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Penn History

Tickets to the Healing Arts: Medical Lecture Tickets of the 18th and 19th Centuries


For more than the first century of formal medical education in America, medical schools were proprietary in nature. The faculty, a collection of independent entrepreneurs, collected fees directly from medical students and in return, issued them tickets for admission to their course of lectures. Individual professors paid whatever overhead was due, such as rent, to the dean or provost and kept the remainder as profits. With few exceptions, this system prevailed at both private and university-affiliated schools. Trustees could veto the appointment of a faculty member, but otherwise medical faculty ran the medical schools, controlling admissions, the curriculum and graduation standards.

Medical lecture tickets dating as far back as the 1760s survive as physical evidence of this proprietary system of medical education. The tickets were meant to be ephemeral, a paper that admitted a medical student to a course on the road to becoming a physician, but unlike a diploma, nothing intended for longevity. Fortunately, a significant number of students kept their tickets as mementos and over time, a lesser but still significant number of those keepsakes survive in private and institutional collections, much to the delight of archivists, scholars, medical historians, interested physicians and others with curiosity.

Just like archaeological artifacts hold clues to past civilizations, medical lecture tickets proffer admission to a much larger story. They help trace the evolution of medical education in America, from the founding of the first medical school in 1765, to a system that fostered an abundance of 19th-century substandard schools and practitioners, to reforms that paved the way for the first-rate medical training of clinicians, educators and scientists in the 20th century and beyond. The tickets document institutions — some that came and went, some that represent different philosophies about the healing arts. They evidence curriculum that changed to embrace new ideas and technologies for the medical sciences.

As with all artifacts, medical lecture tickets essentially tell stories about people. Professors who issued the tickets and medical students who purchased them were individuals of diverse medical, historical, military, cultural and human interest and accomplishment. This catalogue unfolds nearly 200 of their stories from 100 tickets selected from the vast ticket collection of the University of Pennsylvania Archives and Records Center.

Tickets to the Healing Arts, divided into three sections, begins with a narrative exploring the provenance of the University Archives’ medical lecture ticket collection, a description and analysis of the tickets, and a historical context for their interpretation. The second section, the core of the catalogue, consists of photographs and text for 100 tickets organized alphabetically by institution. Each entry is notated with a catalogue number, name of institution, date, names of issuer and recipients, and course subject. Catalogue numbers are cross-referenced throughout the book using parentheses and italics, for example (12). The third section functions as a comprehensive index of the 1,150 tickets in the University Archives’ collection. For ease of reference the comprehensive index is divided into two parts: Index A for University of Pennsylvania lecture tickets and Index B for lecture tickets from all other institutions.