Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/October 1899/Sketch of Dr. William Pepper

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PHILADELPHIA has long been regarded as the home of medical science in America. Here was founded the first medical school in the United States, among whose alumni are numbered some of the most brilliant names in the profession. The spirit of scientific research has always been most active in Philadelphia. Here Franklin made his experiments in electricity, and Rittenhouse observed the transit of Venus-; while Rush, Morgan, Williamson, and Physick gave the city a name abroad as a great medical center. Each generation has contributed something to her fame as the abode of scientific culture.

In recent times no name has been so closely associated with the intellectual progress of the city as that of the subject of this sketch. Dr. William Pepper was reared in a scientific atmosphere. His father, William Pepper, the elder, was born in Philadelphia, January 21, 1810. He graduated with first honors at Princeton in 1829. He afterward studied medicine for a time with Dr. Thomas T. Hewson, and in 1832 graduated in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He then spent two years in study in Paris, and in 1834 he entered upon his profession in Philadelphia, where he rose rapidly in reputation. He was physician to the Pennsylvania Hospital for twenty-six years. In 1860 he was elected Professor of the Theory and Practice of Medicine in the University of Pennsylvania. He held this position until the time of his death, October 15, 1864. Dr. Pepper had two sons, who became distinguished in the medical profession. The eldest son, George, was born April 1, 1841, and died September 14, 1872. He graduated from the college department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1862, and completed the course in the Medical School in 1865. He served with distinction in the civil war, and died at the beginning of a successful professional career. Another son, Dr. William Pepper, the subject of this sketch, was born in Philadelphia, August 21, 1843.

Dr. Pepper received his educational training solely in the city of his birth, having graduated from the college department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1862, in the same class with Provost Charles C. Harrison, Thomas McKean, Dr. Persifor Fraser, and many other men prominent in university circles. He graduated from the Medical School in 1864, and at once began the practice of medicine. His connection with the University of Pennsylvania began in 1868, when he was appointed lecturer on morbid anatomy. From 1870 to 1876 he was lecturer on clinical medicine. In 1876 Dr. Pepper was given a full professorship of clinical medicine, in which he continued until 1887, when he succeeded Dr. Alfred Stillé in the chair of the Theory and Practice of Medicine.

During this early period of his career Dr. Pepper labored with untiring zeal in the practice of his profession, and he also became eminently successful as a teacher. In 1877 he set forth his views on higher medical education in an address at the opening of the one hundred and twelfth course of lectures in the University Medical School.[1] At that time a very low standard existed in the medical schools of our country, and Dr. Pepper, in his address, urged the following reforms:

1. The establishment of a preparatory examination.
2. The lengthening of the course to at least three full years.
3. The careful grading of the course.
4. The introduction of ample practical instruction of each student both at the bedside and in laboratories.
5. The establishment of fixed salaries for the professors, so that they may no longer have any pecuniary interest in the size of their classes.

It was a source of gratification to Dr. Pepper that he lived to see all these reforms in medical education adopted. On the extension of the medical course to four years he subscribed $50,000 toward a permanent endowment of $250,000. As early as 1871 he began to urge the establishment of a university hospital, the subject being first discussed in a conversation with Dr. H. C. Wood and Dr. William F. Norris. An appeal was made to the public, and Dr. Pepper was made chairman of a finance committee. By May, 1872, a splendid site and $350,000 for building and endowment had been secured. Dr. Pepper was selected as chairman of the building committee, and work on the hospital was pushed so rapidly that it was ready for patients on July 15, 1874.

When Dr. Charles J. Stillé resigned the provostship of the university in 1881, Dr. Pepper was elected as his successor. The executive abilities which he had displayed in connection with the founding of the new hospital made him the natural choice of the trustees. Although his private practice had increased to immense proportions, besides being occupied with his duties as a clinical professor, Dr. Pepper accepted the provostship. To the duties of this office he devoted the best years of his life. The extent of his practice and the demands made upon his time by the university would have appalled an ordinary man, but his capacity for labor appeared to be without limit, his working day often exceeding eighteen hours. His administration was characterized by the unification of the various schools of the university, besides the founding and equipment of several new departments. In one of his annual reports Dr. Pepper defined the broad policy of the university in the following appropriate language: "The university is truly the voluntary association of all persons and of all agencies who wish to unite in work for the elevation of society by the pursuit and diffusion of truth."[2] In other words. Dr. Pepper regarded the functions of the university as not simply an institution of instruction, but also of research. To this end every effort was made to open up new fields of investigation and to widen the scope of the university. During his provostship thirteen new buildings were erected, and the following departments, or schools, were organized:

1. The Department of Finance and Economy.
2. The Department of Philosophy.
3. The Department of Veterinary Medicine.
4. The Department of Biology.
5. The Department of Physical Education.
6. The Department of Archæology and Paleontology.
7. The Department of Hygiene.
8. The Graduate Department for Women.
9. The School of Architecture.
10. The School for Nurses in the University Hospital.
11. The Veterinary Hospital.
12. The Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology.

Dr. Pepper took particular interest in the Department of Archæology and Paleontology connected with the university. For a number of years he was president of its board of trustees, while it was largely through his efforts that the Babylonian Exploration Fund was formed.[3] It was Dr. Pepper's ambition to have at the university well-equipped laboratories that would offer an opportunity for original investigation in medical science. The establishment of the Laboratory of Hygiene, in 1892, was the first step in this direction, soon to be followed by Dr. Pepper's gift of the Laboratory of Clinical Medicine. This laboratory was founded in memory of his father, the late Dr. William Pepper. The gift is unique in that it is made for the purpose of promoting and stimulating original research, and improving the methods of diagnosing and treating the diseases of human beings. Another field of work in the laboratory is that of giving advanced and special instruction to men who have already obtained the degree of Doctor of Medicine. At the opening of the laboratory in 1895 Dr. William H. Welch, of Johns Hopkins University, said, "To the small number of existing clinical laboratories the William Pepper Laboratory of Clinical Medicine is a most notable addition, being the first laboratory of the kind in this country, and it is not surpassed by any in foreign countries."[4]

Dr. Pepper realized more and more every year that the vast extent of the university interests demanded the undivided activity of its head. In 1894 he resigned the office of provost, stating at the time that, as it became necessary for him to choose between administration work and medical science, his devotion to the latter determined his choice. His administration was an eventful one, during which the university evolved from a group of disconnected schools to a great academic body. In 1881 its property in land amounted to fifteen acres, while in 1894 it controlled fifty-two acres in a continuous tract. In 1881 the university property was valued at $1,600,000; in 1894 it exceeded $5,000,000. The teaching force in 1881 numbered 88 and the students in all departments 981; in 1894 the former were 268, and the attendance had reached 2,180, representing every State in the Union, as well as thirty-eight foreign countries.

Dr. Pepper became well known as an author on medical subjects. He founded the Philadelphia Medical Times, and was its editor for two years. In 1885 he edited a System of Medicine by American Authors, a work that has been considered a leading authority on medical subjects. He also edited a book of medical practice by American authors, and, with Dr. J. P. Meigs, issued a work on Diseases of Children. He was Medical Director of the Centennial Exposition in 1876, and for his services he received from the King of Sweden the decoration of Knight Commander of the Order of St. Olaf.

Dr. Pepper showed an unbounded interest in behalf of any movement that would benefit the community in general. He was one of the first to realize the advantage that would accrue to Philadelphia should she become a museum center. The Philadelphia Commercial Museum was established in October, 1893, with Dr. Pepper as president of the board of trustees. The old offices of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company were leased, and exhibits were secured from the Latin-American countries, Africa, Australia, Japan, and India, forming the largest permanent collection of raw products in existence. Referring to the great value of the museum. Dr. Pepper spoke as follows in his address of welcome at the first annual meeting of the advisory board:

"It would seem clear, however, that no method of studying industries and commerce can be scientific and complete which does not include the museum idea as now comprehended. The museum aims to teach by object lesson the story of the world, past and present. The Biological Museum presents the objects of human and comparative anatomy, arranged scientifically and labeled so fully as to constitute the best text-book for the study of those subjects. The Museum of Natural History does the same in its field. The Museum of Archæology shows the progress of the race from the most archaic times, the different types of human beings, their mode of living, their forms of worship, their games, their weapons, their inplements, the natural products which they used for subsistence, in their industries, and in their arts, the objects of manufacture or of art which they produced, and the manner in which they disposed of their dead.

"The natural products and manufactured articles, which constitute the material of commerce, come necessarily into such a scheme, and the long-looked-for opportunity of establishing a commercial museum upon a truly scientific basis presented itself when, at the close of the Columbian Exposition at Chicago, it was possible, through the enlightened liberality of the municipal authorities of Philadelphia and the invaluable services of Prof. W. P. Wilson, to secure vast collections of commercial material, which was so liberally donated to the Philadelphia museums by nearly all the foreign countries of the globe."

It was Dr. Pepper's idea to have the University Museum and the Commercial Museum situated near each other, on the plan of the South Kensington Museum. To this end the City Councils, in 1896, passed an ordinance giving over to the trustees of the Commercial Museum sixteen acres of land for the erection of suitable buildings. When all the plans are carried out the city will have unrivaled facilities for the study of civilization, past and present.

One of the most enduring monuments to Dr. Pepper's zeal and generosity is the Free Library of Philadelphia. In 1889 his uncle, George S. Pepper, bequeathed the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars "to the trustees of such Free Library which may be established in the city of Philadelphia." From the beginning Dr. Pepper took a warm interest in the Free Library movement. It was under his leadership that the library was organized, and he was made the first president of its board of trustees. Speaking of his activity in this direction, the librarian, Mr. John Thomson, said: "No detail was too small for his personal attention. No plan for its future growth was too large for his ambitious hope of both public and private support. The remarkable and rapid increase in the circulation of the Free Library, the multiplication of its branches, the organization of all its departments on a broad and generous plan, his success in enlisting a large number of able fellow-workers, his clear, plain statements to Councils and the city authorities, his activity in securing needed legislation at Harrisburg, were some of the results of that intelligent energy which enabled him to do so much and to do it so well." The bequest of the Pepper family has been supplemented by ample appropriations by the City Councils, and the Free Library is now one of the most important institutions in Philadelphia. The library at present has twelve flourishing branches, while the combined circulation of the system for the year 1898 was 1,738,950 volumes.

Dr. Pepper was also connected with many scientific bodies. He was Vice-President of the American Philosophical Society, and President of the first Pan-American Medical Congress in 1893. He was a Fellow of the College of Physicians; President of the Philadelphia Pathological Society from 1873 to 1876; Director of the Biological Section, Academy of Natural Sciences; President, in 1886, of the American Climatological Association; President of the Foulke and Long Institute for Orphan Girls; President of the First Sanitary Convention of Pennsylvania; and in 1882 he was a member of the Assay Commission of the United States Mint. He received the degree of LL. D. from Lafayette College in 1881, and from the University of Pennsylvania in 1893.

In 1873 Dr. Pepper married Miss Frances Sargeant Perry, a lineal descendant of Benjamin Franklin, and a granddaughter of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Four sons were born, of whom three survive—Dr. William Pepper, Jr., Benjamin Franklin Pepper, and Oliver Hazard Perry Pepper. Failing in health. Dr. Pepper went to California early in the summer of 1898, where he died of heart disease on July 28th of that year. His body reached Philadelphia on August 6th. Funeral services were held in St. James's Protestant Episcopal Church, after which the body was cremated, and the ashes interred in Laurel Hill Cemetery. The American Anthropometric Society received, by the conditions of this will. Dr. Pepper's brain. Among the members of this society were Dr. Joseph Leidy, Phillips Brooks, and Prof. E. D. Cope. The articles of membership of the Anthropometric Society require that each member contribute his brain in the interests of science.

Dr. Pepper's death was followed by many expressions of sorrow from learned societies in various parts of the world. One of the most beautiful tributes was the memorial meeting held in the city of Mexico on September 12th. The leading medical and scientific societies of Mexico assembled in the hall of Congress to do honor to the work and character of Dr. Pepper. President Diaz occupied the chair, and about him were gathered the leading citizens, officials, and scientists of Mexico. Representatives of the National Medical School and the Board of Health eulogized Dr. Pepper, while Hon. Matias Romero spoke of him not as a physician, but as an "altruist who had consecrated himself to doing good for his fellow-men."

In Philadelphia, steps have been taken to erect a substantial memorial to Dr. Pepper. At a memorial meeting, held on March 6th last, a proposition was made to place a statue of the deceased scientists on the City Hall plaza, after the style of the Girard Monument. A committee was appointed with power to raise funds for the proposed statue, the cost not to exceed ten thousand dollars.

One of the letters of William Pengelly, geologist, of Torquay, England, printed in the memoir published by his daughter, gives this sketch of Babbage, the mathematician and inventor of the calculating machine: "I then called on Babbage, and could not get away until after one. He is a splendid talker. He seemed much pleased to see me, and complimented me very much on my lecture (at the Royal Institution), in which he was evidently much interested. He is the most marvelous worker I ever met with. I never saw anything like the evidence of multifarious and vast labor which his 'workshop' presents; he sticks at nothing. One drawer full of riddles, another of epigrams, one of squared words, etc.… It is appalling! And then the downright fun of the fellow; it is almost intoxicating to be with him!"
  1. Higher Medical Education. The True Interest of the Public and of the Profession. By William Pepper, M. D., LL. D. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1894.
  2. Report of the Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, from October, 1892, to June, 1894. Philadelphia, 1894.
  3. See the article on Science at the University of Pennsylvania, in Popular Science Monthly for August, 1896.
  4. Proceedings at the Opening of the William Pepper Laboratory of Clinical Medicine, December 4, 1895. Philadelphia, 1895.