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Chapter XV. Founding Medical Department of University of the Pacific 1858

Founding Medical Department of University of the Pacific 1858

The Way Prepared

For Elias Samuel Cooper the year of 1858 was truly the worst of times. We have already seen the misfortunes he endured in that year. He narrowly escaped expulsion from the State Society by a hostile clique of San Francisco physicians. Furthermore, these same forces of conspiracy and betrayal later instigated the Hodges' malpractice suit as a more certain means whereby to administer a coup de grâce to the "presumptuous" Cooper.

Adversities such as these, augmented as they were by failing health, could scarcely fail to break the spirit of a man. Yet even in the shadow of such threatening conditions, Cooper's master plan continued to unfold and in 1858 his ultimate goal was achieved. He founded a medical school. In the light of this achievement, the year of 1858 was also for him the best of times.

Over the previous three years Cooper had developed his Pacific Clinical Infirmary, a capacious building of several stories in downtown San Francisco on Mission Street between Second and Third Streets, into a mini-medical center. Facilities comprised an ambulatory clinic, hospital beds, an operating room, anatomy and animal surgery laboratories and, on the top floor, a large room for lectures and demonstrations. There were doctors' offices, living quarters for the matron, and doubtless for himself as well. Not only did Cooper encourage the attendance of local and visiting doctors at his clinics and operations in the Infirmary for teaching purposes, but he also conducted there an ongoing series of formal courses of anatomical and surgical lectures and demonstrations. These he had initiated and advertised widely within a few months of his arrival on the Coast in 1855.

As participants in his clinical and laboratory teaching exercises, he co-opted a select-few able physicians who shared his interests in medical education and enthusiastically participated in his programs. Among these were Dr. Beverly Cole who lectured at the Infirmary and Dr. James Morison who rented an office in the Building. Both later became professors in the new school To complete the small inner circle of confidants to be included in his plan to found a medical school, Cooper chose Dr. Isaac Rowell. During the summer of 1858, in the lull between the State Society meeting in February and the malpractice trial in November, Cooper and his three colleagues, their confidence in him unshaken, defined their strategy for implementing the plan. They agreed to act on it promptly without awaiting the outcome of the Hodges suit.


A Bold Proposal

The first objective was to conclude an affiliation with a college or university authorized to award the MD degree. Dr. Cole acted as the representative of the group. With discretion to avoid rumors that would frustrate his efforts, he approached various members of the Board of Trustees of the University of the Pacific. As previously noted, the University was established by the Methodist Church and chartered by the State of California in 1851. It was the first college in California to receive a charter from the State and was empowered to grant degrees. The institution was located in the town of Santa Clara, 48 miles south of San Francisco, but has since been moved to Stockton. At about the time of Cole's negotiations there was a faculty of six dedicated men, four of whom held A. M. degrees and four were protestant ministers. The school offered a two-year (high school) preparatory program, and a four-year college curriculum leading to the Baccalaureate degree. The school's catalogue for 1859-60 lists 82 students in the Preparatory Department and 26 in the College for a total of 111 students. For the time and place, the University of the Pacific was a substantial institution. [1] [2] [3]

The trustees whom he consulted advised Cole to submit a proposal from the Cooper group to the University of the Pacific for creation of a Medical Department, with appointment of the group as its faculty. With this encouragement, Cole dispatched the following letter to the Board of Trustees: [4]

San Francisco (c. 10 September 1858)

Reverend E. Thomas

Board of Trustees

University of the Pacific

Dear Sir:

Accompanying this note you will find the "Proposition" of which we have before spoken and will confer a favor upon those interested by presenting the same to the "Trustees of Pacific University." Any reasonable and proper assistance you may be enabled to render us in its support and adoption will be duly acknowledged.

I would, however, make this remark, that should it meet with much opposition we should prefer to have it withdrawn for the reason that we are determined to establish a school and in making this proposition we have asked no pecuniary aid and feel prepared at once to furnish everything necessary to the commencement of such an enterprise.

As circumstances may favor we shall increase our faculty so as in a short time to number at least eight. This will be one chair more than exists in any of the older schools and which will enable us to give instruction in a much neglected yet very important Department of Science. I refer to Forensic Medicine.

Should the proposition be accepted, of course in making other appointments they would be subject to your approval or rejection. Hoping to hear from you early,

I remain, Dear Sir,

Yours c and e,

R. Beverly Cole


Proposal to the Board of Trustees University of the Pacific

image of Dr. Cole's letter to the Trustees of the University of the Pacific.

San Francisco (c. 10 September 1858)

Board of Trustees

University of the Pacific


In view of the existing and growing necessity for a Medical School upon this Coast, the hereinafter named gentlemen, medical practitioners of San Francisco, have associated themselves and organized for the purpose of establishing the same and, believing the Institution over which you preside the one best calculated to advance the great cause of education, they would respectfully ask to be constituted the Medical Department of the "Pacific University."

In making this request they ask no pecuniary aid and, yet, believe the connection may be made mutually advantageous.

The faculty as now organized consists of the following named gentlemen:

  • Dr. E. S. Cooper Prof - Anatomy and Surgery
  • Dr. Isaac Rowell Prof - Materia Medica and Forensic Medicine
  • Dr. James Morrison Prof. - Pathology, and Principles and Practice of Medicine
  • Dr. R. Beverly Cole Prof. - Obstetrics and the Diseases of Women and Children, and Physiology

In this connection I am authorised to state that the faculty as at present constituted have in contemplation (should circumstances favor) an augmentation of their members so that each professor shall fill but one chair and, further, that the character and standard of instruction imparted, together with the facilities offered for the proper and thorough study of the Sciences of Medicine and Surgery, shall be equal to those given at the commencement in the first schools of the East.

Should the above proposition meet with your approbation you will confer a favor by making the appointments herein named and communicating the same at your earliest convenience to

Yours very respectfully,

R. Beverly Cole, Registrar


Board of Trustees Accepts the Proposal

Minutes of the Board, 16 September 1858. "Rev. E. Thomas presented a proposition from R. Beverly Cole in reference to a medical department of the U. of the P. Moved it be referred to a committee of three to take the matter under consideration."

Minutes of the Board, 22 September 1858. The Board met on this date and approved Cole's Proposition in accordance with a Resolution which is quoted in full in the following cordial letter to Cooper and associates. [5] [6]

Santa Clara, 18 October 1858

To: Members of the Medical Department University of the Pacific
Dr. E.S. Cooper
Dr. Isaac Rowell
Dr. Jas Morrison
Dr. R. Beverly Cole

From: Board of Trustees, University of the Pacific


On account of some strange misapprehension under which the President and Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the University of the Pacific have, until this hour, been labouring, you have waited for information which you ought to have received immediately after the adjournment of Conference. It was no neglect of the Board for they authorized us to inform you of their action and assure you that they accepted with pleasure the proposition by which you were constituted the Medical Department of the University of the Pacific. I now transmit you a copy of this action and hope we shall not again be guilty of such a mistake.

President E. Thomas presented a proposition from R. Beverly Cole in reference to a Medical Department of the University of the Pacific. On motion a committee of three was appointed (viz., Messrs. Thomas, Blain and Briggs) to whom the papers were referred.

The following report was read and after a few verbal alterations was adopted:

Whereas Drs. E. S. Cooper, Isaac Rowell, James Morrison, and R. Beverly Cole, medical practitioners in San Francisco, State of California, have associated themselves for the purpose of establishing a Medical College in San Francisco; and whereas the above named gentlemen have through their representative R. Beverly Cole, M.D., submitted a proposition to this Board to come under its supervision and control as the Medical Department of the University of the Pacific; and whereas it is distinctly stated and understood that in accepting the proposition of Messrs. Cooper, Rowell, Morrison and Cole, no pecuniary liabilities, or responsibilities are assumed by this Board.

Therefore Resolved that the proposition submitted to this Board by the Gentlemen above named be and it is hereby accepted and they are hereby constituted the Medical Department of the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, it being understood that the Scientific and Medical departments shall be confined in their administrations to their respective departments.

On motion the following gentlemen were elected professors in the Medical Department:

  • Dr. E. S. Cooper Professor of Anatomy and Surgery
  • Dr. Isaac Rowell Professor of Materia Medica
  • Dr. James Morrison Professor of Pathology and Theory of Medicine
  • Dr. R. Beverly Cole Professor of Obstetrics, Diseases of Children and Women, and Chemistry

Resolved that the President and Secretary of this Board be instructed to inform R. Beverly Cole, M. D., of our action upon his proposition and to assure the gentlemen above named as medical professors in the University of the Pacific of our pleasure upon the consummation of the agreement by which they are constituted the Medical Department of our University. By order of the Board.

C. Maclay, Secretary

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