1920s - 1950s

1960 to 2005




Tulane & Charity

History of Tulane SOM

The Prospectus

The Registre

Famous Alumni


The Founding of Tulane University School of Medicine

In 1834, the Medical College of Louisiana was founded by three American physicians new to the city: Dr. Thomas Hunt, of South Carolina, Dr. Warren Stone, of Vermont, and Dr. John Harrison, of Washington, D.C. All three men were twenty-six years old or younger. The announcement of the founding of the school created quite a stir among the establishment French and Creole physicians. Three young Americans, new to the city, had announced they would found a new medical college with lectures entirely in English. In addition, Stone and Hunt became house surgeons at Charity, shaping medical practices during their tenure and giving more weight to the commonly held impression of Americans “taking over” medical education in the city.

The school opened in January 1835. The first lecture was delivered by Dr. Hunt in the Strangers Unitarian Church thanks to the kindness of Parson Theodore Clapp. Classes were taught in a variety of locations including Charity Hospital, which was “open every day for the attendance of the students.” The first course of study ended in April 1835, to high acclaim. The first medical degrees granted in the South were conferred in April of 1836 by Dean Charles Luzenberg.

In 1840 a house was rented next to Charity Hospital that allowed for all the medical lectures to take place in one room. A prospectus from this time brags a fact that has held true for all of Charity’s history: “In the Surgical Department, the advantages of this College rank those of all others in the Union. The number of wounds, fractures, dislocations, and other injuries, and disease requiring the frequent exercise of Operative Surgery, admitted into the Wards of the New Orleans Hospital, will be found on examination to exceed that of any other in America.”

1843, the relationship between the medical college and Charity was cemented even further. In that year the college petitioned the Louisiana Legislature to grant them land in order to build a medical school building, with the provision that the faculty would care for the patients of Charity free of charge for ten years. Thus began the Tulane’s official involvement with Charity Hospital. The tradition of providing attending physicians to Charity free of charge continued into the 1960’s. The request was granted, and the first permanent medical college building was erected at a cost of $15,000. It contained a lecture room, a chemical laboratory, a library and reading room, a museum, an amphitheater, and a dissecting room on the top floor.

In 1847, the Louisiana Legislature established the University of Louisiana, and the Medical College of Louisiana was assumed into the school, becoming the Medical Department of the University of Louisiana. The reputation of the new medical school grew quickly, and enrollment continued to accelerate over the years leading up to the Civil War.

The faculty relations of the young physicians in these early years were not without tumult. Dr. Hunt, the first dean of the medical school, criticized a newspaper editor named J. W. Frost in 1851 over a political affair. Frost subsequently challenged Hunt to a duel, to which he agreed. The men met south of the city and fired shotguns at each other. Hunt’s second round wounded Frost in his chest, and he died that day. The dean was never prosecuted. In 1856 two Charity Hospital physicians entered into another acrimonious debate. The argument surrounded a medical student named Weems, who had been shot by a law student at a Mardi Gras ball. Dr. Samuel Choppin, a surgeon at Charity and medical school faculty member, had Weems sent to Charity for care. While there, Weems was seen by Charity’s house surgeon, Dr. John Foster. Foster, as house surgeon, had the right to operate on Weems, and summarily ordered Choppin’s prescriptions for the student discarded. Choppin and Foster had the misfortune to meet at the dying Weem’s bedside while rounding that day. They began to shout and had a “severe fist encounter,” later dueling in the yard of Charity with shotguns. Luckily both missed. Three years later, Foster and Choppin again quarreled over rights to treat a patient, this time a man with a carotid aneurysm. Foster eventually sought out Choppin. Their exchange, described by Salvaggio, is informative:

“Are you looking at me, sir?” asked Choppin, and Foster replied, “Yes, sir, I am looking at you.” “And what do you think of me?” continued Choppin. Foster responded, “I think you are a God-damned scoundrel.” At that instant, both physicians drew their pistols.

Foster shot Choppin through the neck, shearing his jugular vein, and in the hip. Choppin responded by charging Foster with a Bowie knife, at which point medical students stormed both men and broke up the fight. Choppin miraculously survived, and did not press charges against his old rival.

Charity Hospital’s reputation continued to grow, mostly based on the reputation of the medical college’s physicians. A journalist from Harper’s Weekly wrote in 1859 of the “commodiousness of its buildings … the superior skill of its attending physicians, the admirable neatness of its domestic appliances, and the impartial catholicity of its administration…” Visitors marveled at the sight of medical students witnessing surgery in the amphitheatre. The Harper’s Weekly journalist described Dr. Stone, “that veteran man of the knife” and one of the founders of the medical college, as he performed an amputation for medical students: “with cuffs thrown back, eye all ablaze, and lips firmly clinched, he prepares to make the adroit thrust… the sudden flash of polished steel; the dull, muffled sound of the yielding flesh, the spirt of blood… the sharp cry of the patient… these are the outlines of a picture that thrills and terrifies the uninitiated beholder."

Charity at this time was probably the largest hospital in the world, with 1,000 beds, 200 more than the eminent Hotel Dieu in Paris.

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