The Start of a Medical College

Wood engraving of the College of Physicians and Surgeons

College of Physicians and Surgeons, 1839.

In 1813, the only two medical schools in New York, the College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Medical Department of Columbia University, merged into one body under the former’s name. This created a monopoly on medical education in New York State and caused the first ripple that eventually led to the creation of Geneva Medical College. A group of medical practitioners feared this lack of competition would lead to inflated tuition and an overall weakening of the medical education system, so they started their own medical college.

Expressing his dissatisfaction with the merger in 1813 and the lack of governmental action by the state to interfere, Dr. David Hosack withdrew from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, along with doctors Valetine Mott, William MacNeven, John Francis, and John Griscom, to establish a new medical school. Dr. Hosack was a prominent physician who had garnered notoriety when he was handpicked to be the physician present at the infamous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and tended to Hamilton after he was fatally shot in the 1804 duel.

As a wealthy and well-established doctor, Dr. Hosack funded this new medical school in New York City almost entirely out of his own pocket, believing that his prestige would draw medical students and lead to rapid growth. To legitimize the medical school and be granted the ability to confer medical degrees (which also acted as a license to practice medicine in New York State), Dr. Hosack petitioned the Board of Regents, the state’s governing body of higher education, to charter this new medical school under the name of Manhattan College. This created a political flurry in the New York State medical community as some saw it as an opportunity to break the monopoly. Others believed this new medical school threatened to draw money and resources away from the College of Physicians and Surgeons and fiercely opposed charting the new institution. This politicization of the charter caused Dr. Hosack’s petition to be effectively killed in the State Assembly.

The Start of a Medical College