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Rush Archives Blog

From the Rush Archives: Researching Early Rush Medical College Alumni (Part 1)

by Nathalie Wheaton on 2020-05-21T08:00:00-05:00 in History | Comments

This post is a very deep dive dedicated to our many researchers who are interested specifically in an alumnus of "early" Rush Medical College (the classes of 1844 through 1942.)

Recently, a researcher called the Rush Archives looking for information on an alumnus of Rush Medical College who had graduated in 1870. The request itself was not unusual; the Rush Archives hears from genealogists or other individuals interested in researching individuals from Rush's past every month. However, when I answered the phone that day, I happened to be looking up information for another researcher interested in another Rush Medical College alumnus who had also attended Rush in 1870. Using our digitized Annual Announcements of Rush Medical College online, I was looking right at the same page of the 1870 document that included the names of both men. The two researchers were not connected; one was looking up information on an ancestor, the other was investigating the former owner of a historic home. In my years as an archivist, I have experienced quite a few of these eerie coincidences, but this incident was the most surprising. 

Tips for investigating a Rush Medical College alumnus (pre-1942):

First, we need to verify that the individual did in fact attend or graduate from Rush Medical College. There are quite a few ways to do this, but if I want exact dates, I search the Annual Announcements of Rush Medical College, which can be found here:

Annual Announcements of Rush Medical College and other published materials:

https://archive.org/details/rushmedicalcollege?&sort=date

This annual school catalog included lists of all matriculates and graduates for the year, along with admission, course, and graduation requirements. Since researchers use them so often, they were our first foray into mass digitization in 2011, using the Internet Archive.

You can also explore Rush Medical College Alumni Directories, which can also be found through the link above. This link will also provide student and alumni newsletters for Rush Medical College which might bring up surprising tidbits about the individual.

Sometimes, it turns out the individual didn't attend or graduate from Rush Medical College at all. Sometimes family lore mistook another Chicago medical school for another. If so, I can almost always track down the correct school for researchers and point them toward an archivist at another institution who can assist them further. Other times, it turns out their forefather ended up practicing medicine without a medical degree. Perhaps they attended Rush Medical College but did not complete the courses. Perhaps they didn't attend medical school at all. Sometimes this is a bit of a shock for a researcher who knows for certain the individual they are researching was a lifelong medical practitioner and, often, a well-respected physician. But the practice of medicine was a much different landscape in the 19th century, particularly in the sparsely-populated Midwest, than it is today.

For an overview of medical education in the 19th century and, specifically, in Chicago, explore the "Medical Education" entry in the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/805.html

If the individual continued practicing in Chicago, the Rush Archives might be able to provide you with further information. This is especially true if they joined the staff of Presbyterian Hospital or St. Luke's Hospital, two historic Chicago hospitals that are the predecessors of today's Rush University Medical Center. The Rush Archives holds extensive records for both hospitals and, also, a free clinic that was managed by Rush Medical College for several decades, the Central Free Dispensary.

Another resource I utilize regularly is the American Medical Association's Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929. Although I prefer the print two-volume set, it is also available online through Ancestry.com*. It is very rare that I hear of a practicing physician who passed away before 1929 who is NOT included in this AMA directory, regardless of medical education. I use this two-volume set so much, it sits on a shelf right over my desk.

https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/7833/

If your alumnus graduated from Rush Medical College between 1898 and 1942, I will usually do a search through the University of Chicago's digital collection of Campus Publications. Rush Medical College served as the medical school of the University of Chicago during that time, and beginning in 1924, Rush Medical College students completed their first two years of coursework on the University of Chicago campus before coming out to the West Side and the Rush Medical College campus to gain their practical experience in their third and fourth years. Also, in 1924, the Alumni Association of Rush Medical College merged completely with that of the University of Chicago, so Rush's own alumni newsletter ceased publication in 1924. These alumni updates continue in the University of Chicago alumni magazines long after the first Rush Medical College closed its doors in 1942.

You can explore the University of Chicago Campus Publications online here:

http://campub.lib.uchicago.edu/

When in doubt, never hesitate to reach out to the Rush Archives with any questions. I conduct these types of searches regularly, so I know all the ins and outs.

For further information about the history of Rush or the Rush Archives collections, explore our website, or contact the archivist, Nathalie Wheaton, MSLS.

*If you do not have a subscription to Ancestry.com and want to utilize some of their resources, contact your local public library! Many public libraries offer access to Ancestry.com for their local users.


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