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Symposium will highlight medical history of Transylvania University, Lexington, and the Ohio River Valley

LEXINGTON, Ky.—Representatives from the Smithsonian Institution and the Filson Club of Louisville will join approximately 60 physicians, historians, and teachers on Wednesday, August 8, to take part in a day-long symposium at Transylvania University focusing on the historically significant early 19th-century heritage of Transylvania’s medical school, along with that of Lexington and the Ohio River Valley.

Founded in 1799 as the first medical college west of the Allegheny Mountains, the Transylvania medical department trained more than 6,400 of America’s early physicians before its closing in 1859. These doctors played an important role in spreading the practice of medicine throughout the South and Southwest as the nation expanded westward.

“Transylvania’s medical school had a national presence and was spoken of in the same breath as its sister institutions at Pennsylvania, Columbia, Harvard and Dartmouth,” said Transylvania President Charles L. Shearer. “This symposium will shed light on the pioneering role the university played in early American medical education.”

The symposium will have a regional character, with participants from throughout Kentucky as well as from Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee. In addition to the Smithsonian and Filson Club, the historic Locust Grove home in Louisville and the Fordham Sciences Library at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, will send representatives.

Eric H. Christianson, associate professor and director of graduate studies in history and holder of a joint appointment in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Kentucky, will speak on medical training at Transylvania and the early medical history of Lexington from 1795-1859.

Transylvania physics professor James C. Day, curator of the University’s Monroe Moosnick Medical and Science Museum, will discuss the rare and valuable collection of scientific instruments, anatomical models, and botanical paintings that were used for instruction in the medical college as well as for general teaching in physics, chemistry, and biology. When the museum was being planned in 2001, a visiting Smithsonian specialist judged Transylvania’s collections to be among the finest in the nation for this time period.

Charles T. Ambrose, professor in the department of microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics at the UK College of Medicine, will talk on the medical history of the Ohio River Valley during the 18th and 19th centuries. Ambrose is co-sponsoring the symposium, along with Transylvania.

Following morning presentations, two of the afternoon tours will include the Moosnick Museum and a drive-by look at historic buildings and locations in Lexington that pertain to the city’s medical history, including the cholera epidemic of 1833.


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