Medical Professors and Graduates
A majority of Penn’s early medical school graduates hailed from southern slave-holding states. It is impossible to say whether the geographic origins of the student population influenced the early curriculum’s focus on racialized medicine or whether that curriculum drew students from slaveholding regions. Medical theses, written at the conclusion of a student’s medical education, provide one measure of what they learned. Students wrote about diseases believed to be peculiar to the southern climate, women’s fertility and reproductive ailments, plantation medicine, and race science. After graduation, many students went on to found their own hospitals and medical schools, including several influential schools in southern states. Scientific racism persisted long after slavery ended and continues to influence medical practice today. Traces of racist assumptions can still be found in the fields of women’s health, obstetrics and gynecology, pain management, assessments of lung capacity, and even the norms used as baselines for health.