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March 1, 2006

Department of Surgery: University of Maryland School of Medicine

Arch Surg. 2006;141(3):233-234. doi:10.1001/archsurg.141.3.233

John B. Davidge, MD, (Figure 1) was raised in Annapolis, Md, and traveled to Scotland to obtain his doctor of medicine degree. Scottish medical education was considered the very best by Americans at the time. He moved to Baltimore, Md, in 1796 and established a reputation as a capable surgeon. In 1802, he began offering private lectures in surgery, anatomy, midwifery, and physiology. He was joined in 1804 by James Cocke, a Virginian trained at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) and in London and in 1807 by chemist John Shaw. These 3 men concurred on the need for a quality medical school in Baltimore, which they initiated in November 1807 in a small building built by Davidge specifically for the purpose of giving lectures and demonstrations to students of medicine. A few days after opening, the rumors around Baltimore spread that he was dissecting fresh cadavers. An unruly crowd surrounded his house and smashed in the roof and destroyed the building. The cadaver, a deceased criminal, was dragged off. The incident in large part led to the most distinguished physicians in Baltimore joining together to form a medical school. The beginnings were humble with the physicians personally providing the operating funds. The physicians were, however, able to accomplish a remarkable feat. They induced the legislature of the State of Maryland in 1807 to charter what evolved into the oldest public medical school in the world, the University of Maryland (Figure 2). The 4 surviving older American medical schools (Harvard, Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Dartmouth) are all private institutions. This College of Medicine in Baltimore not only survived its very tenuous early years but went on to become not only the University of Maryland School of Medicine but, in fact, also the entire University of Maryland System, which now encompasses 11 separate universities under its umbrella.

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