healing.” LDS Genesis Group. Accessed March 2, 2021.

“Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens.” National Library of Medicine. Accessed March 2, 2021.

“Helen Octavia Dickens.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 2, 2021.

Gross, Rachel E. “The female physician who popularised the Pap smear.” BBC.October 12, 2020. Accessed March 3, 2021.

Pray, Rusty. “Helen Dickens, 92, a pioneer in obstetrics.” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 6, 2001.

Fellows Spotlight: Who was the first Black Fellow?

Greetings, fellow historio-medico aficionados. Kevin here, with another article on a thought-provoking topic from the history of medicine. 

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is committed to elevating the voices of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in the history of medicine. To that end, we have put together articles both addressing the innovations of BIPOC physicians and critically examining the ways medicine has been used to reinforce and perpetuate racism, injustice, and exploitation. This includes the roles people affiliated with The College played in these regards. Past articles in this vein include our look at prominent eighteenth-century African American physician James Durham, College Fellow Albert Kligman’s experiments on people incarcerated at Holmesburg Prison, Fellow William S. Forbes’ scandal involving illegally acquiring the remains of deceased Philadelphians from a local Black cemetery, and the monumental contributions of Henrietta Lacks and her immortal “HeLa” cells

In honor of Black History Month, this month’s article answers an important historical question: who was the first Black Fellow of The College?

Before we answer this question, let’s answer another related question: what exactly is a College Fellow? The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is not a “college” in the common use of the word: it is not a degree granting institution. Rather, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia was founded in 1787 as a professional organization for physicians. The 24 original founding members of The College became its first “Fellows,” the title for members of The College. 

Individuals must meet specific requirements to become a Fellow. Most importantly, Fellows must represent the medical field in some way, either as a person with a medical or medical-related degree or someone who or exhibits “work that contributes to the advancement or understanding of medicine.” Prospective Fellows must be nominated by two existing Fellows. Their qualifications are then assessed by the “Committee on Admissions,” who determine whether the candidate will be accepted for Fellowship. New Fellows are admitted in a special ceremony held twice a year called “College Night.” Today there are over 800 active Fellows who represent a wide array of skills and professional backgrounds, including physicians, nurses, scientists, teachers, and public health advocates.

For a while, we thought the first, or perhaps one of the earliest, Black Fellows was Nathan Francis Mossell (1856-1946), a prominent physician, hospital administrator, and civil rights activist (a past article written by me claimed he was a Fellow). The College owns a portrait of Mossell, as well as another groundbreaking Black physician, Henry McKee Minton (1870-1946), leading us to assume he and Dr. Minton were Fellows (both portraits are currently on display in the Mütter Museum). Mossell was also a student of David Hayes Agnew, who was President of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia for a time, lending credence to the idea that Mossell was a Fellow himself. However, upon deeper research, we have learned that neither Dr. Mossell nor Dr. Minton were Fellows of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Nathan Francis Mossell in 1882. Image Source: University of Pennsylvania Archives
Nathan Francis Mossell in 1882. Image Source: University of Pennsylvania Archives

However, thanks to some diligent research, we have successfully identified the first two Black Fellows. Dr. Edward E. Holloway and Dr. DeHaven Hinkson were each admitted to The College Fellowship on October 7, 1952. Both were prominent Philadelphia physicians who made substantial contributions to health and medicine while breaking through racial barriers.

Memo from Evelyn Huber to John P. Hubbard re: Edward E. Holloway, MD, December 10, 1976. Image courtesy of the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

DeHaven Hinkson (1891-1975) was a graduate of Central High School. In 1915, he graduated from the Medico Chirurgical College of Philadelphia and studied surgery, gynecology, and obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania and Austria’s University of Vienna. Along with Frederick Douglass Stubbs (1906-1947), Hinkson was the first Black physician to join the staff of Philadelphia General Hospital. He was later a staff member at Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital, where he served as the head of the gynecology department, and Mercy-Douglass Hospital. He was also the first Black medical examiner of Philadelphia Municipal Court. A longtime member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Hinkson served in both World War I and World War II, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel; he was also the first Black person to run a U.S. Army station hospital. In addition to his College Fellowship, he was a member of the American Medical Association, the State Medical Society of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia County Medical Society, the NAACP, and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. He was also president of the Urban League.

DeHaven Hinkson in 1974. Image Source: Journal of the National Medical Association 66, No. 4 (1974): 339. Fair Use.

Edward E. Holloway (1908-1993) also graduated from Central High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Howard University, and in 1946, despite never attending medical school, he passed his certification exam to practice medicine. Dr. Holloway went on to have an accomplished career as a cardiologist and hospital administrator and practiced medicine for over 50 years. In 1950, he became one of the first Black people elected to the American College of Physicians. (Accounts differ on whether he was the first or second. His paperwork submitted to The College archives lists him as the first, while his April 10, 1993, obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer describes him as the second.) In 1953, he was elected Philadelphia County coroner. In 1955, he became the first Black person to join the American Board of Cardiovascular Diseases. He also served as the chief of medical staff for Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Mercy-Douglass Hospital, Philadelphia’s first and second Black hospitals, respectively.

We hope you check back for more articles revealing the contributions of people from marginalized communities to our collective understanding of medicine. Next month, in honor of Women’s History Month, we will examine Helen O. Dickens, the first Black woman to become a Fellow.

Until next time!


“D. Hinkson, Physician, Civil Rights Leader.” Philadelphia Inquirer. December 1, 1975.
Deceased Fellows files. Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
“DeHaven Hinkson, MD, 1891-.” Journal of the National Medical Association 66, No. 4 (1974): 339-342. Accessed February 17, 2021.
“Dr. DeHaven Hinkson papers.” Philadelphia Area Archives Research Portal. Accessed February 17, 2021.
“Edward E. Holoway.” Wikipedia. Accessed February 17, 2021.
Simmons, Rose. “E.E. Holloway, cardiologist, practiced in city for 53 years.” Philadelphia Inquirer. April 10, 1993.

Now Accepting Applications for the STEM Internship Program

Students stand around a gurney holding a medical dummy. A doctor in scrubs addresses the students.

The Center for Education of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is excited to announce we are accepting applications for the 2021-22 cohort of the STEM Internship program.

The STEM Internship program is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and social justice oriented program for Philadelphia high school students who have been impacted by community violence. Through a variety of educational programs, interns explore the impact of violence upon themselves and their communities while improving their understanding of science, technology, and medicine.

During the program, students will work closely with College staff and experts from a variety of fields related to forensic science, healthcare, and community action. Through hands-on activities, students are trained using the same tools and methods these professionals use in their respective fields. Students gain an understanding of social justice while learning about careers in STEM in a safe, engaging environment. They also develop the tools necessary to prepare for their futures and address issues that directly affect their communities. Students will also receive a stipend upon successful completion of the program.

The program consists an intensive four-week summer program that will take place in July 2021 followed by weekly after-school sessions held during the 2021-22 school year.

Students interested in enrolling in the STEM Internship program MUST meet the following requirements:

  • Be currently enrolled in a Philadelphia high school (public or charter school).
  • Be a rising junior or senior (entering their junior or senior year in Fall 2021).
  • Have an interest in topics in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
  • Be prepared to provide a work permit (information on how to obtain one can be found here).

To enroll in the program, please complete our online application. Your application will include the following:

  • Permission from a parent/guardian/adult supporter.
  • Contact information of a teacher who is willing to serve as a reference.
  • A brief personal statement, either as a short essay (maximum 500 words) or an audio/video recording (maximum 5 minutes).
  • Applicants will also take part in an interview with Center for Education staff.

THE DEADLINE TO SUBMIT AN APPLICATION IS 11:59PM ON FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2021. Please Note: There are no costs to enroll or be enrolled in the STEM Internship program. If you have any questions, contact Sarah Lumbo, Youth and Health Programs Coordinator, or consult our FAQ.

Health and Safety Notice regarding the COVID-19 pandemic: As an organization committed to advancing the cause of public health, we take the health and safety of our students seriously. Depending on local, state, and federal health recommendations, the program will either be held virtually via Zoom, in person at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia (19 South 22nd Street), or through a combination of online and in-person programs. The Center for Education will make all necessary precautions to provide adequate social distancing for any in-person activities. If classes can meet in person, SEPTA keycards to and from any in-person events will be supplied by The Center for Education.

The STEM Internship is made possible through a generous contribution from the GSK Philadelphia STEM Equity Collective.