A Brief History of P&S and Columbia

P&S Building 1817-1837 "Historical Sketch of the College" by J.C. Dalton

P&S was chartered in 1807 in fulfillment of a law passed by the New York Legislature in 1791. The first lectures began on November 7, 1807. According to John Shrady, who wrote a history of P&S in 1903, 1811 marked the second phase in the history of the college. In that year, it was decided that P&S should merge with the Medical Department of Columbia College, given the shrinking number of students at Columbia. From 1793 – 1813, the department graduated only 35 students. From 1807 – 1810, two MDs graduated.  In 1811, four years after P&S opened, its first class graduated—totaling eight students. The administration just consisted of eight men, five of whom were professors. In order to graduate, candidates had to submit and defend a thesis on a topic of their choosing and were subsequently orally examined by the faculty on a standard set of course material.

P&S was located in a small building on Pearl Street, which the College officers criticized in January 1813 as being “ineligibly situated.” In agreement, the Regents approved the sale of the existing building, and later in 1813, the school moved into Number 3 Barclay Street, a former three-story tall warehouse. After the move to the new building, there was a steady increase in the number of students. In the 1814-5 session, P&S enrolled 121; in 1815-6, 148; and in 1816-7, 192. By 1817, the building had become too small for the growing number of students, and it was renovated, doubling in size. In 1820, the Regents said that the college was “in a state of rapid improvement.” That year, there were more than two hundred students, and by 1822, it was noted in the yearly circular that students were moving to study at P&S from other states.

John C. Dalton's 1888 speech titled "Historical Sketch of the College" explained the schedule of classes each week—with "five lectures [] given in the College every day." A circular from 1818 lists the classes that were taught, a schedule that was likely similar to that of 1808. In the forenoon, Dr. Hosack taught Theory of Practice and Physic, Dr. Mott taught Principles and Practice of Surgery (10-11AM), and Dr. Post taught Anatomy, Physiology, and Surgery. In the afternoon, Dr. Mitchill taught Natural History, Dr. Macneven taught Chemistry and Materia Medica, and Dr. Hosack taught Obstetrics and the Diseases of Women and Children. It was in these classes that ideas about race were cultivated and taught. 

A Brief History of P&S and Columbia