An 1830s matriculation ticket to the Medical College of the State of South Carolina depicting the original Medical College building at the corner of Queen and Franklin Streets surrounded by a ten-foot wall. There is a man and woman in period dress on the Queen Street sidewalk in front of the building, and the man pointing to the entrance of the college with his cane. The Robert Mills-designed Marine Hospital is visible in the background.
After several years of lobbying by the Medical Society of South Carolina, the South Carolina General Assembly authorized the Medical Society to establish the first medical college south of Baltimore on December 20, 1823. Members of the society eagerly and swiftly went to work in Charleston, deciding upon a course of study, selecting faculty, and securing a building behind the Marine Hospital for temporary classrooms. By July 1824, newspaper advertisements announced that the inaugural lectures would commence on Monday, November 8.
A variety of economic, political, and cultural factors prompted their urgency—ranging from a moving speech by Dr. Thomas Cooper that called for the establishment of a school to ensure Southern medical students were imbued “with no notions unsuited to the habits of the South” to the Denmark Vesey alleged slave insurrection. Ultimately, in the founders’ eyes, the time was right to establish a medical school in Charleston where ample medical subjects—that is, the large enslaved population—were available for study. In their view, a distinctly Southern medical school, at which students could better understand diseases and ailments particular to the Southern climate and population, was essential to preserving the mores of slave-owning society.
“Men of Unsullied Reputation” explores not only the complicated historical context of the Medical College of South Carolina’s founding, but also the lives of its founders, the first faculty, and the students who attended the school in those early days. In presenting this history, we hope to situate MUSC in a broader narrative exploring the reality of slavery’s long-term effects in our community and beyond.
Written by Dr. Gabriella Angeloni, MUSC Bicentennial Historian
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