Medical school planning 200th birthday party

UM's yearlong celebration set to feature Patti LaBelle, Garrison Keillor, Dennis Miller

November 30, 2006|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,Sun reporter

The University of Maryland School of Medicine unveiled plans yesterday for a splashy, yearlong celebration to mark the institution's bicentennial.

The school, founded in 1807, is the oldest public medical school in the country. Highlights of the anniversary celebration, which are scheduled to kick off in January, include:

A series of free public lectures at the Hippodrome Theatre with singer Patti LaBelle, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, and retired Oriole Cal Ripken.

A live radio broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor.

A black-tie gala at the Baltimore Convention Center featuring comedian Dennis Miller.

"We have planned a series of events that are second to none," Dr. E. Albert Reece, dean of the school of medicine, said at a news conference.

The history of the school might surprise even longtime city residents, said Larry Pitrof, executive director of the school's Medical Alumni Association.

When it was founded in 1807, yellow fever was one of the nation's biggest killers, the kitchen knife was the surgical instrument of choice and many physicians were quacks.

"The practice of medicine wasn't held in high esteem, like it is today," says Pitrof, who has written a new book on the school's history.

The school was established by Dr. John Beale Davidge, an Annapolis native who trained in Scotland. At the time, there were only four other medical schools in the country, all private. (The first was established at the University of Pennsylvania in 1765.)

Initially, Davidge taught out of his Baltimore home at Liberty and Saratoga streets. In 1812, the school constructed its first lecture hall on West Lombard Street and named it after the founder. Built in an era when dissection was illegal, the building was originally surrounded by a 12-foot-tall brick wall to keep protesters at bay.

The medical school's original name was the College of Medicine of Maryland, said Pitrof. Later, it was rechristened the University of Maryland and it remained the university's main campus until 1920, when the institution merged with an another school and moved its headquarters to College Park.

The hospital wasn't built until 1823. Known as the Baltimore Infirmary, it cost $16,000 and was the first hospital in the U.S. built expressly to train doctors, says Pitrof.

The first class of five graduated from the school in 1810. In May, the school will award medical degrees to 159.

Baltimore, of course, is home to more than one famous training ground for physicians.

"In 1890, another medical school was begun in Baltimore," Reece noted. "But that is a different story, for a different day."

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