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A guide to Philadelphia's history of medicine

From the March 1997 ACP Observer, copyright © 1997 by the American College of Physicians.

If you're interested in medical attractions, Philadelphia offers a number of locations that offer historical perspective.

All telephone numbers are in the 215 area code unless otherwise noted.

  • The College of Physicians of Philadelphia (19 S. 22nd; 563-3737), which is unaffiliated with ACP, features the Mütter Museum. The museum, which Philadelphia Magazine called "the thinking man's 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre,' " was founded in 1858 and houses part of John Wilkes Booth's thorax, Siamese twins Chang and Eng's communal liver and preserved organs. The museum also features a replica of a doctor's office from the early 1900s and a collection of medical instruments and artifacts. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is currently featuring the exhibit "When the president is the patient," which provides historical perspective on how presidents' health affects the country. Many conditions of past presidents are discussed, including John F. Kennedy's Addison's disease, Woodrow Wilson's many strokes, Franklin D. Roosevelt's heart problems and the tumor secretly excised from Grover Cleveland's jaw. Admission is $8 for adults, with reduced rates for students.
  • Pennsylvania Hospital (800 Spruce; 829-3614), the oldest hospital in the United States, has operated continuously since being founded in 1751. The hospital houses the country's oldest medical amphitheater, which dates back to 1804, and the oldest collection of medical books in the United States.
  • The Hill-Physick-Keith House (321 South Fourth; 925-7866) was home to Dr. Philip Syng Physick, one of the greatest surgeons in America during the early 1800s. Dr. Physick removed cataracts, created a flexible catheter and was the first to use a pump to clean the stomach after poison ingestion. At his restored house in Society Hill, you'll find a collection of antique furniture, artwork and 19th-century medical instruments and news clippings. The house is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $2.
  • The Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (600 S. 43rd; 596-8800), the oldest college of pharmacy in the nation, was founded in 1921. Its Marvin Samson Center for the History of Pharmacy features a collection of pharmaceutical artifacts. Call for an appointment.
  • Bartram's Garden (54th and Lindbergh Blvd.; 729-5281) was the home of colonial botanist John Bartram. He fostered an herbal garden on his grounds that thrives to this day, which he used for making medicines and potions, salves and teas. Visitors can see his grape arbor, seed house, barn, cider press and the house itself, which is filled with books on herbs. Open Wednesday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Tours cost $3 for adults, $2 for children.

Philadelphia on the Web

For more information about the area's activities, cultural events, and restaurants, see:

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