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Imagine four years of medical school costing you barely $600. In addition, classes begin in September and end in May. If you wanted to be admitted to this school (without taking an exam in Latin, algebra, physics, and English), an applicant only needed to show that he was a graduate of "a reputable college or high school of the first grade..." No, you’re not dreaming; nor is this an advertisement for some sort of a cut-rate mail-order medical diploma mill. This is a description of Jefferson Medical College at the turn of the last century. Moving from one century to another always provides an opportunity to look back and review the changes that occurred over the last 100 years. Materials in the University Archives illustrate a way of life that no one today remembers. Of particular interest is the yearbook, called the Sesamoid. The class of 1900 was only the second to produce a yearbook and the publication went through several names before settling on today’s title, Clinic. So, just for fun, let’s compare and contrast Jefferson then and Jefferson now. The yearbook for the class of 1900 is available online in the Jefferson Digital Commons, so open another window in your browser and follow along!
Entrance requirements and procedures were quite different back then. According to the 1899-1900 catalog for Jefferson Medical College, if an individual wanted to be admitted without taking any exams, the application must show he is a graduate of "a reputable college or high school of the first grade, or a normal school established by a state authority." Without such qualifications applicants had to pass examinations in English, Arithmetic, Algebra, Physics, and Latin. By 1914, Jefferson required one year of college for entry. During the 1920s college graduates were "preferred" but not until the 1940-1941 session was a four-year degree obligatory. Jefferson was no different than other medical schools of the time. Most school placed the emphasis on what an individual knew when he graduated, not what he knew before he began. So, no MCAT scores to worry about, no letters of recommendation, and probably no personal interviews.
The number of students differs over the 100-year interval. As the graph below shows, class size across the board is higher now than in 1900, but not significantly so -- 638 total students in 1900 versus 894 in 2000. What is interesting is that today, class size is very close for each year, while in the 1900s, class size decreased as one progressed. Also, Jefferson used to have a category titled "special students." These were usually students who had already obtained a MD and attended Jefferson for additional training or re-training or individuals that had a dental degree and were switching to medicine.
Today, especially with clinical rotations during the last two years, medical school seems to have neither a beginning nor end but just keeps going, and going, and ... As the page from the 1899-1900 catalog shows lectures didn’t formally begin until 1 October and were completed by the end of April. However, in all fairness to the students of yesteryear, during the summer break they continued their studies with their preceptors. Preceptors served a mentor role and the students would assist with their cases, operations, etc.
A quick scan through the 1900 yearbook quickly reveals that life at Jefferson did not entirely focus on classes and coursework. Fraternities were just making a presence at Jefferson and included Phi Alpha Sigma (est. 1899); Alpha Kappa Alpha (est. 1900); and Nu Sigma Nu (est. 1900). In addition several surgical societies existed, many formed to honor Jefferson Faculty members such as
W.W. Keen Surgical Society, 1890
H.A. Hare Medical Society, 1891
J.C. Wilson Medical Society, 1892
W.S. Forbes Anatomical League, 1893
Edward P. Davis Obstetric Society, 1899
Henry C. Chapman Physiological Society, 1899
Other organizations at Jefferson included
The Academy, 1897 -- Open only to students who held a four-year college degree
YMCA of Jefferson Medical College, 1889
Ptolemy Society, composed of members of the Masonic Fraternity of the Jefferson Medical College org 1899-1900.
During the 1899-1900 session Jefferson also had several athletic organizations. The football team posted two wins, two losses, and a tie. The College also boasted a baseball team, and an Athletic Association, whose events included wrestling, standing broad jump, standing high kick, as well as an exercise known as the "potato race." Aside from sports, Jeffersonians could participate in an Orchestra (fifteen members) and the Boyle Club. The raison d’être of the Boyle Club is rather uncertain, but with the motto "A Fried Oyster with Every Drink" one suspects it was a "social" club.
Food, always a concern to any student, made an appearance in the yearbook with an advertisement for Jack Hart’s Café. Located on 10th and Sansom Streets, the Café operated from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. The bill of fare listed in the yearbook included items still seen today, such as tenderloin steaks, pork chops, and scrambled eggs. It also contained some items that would be considered unusual today, such as salt mackerel and oyster omelets. At $.30 the tenderloin steak was the most expensive item but for that $.30 a person also received coffee, bread and butter, plus one vegetable.
As mentioned above, most medical schools during the 1800s focused on graduation, not entrance requirements. For the class of 1900 the successful "Candidate for degree of Doctor of Medicine must present a certificate of good moral character, and be at least twenty-one years of age. He must show that he has attended four courses of medical lectures. ... He must have attended at least the final year in this College as a graded student of that year." Students also had to pass either written or oral examinations conducted by a professor from each branch.
While Jefferson has always drawn students from across the United States, the span of 100 years shows geographical differences between graduating classes. Today, the majority of Jefferson grads come from either Pennsylvania or contiguous states. But while the class of 1900 also drew the majority of its members from Pennsylvania, the Midwest supplied significant numbers. Some graduates of 1900 also hailed from Canada, Costa Rica, Nova Scotia, and Cuba.
The greatest differences between the class of 1900 and the class of 2000 involve the value of money for payment of tuition, fees, and housing. For the 1899-1900 session charges included a matriculation fee of $5.00 and a yearly fee for lectures, laboratories, dissections, and clinics of $151.00 per year. That brought the grand total for four years of medical education to $609.00. What a contrast between today’s expenses for four years at $165,443! According to the College Catalog "The personal expenses of the student are at least as low in Philadelphia as in any other large city. Students can board comfortably for from $4 to $5 per week, fire and light included; and those who are willing to live at some distance from the College, or to club together in lodging-rooms, can live a lower rates."
The costs of medical education today do not simply reflect inflation, of course. By using the Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, the 1900 figure of $609 for 4 years of medical education would not translate directly, but figures are available to compare the costs between the years 1913 and 1999. Between those years, an original cost of $609 would inflate to a mere $10,248. Rather, the nature of the education has changed so radically over the years that the costs associated with it have skyrocketed.
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Please send comments about this page to Michael Angelo (Michael.Angelo@jefferson.edu).
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