Samuel Bard (1742-1821)

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Samuel Bard (1742-1821), one of the first US graduates of Edinburgh University, founded the medical school of King's College, New York, in 1767.

Bard at Edinburgh

Bard was a native of Philadelphia who graduated from Columbia College before sailing to Europe in 1761 to complete his medical education. His letters home to his family describe how he attended classes in Institutes of Medicine under William Cullen (1710-1790), Anatomy under Alexander Monro ''secundus'' (1733-1817), Botany under John Hope (1725-1786), and Natural Philosophy under Adam Ferguson (1723-1816). He was particularly impressed by the lecturing style of William Cullen, which he judged both 'instructive' and 'entertaining'. He became a close personal friend of both Monro and Hope, in whose class he won the annual medal for the best collection of plants. Intent on a academical career, and realizing the necessity of a good delivery and easy compositional style, he also took great pleasure in Hugh Blair's lectures in Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. Both William Robertson (1721-1793), then Principal of the University, and George Drummond (1688-1766), Lord Provost of Edinburgh, invited him to dine at their homes, and the latter conferred upon Bard the freedom of the city. Bard's thesis, 'De viribus opii', which he successfully defended in May 1765, was on the effect of opium on the human body. It was based on a series of experiments which Bard conducted first on himself then on his room-mate for verification.

Later Career

Upon his return to the United States, Bard founded the medical school of King's College, New York, in 1767 (now the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons). This was the second medical school to open in the United States after Philadelphia Medical School, founded in 1765 by two other Edinburgh graduates John Morgan (1735-1789) and William Shippen (1736-1808). The New York school, however, was the first to award the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Bard was appointed its first Professor of the Practice of Physic and achieved prominence through his studies of diphtheria, which proved vital in developing a treatment for that disease. After the War of Independence, Bard became personal physician to George Washington. In 1813, he was appointed President of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Related Pages


  • John Z. Bowers, 'The Influence of Edinburgh on American Medicine', in Medical Education and Medical Care: A Scottish-American Symposium, ed. Gordon McLachlan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 3-23.
  • John McVickar, A Domestic Narrative of the Life of Samuel Bard, M. D., LL. D., Late President of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the University of the State of New York, &c. (New York: [Columbia College], 1822)
  • Henry Simpson, The Lives of Eminent Philadelphians, Now Deceased (Philadelphia: Brotherhead, 1859)