Medicine at Yale, 1810 - 1910

Prelude to a Transformation: 1900-1910

The Medical School in the first decade of the 20th century

At the Bicentennial celebration of Yale University in 1901, William Henry Welch, Dean of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, suggested that the the Medical Department of Yale University needed considerable improvement. The school was still housed in inadequate quarters at 150 York Street (see 1908 Yearbook in this section). The medical course was four years long, as it is today, but college education was not yet a prerequisite for admission. Although students could observe operations by faculty in the hospital New Haven Hospital, the medical school had no official relation to the hospital. Most clinical education was carried out in the New Haven Dispensary which moved to the Hope Building in 1901. During the first decade of the century, the Medical School began to move parts of its operations to Cedar Street, across the street from the original Hospital entrance. The decade ended with the Flexner Report making it evident that the school would need an inufsion of funds and a formal association with a hospital if it was going to survive.

Herbert E. Smith, Dean of the Medical School, 1885-1910

Herbert Eugene Smith was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1882. Upon graduation, he became instructor in chemistry at Yale and, three years later, he was promoted to professor of chemistry. He spent the year 1883 studying at the University of Heidelberg. Smith became dean in 1885 when Medical School was at it lowest ebb in both students and resources. The survival of the school was in question. Under his leadership, entrance requirements were tightened, the course of study lengthened to four years and the curriculum expanded, and a beginning was made to achieve a closer connection to the New Haven Hospital. After twenty-five years of service as dean, Smith was moved aside in 1910 in the wake of the Flexner Report, to be replaced by George Blumer.

William Henry Welch (1850-1934) and the Yale Bicentennial

William Henry Welch was the keynote speaker for medicine at the celebration of Yale's Bicentennial in 1901. Born in Norfolk, Connecticut, Welch came from a family of physicians who had gotten their degrees from Yale. His father, William Wickham Welch, received his M.D. from Yale in 1839. William Henry Welch attended Yale College in 1870, but chose to go to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, where he received his M.D. in 1875. He prepared himself for a research career in New York and then spent two years studying in Germany with Koch and his disciples. In 1884 he became Professor of Pathology at Johns Hopkins and in 1893 the first Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Johns Hopkins, with its requirement of a bachelor's degree for admission, its integral relation to its Hospital, its clinical clerkship program, and its dedication to medical research, set the standard for medical schools in the U.S.

Welch's Bicentennial Address

Welch's address, "Yale in Relation to Medicine." was delivered at Battell Chapel on October 21, 1901. Although Welch praised the dedication of the Yale medical faculty for its continued efforts to raise the standards of medical education, he suggested that Yale had a long way to go before it could be considered a great medical school. He concluded: "…medical teaching and research can no longer be successfully carried on with the meagre appliances of the past. They require large endowments, many well equipped and properly supported laboratories, and a body of well paid teachers thoroughly trained in their special departments. With an ampler supply of such opportunities as these there is every reason to believe that the Yale Medical Department would take that important position in the great forward march of modern medicine to which its origin, its honorable history, and the fame of this ancient University entitle it. May the next Jubilee find medicine holding a high position in Yale University."

Yearbook, 1908, Showing Medical Hall

Medical Hall at 150 York Street had been the home of the Medical School since 1860. The building, torn down in 1957, stood at the approximate location of today's Chapel-York Garage.

This image was published in the medical student yearbook for 1908. Student yearbooks were published for many, but not all, years of the first decade of the 20th century. The last yearbook in this series dates from 1911. Possibly rising standards and smaller classes led to the demise of yearbooks until recent years.

Russell Chittenden, Professor of Physiology in the Medical School

Russell Henry Chittenden, Professor of Physiological Chemistry from 1882 to 1922, and Director of the Sheffield Scientific School from 1898 to 1922, was also appointed Professor of Physiology in the Medical School in 1900. He was born in New Haven, graduated from Yale in 1875, and after spending a year studying in Heidelberg, returned to Yale where he received his Ph.D. in physiological chemistry. A prolific and influential author, his research focused primarily on various aspects of the chemistry of digestion, particularly proteolytic processes, and the intermediate products and enzymes involved. He was one of the founding members of the American Physiological Society in 1887 and served as its third president. In 1906 he became the first president of the American Society for Biological Chemists.

In this 1903 group picture of Chittenden, his associates, and graduate students, Chittenden is in the front row, third from the left, and Lafayette B. Mendel, his successor, is to his right. Women were admitted to the Yale's Graduate School in 1893, but not yet afmitted to the Medical School.

The New Dispensary Building on Cedar Street (Hope Building)

The Medical School had been affiliated with the New Haven Dispensary which it used for clinical teaching since 1879. In 1901 the Dispensary, formerly located next to the Medical School on York Street, moved to new quarters on the corner of Cedar and Congress Street. The building, still standing and known as the Hope Building, was constructed by Yale and funded by a bequest in memory of Jane Ellen Hope.

Department of Surgery Moves to Cedar Street

From 1908 to 1920 the Department of Surgery was housed in two dwellings at 321 and 323 Cedar Street. Joseph Marshall Flint was Professor of Surgery. The Yale Corporation purchased the block of land on Cedar Street across the street from the (then) entrance to the Hospital.

Medical Class of 1911, Freshman Year in 1907

As standards increased, there was a very large dropout rate among students in classes around 1911. Of 53 students who began the four-year program, only twenty graduated in 1911. The two black students in the photograph were among those who dropped out. After graduating African Americans early in its history, Yale graduated no blacks in medicine after 1903 until 1948. As the Medical School became more closely affiliated with the hospital and medical students did clinical clerkships, the school administration adopted the common racial prejudice that white patients would not want to be treated by black doctors or medical students. The most eminent member of the Class of 1911 was Samuel Clark Harvey, later Professor of Surgery at Yale.

Attempt to Hire Harvey Cushing, 1907

William Henry Welch recommended Harvey Cushing, then at Johns Hopkins working under William Halsted, to succeed William Carmalt as Professor of Surgery at Yale. Cushing, a loyal Yale alumnus, considered Yale's offer seriously but declined it because the Medical School did not have adequate control of clinical facilities at New Haven Hospital.

Flexner Report on Yale, 1910

The Flexner Report of 1910 galvanized the Yale Corporation into taking seriously the need to raise funds to improve the Medical School. With the approval of the American Medical Association, Abraham Flexner, a college graduate of Johns Hopkins and an educator, undertook a muckraking investigation for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching of 155 medical schools in the United States and Canada. Medical reformers were convinced that there were too many schools of low quality producing an overabundance of doctors. Flexner's radical conclusion was that only 31 medical schools were fit to survive. His model of the medical school of the future was Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Yale, though it had serious problems in comparison, was among the schools that Flexner considered redeemable.

Abraham Flexner, Medical education in the United States and Canada; a report to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Bicentennial Celebration, 1910

Although there was much uncertainty about the future of the medical school, alumni celebrated the Centennial of the school at a banquet in June 1910. It was to be the first of two Centennial celebrations, because much was to change in the next few years.

[Previous | Next]