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. 

GSK Helps The College Revive the STEM Internship Program

A student from the Out4STEM Program dissects a sheep's brain.

The Center for Education is proud to announce the revival of our 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.

The program’s revival was made possible thanks to a generous grant from GSK. GSK issued the grant as part of the Philadelphia STEM Equity Collective, a collaborative project launched by GSK and the Philadelphia Education Fund last year. The Collective aims to increase STEM programs in the Philadelphia community, create equitable and diverse education-to-career pathways, and establish work environments where women, Black people, and Latinx people thrive. The overarching goal of the Philadelphia STEM Equity Collective is to increase the number of women and Black and Latinx students entering careers in STEM.

We are excited for the opportunity to serve more Philadelphia high school students and help them achieve their career goals. Recruitment for the new STEM internship cohort will begin soon.

Honoring the Memory of Nicholas Karabots

It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of Nicholas Karabots, who died earlier this week. Mr. Karabots left an indelible mark upon The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and Philadelphia’s youth. He was the inaugural funder of The College’s first high school youth program: the Karabots Junior Fellows program, a three-year summer and after-school program for low-income Philadelphia high school students interested in careers in healthcare and medicine. He funded the program for a decade, during which time the program had six cohorts. His generosity allowed us to develop The Center for Education’s unique program model that became the foundation for all our youth programming. His contributions helped spark the creation of three other College of Physicians of Philadelphia youth programs: the STEM Internship, Out4STEM, and Girls One Diaspora. Thanks to Mr. Karabots, well over 100 high school students had the ability to pursue their dreams as healthcare professionals and scientists.

Nicholas and Athena Karabots with current students and alumni from the Karabots Junior Fellows Program

In 2018, The Center for Education honored Karabots’ 10 years of support for The College’s youth programming with a fitting tribute: The Bowman Clinic. Painted by Philadelphia artist Inga Kimberly Brown, The Bowman Clinic was an homage to The Gross Clinic, an 1875 Thomas Eakins painting of Philadelphia physician (and College Fellow) Samuel D. Gross. In 2007, Karabots himself had made a substantial donation to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to help keep The Gross Clinic in Philadelphia. Named after Jacqui Bowman, Director of The Center for Education, the painting depicts Nicholas and his wife, Athena, observing a dissection by Dr. Gross while students in the Karabots program watch from the seats of the operating theatre.

Portrait of an operating theater with teenagers observing in the seats as a physician in a suit performs an anatomical dissection assisted by several attendants. At the right are an elderly White couple, man and woman.
The Bowman Clinic, courtesy of Inga Kimberly Brown

Mr. Karabots leaves behind a legacy of philanthropy and a passion for Philadelphia’s scientific and cultural institutions. In addition to supporting The College’s programs, he offered considerable donations to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP’s West Philadelphia Pediatric Care Center bears his name), Einstein Healthcare Network (Einstein’s Norristown healthcare facility is named after him), the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He will be greatly missed.


The Mütter Herbarium: Part 3 – Make your own herbarium!

Greetings, once again, loyal readers. Today guest writer Ella Serpell completes her three-part series on herbaria. If you’d like to catch up on the rest of the series, click here for part one and here for part two. These articles coincide with the anniversary of the death of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.

If you have read Part 1 and 2 of this post series inspired by the Mütter Herbarium, you may want to try your hand at making your own herbarium sheet. With winter upon us, there may not be bright spring and summer flowers to collect, but maybe it can help you appreciate the plant life that remains during this time. Seek out an evergreen fern, a winter flowering witch-hazel, or some other plant that takes your fancy and see if you can preserve it!

Pressed plant leaves on a sheet of lined looseleaf paper.
Unfurling plants that have just been pressed

Here is a very brief set of instructions on how to properly collect, dry, prepare, and label plants. These are followed by several links or directions to more in depth resources you can reference.

  • Before you pick the plant, make sure it is okay to pick! Don’t take anything from national parks, protected areas, or private property without permission. 
  • Also, before picking it, take notes about the plant that won’t be evident in the final specimen. This can include just the date and location it was picked, but it can also include the scientific name and other descriptions such as the size of the whole plant, the substrate it is growing in, the smell, the original color, and much, much more. 
  • Pick your plant! For a scientific herbarium, you would want to have as many plant parts as possible, collecting flowers, leaves, stems, and maybe even roots of small herbaceous plants. 
  • Once you pick the specimen, you can put it directly into a notebook you have brought with you, or you can keep it in a bag until you have finished your collecting trip.
  • Then, you can place the specimen in between two sheets of paper. You can use newspaper, blotting paper, or even old notebook paper. Depending on how wet, thick, or fleshy the specimen is, you may want to have several sheets of paper and may even want to use cardboard. After you have laid the specimen(s) between papers, you have to press them. If you have a plant press you can use this, or simply place them underneath a pile of books or other heavy objects in a warm dry place. Try to keep your pile balanced enough to create even pressure.  
  • Then you have to wait! Small thin specimens may only take 24 hours but some can take up to 3 weeks. Feel free to carefully check on your sheets periodically. You can replace the paper to try to draw away more moisture if your specimen is taking a long time.  
  • When your specimen is finished, you can use a small amount of glue, tape, or even a needle and thread to attach them to a final mounting sheet. Then, you should copy any information that you wrote down at their initial collection so that all the information can be stored together. Make sure to include at least the date of collection, the place it was picked, and the species name if you know it. 
Two pressed leaves and a pressed flower on a white sheet of paper. Text on the paper reads, "top of leaf" (next to one of the leaves, "underside of leaf" (next to the other), and "April 25, 2020, West Philadelphia a weed on the sidewalk possible a violet."
Pressed plant herbarium submitted to Elaine Ayers’ Quarantine Herbarium

Further resources for Herbarium preparation: 

Ayers, Elaine. “Quarantine Herbarium: A Record of Nature from Home, Produced during COVID-19,” March 2020.

“Pressing and Collecting Samples.” How to press plants and make herbarium collections RHS Gardening. The Royal Horticultural Society . Accessed December 3, 2020. 

“Making Good Specimens.” Herbarium. Utah State University. Accessed December 3, 2020. 

 Tucker, Arthur O.; Calabrese, Lou, Williams, Francis R.  The Use and Methods of Making a Herbarium/Plant Specimens An Herb Society of America Guide. The Herb Society of America, 2005. Bridson, Diane, and Leonard Forman. The Herbarium Handbook. Third Editioned. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens, 2013.

Thanks, Ella, for an informative series of articles. Be sure to check back for updates on the Mütter Herbarium project as well as more articles from The Center for Education of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

The Mütter Herbarium: Part 2 – A History of Herbaria

Hello, loyal readers, and welcome to part two of our three-part article series on the Mütter Herbarium, a new project for the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden. If you missed part one, wherein guest writer Ella Serpell explained the history of herbaria, you can read it here. These articles coincide with the anniversary of the death of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.

As discussed in Part 1 of this series on herbaria, the Mütter Museum plans to start the Mütter Herbarium preserving the plants in the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Garden and recording them on herbarium sheets. While Part 1 reflected on what is included in many herbaria and what will be included in ours, Part 2 will focus on summarizing some of the historical origins and uses for herbaria, as well as their future. 

People have tried to dry or preserve flowers and plant materials for much of history. However, the start of herbarium-like pressing of flowers for scientific study seems to have started in the 16th century. Luca Ghini (1490-1556), an Italian botany professor is credited as being the first person to preserve plants by drying them under pressure. This practice became common among European scientists studying plants. In the 18th century Carl Linneaus (1707-1778) was a practitioner of this method and collected pressed specimens in this way. Frustrated with cataloging and organizing these specimens, he set out to standardize the practice. He standardized the system of mounting each specimen on one large, uniformly-sized paper and by storing them in cabinets that could hold additional materials. Many of the standards he set for storing these sheets are still used by most modern herbaria today. However he did not stop there. He also wanted a standard system for organizing the specimens in the cabinets, and this is what inspired him to create the “Linnaean system” of naming that earned him the title “the Father of Modern Taxonomy”.

Knowing the role herbarium sheets played in the creation of this system, it is interesting to reflect on what attributes were used in early taxonomy to distinguish and categorize species. Many taxonomic classifications are based mostly on morphological attributes, like the number of petals on a flower or the shape of a fish’s fin, especially in historical times. These are the types of attributes that would be preserved well in plants on a herbarium sheet. 

Herbarium sheet from Musée national d'histoire naturelle Luxembourg.
Herbarium sheet from Musée national d’histoire naturelle Luxembourg. (Image Source: Musée national d’histoire naturelle Luxembourg, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0, no changes made)

Also in the 16th century, roughly the same time Luca Ghini was preserving plant matter for the study of botany, the Japanese art of oshibana, arranging dried pressed flowers into art, was being developed. When European trade with Japan expanded, many people in Victorian England were already interested in flowers for artistic decoration and turning pressed flowers into artistic pieces became very popular. This artistic interest in pressing flowers may have helped to fuel the popularity of amateur plant collecting in botany as well as advances in the technique and technology used for plant pressing.  

Plant leaves arranged to form the shape of a cat in a forest.
Example of Oshibana Art made with dried plant parts (Image Source: 鄧盈玉 [DENG Yingyu], Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, no changes made)

For both casual flower pressings for beauty and academic herbarium specimens, part of the appeal was their ease of transport. Sending a friend or a fellow academic a pressed plant helped establish and maintain social networks. Distinctions between a casual pressing and scientific collection became increasingly important to botanists working with plants academically. This process of distinguishing “amateur” botanists from professional academic botanists was often used to exclude and minimize the contributions of certain participants in botany, such as Victorian women, who were some of the most avid collectors. Despite this, botany remained one of the most accessible fields for “amateurs,” especially if they lived in an unusual location. By including these ‘amateur’ individuals into the social network of botanists, botanists living in Europe could get sent specimens from all over the world. However, they rarely received much credit for any discoveries made using their specimens. 

In a similar way, many botanists and scientists living in Philadelphia maintained relationships with respected scientists in Europe. At the time of the founding of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, medicinal plants were an integral part of the medical profession, much more than in modern medicine, and many of the early physicians who were Fellows at The College were also trained in botany and were part of these international networks. It is worth remembering that in 1787, the year the college was founded, the founders were residents of a country that had been independent for only 4 years. So many of these relationships had begun within the framework of an English colony and English botanists exchanging information about two parts of one Empire. Because of the English desire to understand the flora of their colonies, there was increased interest in receiving novel American plant specimens. In exchange, American botanists received European plant specimens, and/or the latest news and theories being discussed in European Universities.  

Though herbaria were particularly important during the colonial era, it is important to remember that they are not only historical artifacts or obsolete tools. Herbaria are still kept by many universities and institutions for botanical research. They can still be used in a similar way as they were historically, but the digital age has allowed for some larger scale examinations which would never have been possible in colonial times. Instead of looking at one sheet and specimen at a time, or several sheets at one herbarium, scientists can look at thousands of accessible digitized collections from around the country and the world, all from their offices. This can allow them to study population level information, such as analyzing geographical distribution of species using the collection locations of many sheets or comparative flowering times by using the date of collection of specimens that were flowering at the time. Some projects have even used crowdsourcing and citizen science initiatives to help scientists analyze large numbers of sheets. This can allow for robust population level statistical analysis that would be difficult for one person to achieve. In addition, there is modern research that can be done on the DNA or other elements of the chemical composition of the plant material contained in the herbarium sheet. Techniques like this keep herbaria a relevant part of modern botanical research today. 

Now that you know a little more about the history and modern usage, You might want to try your hand at making your own herbarium sheet. Next week we will post Part 3 of this series, a quick summary of the steps to do it yourself, as well as links to more herbarium resources. 


Ayers, Elaine. “Quarantine Herbarium: A Record of Nature from Home, Produced during COVID-19,” March 2020.

Ayers, Elaine. “Marking Time in Nature: The Quarantine Herbarium in Historical Perspective,” Online presentation for the Wagner Free Institute, July 8th 2020. 

Bleichmar, Daniela. Visible empire: Botanical expeditions and visual culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment. University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Endersby, Jim. Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2010. 

Harshberger, John. The Botanists of Philadelphia and Their Work. Philadelphia: TC Davis and sons, 1899.

Sbrosious. “Pressed Flowers: History and Tutorial.” Pressed Flowers History and Tutorial. Western Reserve Historical Society, April 22, 2020. 

Spellman, Katie V., and Christa P. H. Mulder. “Validating Herbarium-Based Phenology Models Using Citizen-Science Data.” BioScience66, no. 10 (2016): 897–906. 

Verlinde, Sarah. “History and Modern Uses of a Herbarium.” UW Bothell Herbarium, October 2016.