Madelon Stockwell poses for a photo with dozens of other students and faculty

Making History

The late 1800s were a time of many firsts for the university.

Timeline: 1870-1900

The Medical School’s first female graduate, Amanda Sanford, receives her degree. She had entered a year before, when the Medical School became the first major school to accept women. The first full class of women medical students – 17 out of a student body of 315 -- is said to have “taken rank at once among the best students.”

In 1872, African-American student William Henry Fitzbutler is awarded his medical degree. Born the son of a slave, he had traveled to Canada with his family via the Underground Railroad. He will practice medicine for many years in Kentucky, eventually establishing the respected Louisville National Medical College and a hospital. One of the four ‘houses’ to which U-M medical students now belong is named for him.

In 1876, the hospital is expanded, and the first staff nurses are hired, followed by a matron and resident surgeon in 1877. All care is provided for free, though patients are charged for room and board. They stay for an average of three weeks each. The expansion, funded by $14,000 from the state and city, adds two 114-foot-long wooden pavilions to the hospital, extending from the south side of the first hospital.

While visiting Japanese medical student Saiske Tagai (sometimes spelled Tagei in historical documents) attended classes in 1872, the first student of Asian origin to graduate from the Medical School was Myatt Kyau, a member of the class of 1882. Kyau was from Burma and a member of the Karen ethnic group as well as the local Baptist congregation.

Sophia Bethena Jones, M.D., becomes the first African-American woman to graduate from the U-M Medical School. She came to Michigan from Canada, frustrated with the University of Toronto’s limited medical training program for women. After graduation, she became the first African-American to join the faculty of Spelman College, and established its nurse’s training program before going on to practice medicine in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Kansas City.

Only a few years after European scientists first demonstrate the role of microorganisms in human and animal disease, the Medical School began to lead the way on research and education on the nature of infections that killed many people in those days of poor sanitation, few vaccines and no antibiotics.

A Hygienic Laboratory, established in late 1886 and moved into a new building shared with the Physics department in 1888, served the state by analyzing food and water for bacterial contamination, and allowing scientific investigation of public health outbreaks. It was the first building in the country where students could learn the new science of bacteriology in a systematic way.

By 1889, a new Anatomical Laboratory building opened, the first in the country to be used exclusively for instruction in human anatomy. It had a separate area for female medical students to dissect donated cadavers apart from their male peers, for propriety's sake. The expanded space for training allowed the school to extend the curriculum to four years in 1890, and to add courses on diseases of the nervous system and “insanity” for the first time.

John Jacob Abel joins the faculty at Michigan and is appointed America’s first professor of pharmacology. He begins without a laboratory and has to borrow even such simple equipment as test tubes, flasks and beakers.

In 1889, the Michigan legislature appropriated $50,000 for a new hospital, on the condition that the citizens of Ann Arbor contribute another $25,000. By 1891, two stone hospital buildings opened on Catherine Street – the eastern one with 65 beds for the main Medical School and the western one with 40 beds for the homeopathic school. They stood on the site where the Taubman Health Sciences Library and Medical Science II building entrances stand today. All patients received care for free from the 27 Medical School professors and the staff. Also in 1891, the first six nursing students were admitted to the two-year program of the new U-M Training School for Nurses.

In 1892, two young Chinese women arrived to begin their medical studies. They used English names, and wore Western clothing during their time in medical school: Shi Meiyu became Mary Stone and Kang Cheng became Ida Kahn. But at their graduation ceremony in 1896, they wore traditional Chinese attire, to symbolize their commitment to return to China and blend the medical cultures of the two nations. They were among the first women physicians in China, and both went on to direct hospitals in major cities.

Also in 1892, the first clinical pharmacist is hired for the university's hospitals. In addition to being in charge of preparing medicines, James Perry Briggs, Ph.C., was responsible for preparing instruments and sutures for surgical teams, and took the first X-rays.

Alice Hamilton, who will become the first woman on the Harvard faculty and who will help define the field of industrial medicine, receives her medical degree from Michigan.

In 1899, George Dock introduces the clinical clerkship for medical students, which becomes a model for other medical schools across the country. The approach changes the role of the student from passive observer to active participant in the learning process. Also this year, the first hospital laundry opens.