Library Acquires Manuscript of VP&S Founder Samuel Bard

The Columbia University Health Sciences Library has acquired a manuscript by Samuel Bard (1742-1821), a founder of the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and a prominent early American physician.

“The manuscript provides an important insight into the educational philosophy of one of the most notable physicians of the early United States,” says Stephen Novak, head of Archives and Special Collections at the health sciences library.

Titled “Remarks on the constitution, government, discipline & expences [sic] of medical schools – submitted to the Regents of the University of New York in obedience to their requisition for such information,” the 35-page manuscript was composed and signed by Dr. Bard in 1819 as a reply in his capacity as president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Dr. Bard writes in the manuscript that “the peculiar circumstances and wants of our Country”–especially that the United States was “extensive and but thinly inhabited”–meant that apart from a few physicians in large cities most American physicians were not well-paid. Therefore, he continues, “the general mass of students of medicine are poor; it is therefore very important that we provide them with the best instruction at the cheapest rate.” Although the United States is no longer “thinly inhabited,” the cost of medical education is still a concern in the 21st century as witnessed by the recent donation by P. Roy Vagelos (a 1954 VP&S graduate) and his wife Diana (a 1955 Barnard College graduate) of $250 million to support scholarships for Columbia medical students.

Dr. Bard then compares and contrasts instruction at VP&S with four other medical schools: the University of Edinburgh (his alma mater), the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and the University of Maryland.   He asserts that instruction could be reduced to five courses: anatomy, chemistry, practice of medicine, midwifery, and surgery. Dr. Bard says that although clinical medical courses “when properly delivered by a competent Teacher, are among the most useful a student can attend,” they can only be offered when a faculty member is attached to a public hospital.

He also discusses the length of time students need to apprentice with a practitioner, the manner of examining candidates for the medical degree, and the best method of governing the College–“where some dissensions have again arisen” among the Trustees, he notes.

In addition to his involvement with the medical school, Dr. Bard was one of the founders in 1771 of New York Hospital, now part of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, the primary teaching hospital of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. His “Compendium of the Theory and Practice of Midwifery” (1812) is considered the first obstetrics textbook written by an American and went through five editions by 1819.

The manuscript is the second by Dr. Bard to be acquired by the Health Sciences Library in recent years. In 2013, the library purchased Bard's handwritten manuscript of his 1811 “Discourse on the Importance of Medical Education,” a lecture he delivered at the medical school that year.

“The new manuscript is in generally good condition though it will require treatment by conservators to prevent paper loss,” says Mr. Novak.

Once the restoration is complete, the manuscript will be available for study and exhibition.