“P&S” 1767-2017: 250 Years of the College of Physicians and Surgeons

An Exhibit from Archives & Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library

Hammer Health Sciences Building, Lower Level 2

July 20-December 20, 2017

“P&S” 1767-2017: 250 Years of the College of Physicians and Surgeons tells the story of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, which opened 250 years ago this November. 

In 1767, when King’s College established a medical school, the United States was still unborn, New York was a city of about 20,000, and most of what we know as “modern medicine” – anesthesia, the germ theory of disease, even the stethoscope – had yet to be discovered.   Americans who wanted to study medicine either had to apprentice to a practitioner for several years or make the perilous journey to Europe for a lengthy and expensive university education.

The founders of what is now P&S hoped to encourage the medical profession in the Thirteen Colonies by giving students the chance to acquire a thorough medical education without having to leave home. Their school was a success: in 1769 two graduates were awarded the Bachelor of Medicine degree and the next year King’s awarded the first M.D. in what is now the United States.

The exhibit tells the story of the medical school thematically rather than in strict chronological order, with a focus on historical turning points, distinguished alumni and faculty, buildings, teaching and learning, and, of course, student life. 

Included in the over 60 items on display are a facsimile of the original 1767 petition to King’s College requesting the founding of a medical faculty; a photo of some of the first female students admitted in 1917; student notes of lectures given by founder Samuel Bard in 1774; a report of the 1813 Building Committee noting that the cost for furnishing the College’s new quarters was a whopping $9,298.63; 19th century student admission tickets; a 1940 Bard Hall cafeteria menu; a broadside listing all the students in attendance during the 1809/10 academic year; and many other documents and photos from the Health Sciences Library’s Archives & Special Collections.

The exhibit runs through December 20, 2017, and can be seen on Lower Level 2 of the Hammer Health Sciences Building which has 24/7 access.  Hammer is open to anyone with a valid Columbia University or NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital ID. Others desiring to see the exhibit should contact Archives & Special Collections at hslarchives@columbia.edu to arrange for admission.

The exhibit was curated by Stephen E. Novak, Head, Archives & Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library.