American Medical Biographies/Chapman, Nathaniel

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Chapman, Nathaniel (1780–1853)

The Chapmans were old settlers in Virginia on the Pamunkey River, and Nathaniel was born in Fairfax County on the Potomac, May 28, 1780, and is to be remembered because of his conception of medical journalism and the impulse he gave it through many long laborious years. As a boy he went to the Alexandria Academy and when seventeen began to study medicine in the Pennsylvania School. Other than an excellent education in the classics and two years' desultory medical reading he had no advantages. Yet, although a stranger, poor, without acquaintance or introduction, he had capital in a delightful personality, making powerful friends by his graciousness and holding them by his sterling qualities. The popular young fellow graduated in 1801 with a thesis on "Hydrophobia" in which he defended certain propositions of his preceptor Rush. Then he went abroad for three years and seems to have been a social lion in Edinburgh, where he was taken by Lords Buchan, Dugald Stewart and Brougham.

In 1804 he settled down to practise in Philadelphia and had success for a period of fifty years, commanding whatever he could attend of practice; also that same year he married Rebecca, daughter of Col. Clement Biddle. The personality of the man made a great impression on the Philadelphia of our grandfathers. He was always gay, jovial and witty, and as he grew older his habit of punning increased. His easy graceful way of treating everything appeared even in his writing when he became editor of the Philadelphia Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences, founded by the well-known publisher, Matthew Carey. After four years (1824) he took as his associates William P. Dewees and John L. Godman and the journal has run a successful career right up to the present time (American Journal of the Medical Sciences). Another important undertaking of Chapman was the founding, in 1817, of the Medical Institute of Philadelphia, which may be considered as the first postgraduate school in the United States. Dr. Edward James Nolan said of him, "His fame endures to the present day, not only as an excellent teacher, but also as a man of great personal charm, an exuberant vitality, and an acute sense of humor." He was elected by acclamation the first president of the American Medical Association (1847).

Nathaniel Chapman did a great many other things it would be pleasant to tell. Three years before the day on which he died, July 1, 1853, he had retired from active service. Philadelphia will from generation to generation reap the fruit of his teaching and writings.

His works included: An essay on the "State of Canine Fever," 1801. Select speeches "Forensic and Parliamentary," five volumes, 1808. "Discourses on the Elements of Therapeutics and Materia Medica," 1817. Lectures "On the more important Eruptive Fevers," 1844; "On the More Important Diseases of the Thoracic and Abdominal Viscera," 1844. Lectures on the "Theory and Practice of Medicine," 1846.

His appointments included: Professor of materia medica, 1813; professor of theory and practice of medicine and clinical medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 1816. Rush had been chosen for the same chair in 1789 and except for a short occupancy by Barton, these two men, Rush and Chapman, held it for more than sixty years.

Narrative of Med. in Amer., J. G. Mumford, Philadelphia, 1903.
A Discourse Commemorative of Nath. Chapman, S. Jackson, Philadelphia, 1854.
Life and Character of the Late Nath. Chapman. St. Louis Med. and Surg. Jour., vol. xi, 1853.
Biog. of Nath. Chapman, S. D. Gross, Lives of Eminent Amer. Phys., Philadelphia, 1861.
Tribute to Nath. Chapman, N. Y. Med. Gaz., 1853, vol. iv.
Analysis of the Life of Nath. Chapman, Richmond and Louisville Med. Jour., 1869, vol. viii.
There is a portrait in the collection in the Surg.-gen.'s Lib. at Washington, D. C.