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The Forgotten Founders of Drexel Institutions

January 05 2017

The three founders of Hahnemann Medical College, started in 1848: Constantine Hering, MD; Jacob Jeanes, MD; and Water Williamson, MD.

This article is part of the DrexelNow “Faces of Drexel” series honoring Drexel’s history as part of the University-wide celebration of the 125th anniversary of Drexel’s founding in 1891.

At this point in Drexel’s 125th anniversary year, it’s pretty well known that financier and philanthropist Anthony “Tony” J. Drexel founded Drexel University. But can you name the 13 founders who started three different institutions that later became a part of the University?

There’s the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, of course, which predates Drexel by almost 80 years and is the oldest natural sciences institution in the Western Hemisphere. Equally important, but less easily identifiable, is the fact that Drexel’s College of Medicine, College of Nursing and Health Professions and Dornsife School of Public Health grew out of the Hahnemann Medical College (the first of its kind in America to offer an MD in homeopathy) and the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (the world’s first medical school for women).

Those 19th-century establishments, and their founders, were revolutionary in their time — just like Tony, who founded Drexel to be open to students regardless of gender, race, religion and socioeconomic class. Tony had left $1 million in his will to provide for the expansion of the institution’s art collection or the creation of a Drexel medical hospital (executors chose the former, securing the future of The Drexel Collection). His dreams of providing both educational cultural experiences and medical education were realized more than a century after his 1893 death when Drexel acquired those three institutions. 

It started in 2002, when the University assumed operations for the Allegheny University of Health Sciences and began offering medical training. That acquisition created Drexel schools and colleges that trace their lineage through various mergers and name changes to the aforementioned medical colleges.

The first building in which Hahnemann Medical College and the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania held classes. Photo courtesy Legacy Center Archives, Drexel College of Medicine.
The first building in which Hahnemann Medical College and the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania held classes. Photo courtesy Legacy Center Archives, Drexel College of Medicine.

Hahnemann Medical College, founded as the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania, dates back to 1848 and was the first successful school in the United States to train students in homeopathy. That alternative medical system was developed by 18th-century German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who objected to the medicine of the day as well as the impurity of drugs and imprecision in their combination.

The school has three founders: Constantine Hering, MD (1800–1880); Jacob Jeanes, MD (1800–1877) and Walter Williamson, MD (1811–1870).

Both Jeanes and Williamson were local Quakers, orthodox physicians and graduates from the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school who had heard about homeopathy in some way and began teaching themselves its practices. German-born Hering, known as the “Father of American Homoeopathy,” first heard about homeopathy when he was asked to write a book denouncing the practice and instead became its fervent supporter. He graduated with a medical degree from the University of Würzburg and immigrated to Philadelphia in 1833 — in part because of his connections with the Academy of Natural Sciences.

The faculty and president of Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania at its founding in 1850. Photo courtesy Legacy Center Archives, Drexel College of Medicine.
The faculty and president of Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania at its founding in 1850. Photo courtesy Legacy Center Archives, Drexel College of Medicine.

All three men were involved with the school after the founding. Williamson taught obstetrics and medical classes for a decade; Jeanes taught principles and practice of medicine during its first year but resigned to better maintain his own practice. Hering, the most famous and distinguished scholar of the three, filled chairs at the school but rarely taught classes, instead promoting the school through his name and works.

Coincidentally, the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania held its first classes in the same building at 229 Arch St., which first housed the homeopathic school. Originally started as the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1850, the women’s school was founded by a group of progressive-thinking Quakers and businessmen involved in 19th-century movements including abolition, temperance, education and prison reform — and women’s rights.

The three main founders generally accepted to be involved are Bartholomew Fussell, MD (1794–1871), a Quaker and successful practitioner; Joseph S. Longshore, MD (1809–1879), a Quaker and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; and William J. Mullen (1805­–1882), a jeweler who engaged in dentistry before making his fortune and subsequently devoting his time and money to prison reform and other reform movements.

A painting of Gerard Troost, one of the more prominent founders of the Academy of Natural Sciences. “Gerard Troost (1776-1850)" by Charles Willson Peale. Oil on canvas. ANSP 2011-042
A painting of Gerard Troost, one of the more prominent founders of the Academy of Natural Sciences. “Gerard Troost (1776-1850)" by Charles Willson Peale. Oil on canvas. ANSP 2011-042

Fussell came up with the idea for the world’s first female medical college in the 1840s, though he had little to do with the school’s eventual founding. Mullen served as the first president while Longshore became secretary and a founding faculty member. It’s clear that while these men led the charge, there were disenfranchised women, including future barrier-breaking students, who supported and encouraged the school’s founding.

Those two enterprising medical schools became a part of Drexel history about nine years before the University became affiliated with the Academy of Natural Sciences.

The Academy was started by seven amateur naturalists in 1812: Gerard Troost, MD (1776­–1850), a Dutch naturalist, medical doctor, mineralogist and the Academy’s first president; Nicholas S. Parmentier (1776–1835), a former officer in Napoleon’s army who emigrated to the U.S. in 1805 and worked in the distilling and manufacture of spermaceti; Camillus MacMahon Mann, an Irish physician; Jacob Gilliams (1783–1868), a second-generation dentist whose father had treated President George Washington; John Shinn Jr. (1784­–1825), a manufacturing chemist from New Jersey; John Speakman (1783–1854), a Quaker apothecary; and Quaker Thomas Say (1787–1834), Speakman’s business partner and a self-taught entomologist, conchologist and explorer.

Founders' signatures from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia Constitutional Act from 1812. Photo courtesy ANSP Archives coll. 527.
Founders' signatures from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia Constitutional Act from 1812. Photo courtesy ANSP Archives coll. 527.

Those men established the school for “the encouragement and cultivation of the sciences and the advancement of useful learning,” according to its founding charter.

It’s likely that the University’s founder — a pragmatic yet innovative thinker who spent years researching schools before founding his own — would have been well aware of these exceptional educational centers during his lifetime. One can only hope that their founders, who all died before the University was founded, would be pleased to discover that the institutions continue to not only exist, but still offer the highest educational experiences more than 200 or 150 years later.