A Chronology of Bacteriology-Microbiology at the Jefferson Medical College – Thomas Jefferson University 1849 to 1972
James A. Poupard, Ph.D., Archive Committee, Eastern Pennsylvania Branch of the American Society for Microbiology. April 2016.
The Jefferson Medical College was founded in 1824 by a group of physicians lead by George McCellan, and was located in the old Tivoli Theater on Prune Street, with a dispensary to give students experience in dealing with patients. The first class was graduated in 1826. The Medical College later made agreements for students to gain clinical experience at Blockley and Pennsylvania Hospitals. In 1877, a detached hospital was constructed. Although Jefferson started as a rather small medical school, in competition with the well-established University of Pennsylvania Medical School, it attracted gifted teachers and became a driving force in Philadelphia by competing with the University of Pennsylvania for top, younger, faculty members. This including Penn faculty members who were frustrated since older faculty members there held long standing key positions. As the century unfolded, the competition and presence of two college-based medical schools benefited both institutions. The introduction of bacteriology into the Jefferson Medical School curriculum was a gradual process.
Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter included a detailed discourse on syphilis and gonorrhea to the medical students.
Carlos Juan Finlay (1833-1915) enrolled as a first year medical student with J. K. Mitchell as his preceptor. After graduating in 1855 he returned to Cuba and wrote several manuscripts on tropical diseases. In 1881, he was credited for making the association of the Aedes aegypti mosquito with Yellow Fever.
One of the five “first-generation Philadelphia bacteriologists” Lawrence Flick (1856-1938) graduated from Jefferson in 1879 and interned at Blockley Hospital. He adopted the eradication of TB as his lifetime cause. In 1892, he founded the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Tuberculosis, the first tuberculosis society in the United States.
Michael V. Ball, a medical student, states that there was no bacteriology taught at Jefferson; but on one occasion, Jacob M. DaCosta introduced Julius Salinger, who had just returned from Berlin. He remembered Salinger drawing the “comma bacillus” on the blackboard during his presentation. He later remembered that he was instructed how to stain for bacteria in clinical specimens while at Jefferson.
Michael V. Ball, a 1889 Jefferson graduate, became the first Philadelphian to publish a comprehensive book on bacteriology, Essentials of Bacteriology, which became a popular text used by medical students and early bacteriologists for many years.
W. M. L. Coplin, Demonstrator of Pathology, began weekly lectures in bacteriology and hygiene. The subject continued as part of the Pathology Department until 1909.
J. M. DaCosta and D. Brandon Kyle conducted a private clinical laboratory in which bacteriology examinations were made, and some private instructions given, but it was not part of a real college course.
A Jefferson catalogue mentions one lecture a week, and one demonstration a week, in “Bacteriology and Clinical Microscopy” for second-year students. Joseph McFarland assumes that they were given by W. M. L. Coplin and assisted by Alonzo H. Stewart, who was Demonstrator of Clinical Microscopy.
Alonzo H. Stewart, graduated from Jefferson in 1892, and became Demonstrator of Microscopy. In 1895, he invented the Stewart cover-glass forceps for use in staining bacteria, these forceps are still in use today for various laboratory techniques,
Coplin became Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology. This appears to be the year that regular instruction in bacteriology began.
Bacteriology was taught two days a week for six weeks by Coplin, with David Biven and Randle C. Rosenberger as assistants. Alonzo Stewart taught the course when Coplin was absent. Rosenberg became Assistant Demonstrator of Morbid Anatomy and Bacteriology, and a year later (1898) Assistant Pathologist at Jefferson Hospital.
Randle C. Rosenberger (1873-1944) was made Associate in Bacteriology in 1903 and Assistant Professor of Bacteriology the next year.
Dr. Carlos. Finlay was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Science by Jefferson for his work on Yellow Fever and other contributions to the study of infectious diseases.
Bacteriology was separated from pathology in 1909. W. Coplin remained in the pathology department and Randle C. Rosenberger became Professor of Bacteriology. Rosenberger was first to hold the chair of the Department of Bacteriology and Hygiene when it was formed in 1909, a position he retained until his death in 1944.
John A. Roddy, a Jefferson graduate (1907) became Demonstrator and in 1915, Associate in Bacteriology. In 1917 he published a book on Medical Bacteriology, for medical practitioners and pharmacists.
The bacteriology laboratory course was taught to first year students and the number of hours dedicated to the study of bacteriology was greatly increased.
R. Rosenberger succeeded David Bergey and became the second president of the Eastern PA Chapter of the Society of American Bacteriologists.
The department name was changed to Preventive Medicine and Bacteriology.
The department name was changed to the Department of Bacteriology, and once again the number of course hours was increased.
A separate lecture and laboratory course was introduced. Upon the death of Professor Rosenberger, William A. Kreidler temporarily succeeded him as Professor of Bacteriology.
Kenneth Goodner became the second Chairman of Bacteriology and Immunology; he held this position until 1967.
The School of Graduate Studies was established, with an initial focus on the study of cholera, and included advanced degrees in anatomy, bacteriology and immunology in its curriculum.
Lolita Parnell, Ph.D. became Assistant Professor of Bacteriology and Immunology. She was the first woman to be full-time Professor at Jefferson.
The first woman to graduate from the Thomas Jefferson Medical College was Sonia Ernestine Schorr, who was award a master’s degree in bacteriology that year.
The name of the department was changed to the Department of Microbiology.
Russell W. Shaedler became the third Chairman of Microbiology, and held this position until retirement in 1991.
The formation of the College of Allied Health Sciences began a movement at Jefferson toward the integration of other health professions into the Jefferson curriculum.
Jefferson formally became Thomas Jefferson University.
The department offered a Clinical Master’s Program. This program fulfilled the need for supervisor level Clinical Microbiologists and supplied this specialty for Clinical Microbiology laboratory personnel for a significant number of local and national hospital laboratories. The program was brought about by Drs. Eileen Randall and Robert Mandle, and graduated the first class of 15 students in 1974.
SUMMARY: Jefferson Medical College and the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania are the two Philadelphia institutions that made significant contributions in establishing Bacteriology as a recognized separate scientific discipline in the early days of its development in the United States. The presence of these two medical schools helped to establish Philadelphia as an early center for the teaching of Bacteriology and Microbiology to a variety of students. Microbiologists associated with Jefferson played a significant role in establishing the founding of the Eastern PA Branch of ASM, starting from the Branch predecessor organization, the so called Philadelphia “Bug Club.” Six Branch Presidents have been associated with Jefferson, and Jefferson associated microbiologists have chaired several of the Branch committees since the official founding in 1920.
It should also be noted that in 2015, through the joint-efforts of the Branch Archive Committee and Jefferson University Archivist, Michael F. Angelo, the Branch Archives are now housed in the Scott Memorial Library of Thomas Jefferson University; and a year later the monthly Branch meetings were once again moved back to the Jefferson campus.
1. Russell W. Schaedler, Department of Microbiology, in Jefferson History, Thomas Jefferson University – tradition and heritage, ed. Frederick B. Wagner, Jr. 1989.
2. James A. Poupard, A History of Microbiology in Philadelphia 1880 to 2010 – Including a Detailed History of the Eastern Pennsylvania Branch of the ASM from 1920 to 2010. 2010. Xlibris Corp., Bloomington, IN.
3. Joseph McFarland, The Beginning of Bacteriology in Philadelphia. Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, 1937, 5:149-198
4. Thomas Jefferson University – A Chronological History and Alumni Directory, 1824-1990, Edited by Frederick B. Wagner, Jr., MD, and J. Woodrow Savacool, MD, 1992.