American Medical Biographies/Parrish, Joseph (1779–1840)

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Parrish, Joseph (1779–1840)

Joseph Parrish, private medical teacher, was born in Philadelphia, September 2, 1779, of Quaker parents, and started in life as a hatter, but when he became of age, turned to the study of medicine, and became a student under Dr. Caspar Wistar (q. v.). He took his medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania in 1805, and in the same year, became resident physician at the yellow fever hospital. From 1806–12 he held the same post at the Philadelphia Dispensary; from 1816–22, at Philadelphia Almshouse, and 1816–29, at Pennsylvania Hospital. He was associated in the establishment of the Wills Hospital, and was an active member of the College of Physicians. He was one of the foremost Philadelphia physicians who at that time took an active interest in natural history as well as in scientific medicine. Among other studies which led to considerable popular reputation, was his demonstration that the poplar worm is harmless. It had hitherto been supposed to be venomous and trees were being ruthlessly destroyed because a man was found dead with a worm beside him. In 1807 he gave what was then a novelty, a popular course of lectures on chemistry. This led some seven or eight years later to systematic courses of lectures on chemistry, anatomy and materia medica, and he had constantly from ten to thirty pupils with him until the year 1830, being one of the foremost private medical teachers of the time.

In 1808 he married Susanna, daughter of John Coxe of Burlington, New Jersey.

He was an editor of the North American Medical and Surgical Journal. According to Dr. George B. Wood, "perhaps no one was known more extensively in the city or had connected himself by a greater number of beneficent services to every ramification of society." From 1806 to 1822 he was surgeon to the Philadelphia Almshouse, where he gave lectures that were well attended, and in 1816 he succeeded Dr. Physic as surgeon to the Pennsylvania Hospital, a position he filled with honor until 1829, when he resigned because of failing health. He wrote "Practical Observations on Strangulated Hernia and Some of the Diseases of the Urinary Organs," Philadelphia, 1805, and an appendix for the first American edition from the corrected London edition of Lawrence's "Treatise on Ruptures," Philadelphia, 1811. He died in Philadelphia, March 18, 1840, leaving two sons, Dr. Isaac and Dr. Joseph Parrish (q. v.).

Memoir of the Life and Character of Joseph Parrish, Geo. B. Wood, M. D., Phila., 1840.