Dr. Frederick Elliott Gordon &

The Medical College of Alabama


 

James Peterson "Doc" Gordon's great-grandfather, Dr. Frederick Elliott Gordon, along with Drs. Josiah C.  Nott, J. F. Heustis, William H. Anderson, George A. Ketchum and Francis A. Ross, were granted a charter for a medical school by the Probate Court of Mobile County on April 5, 1859,  with power vested in a board of trustees originally comprised of the founders. 

The Medical College of Alabama opened that year, 1859, in Mobile, Alabama, in a rented building and Dr. William H. Anderson became the first dean.

Medical College of Alabama [Mobile, ca. 1900-1906]

 

Some background on the founders:

Dr. Frederick Elliott Gordon, of Scottish descent, was born 7 Oct 1819 in Charleston, South Carolina. He attended Princeton University. Dr. Gordon  married Sarah Newbold Howard Conway and had seven children. He died August 1, 1869 and was buried in Mobile's Magnolia Cemetery.

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Dr. Josiah Clark Nott of Mobile, Alabama, well-known physician and surgeon, self-proclaimed, yet erroneous, ethnologist. Dr. Josiah Clark Nott, was from Columbia South Carolina. He was a native either of Columbia or Union County, son of Judge Abraham Nott, of the Court of Appeals in that State, and brother of the accomplished Professor, Henry Junlus Nott, of the South Carolina College, who was lost on the steamer Home, off Cape Hatteras, in 1837."... In connection with Mr. Gliddon, he produced and published a work "The Types of Mankind," which made no little noise in its day, in which the view of the diversity of origin of the human race was put forth and sustained with much ingenuity." [clipping from The South Carolinian] ". Nott developed a mulatto frailty theory which was first published in 1843 in an article for the American Journal of the Medical Sciences entitled, "The Mulatto a Hybrid--probable extermination of the two races if the Whites and Blacks are allowed to intermarry." Dr. Nott may have been knowledgeable in the field of medicine, but he was certainly no ethnologist." ... In 1833, he removed to Mobile, with which city he became identified.... [from Mobile Register] Doctor Nott married, in 1832. Miss Sarah Deas, daughter of Colonel James S. Deas, of South Carolina, who during their absence in Europe removed to our city .... Of a numerous offspring, one son, his namesake remains along to his mother. "Dr. Nott served as a surgeon on Gen. Bragg's staff. He was born 31 March 1804 and died at Mobile, Alabama on the 31st March 1873, his sixty-ninth birthday.

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George Augustus Ketchum, of Mobile, Alabama, was educated in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and received the degree of M. D. from that institution in 1846. He became Professor of Theory and Practice of Medicine in the Medical College of Alabama and Dean of the Faculty. Dr. Ketchum was president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, president of the Mobile County Medical Society, member of the American Medical Association, and member of the International Medical Congress. He was president of the Board of Health of the city and county of Mobile, and also a member of the State Board of Health of Alabama. Dr. Ketchum was the Mobile County Delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1861. He lived in a classic Italianate villa on the southeast corner of Government and Chatham streets, the elaborate mansion bult by the deceased ice magnate Charles Gage. In the spring of 1890 the city of Mobile placed an “Acanthus Fountain” in the center of Bienville Square to in honor of Dr. Ketchum's civic achievements. Dr. Ketchum died in 1906.

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Jabez Wiggins Heustis, physician, born probably in St. John, N. B; died in Talladega Springs, Alabama circa 1885. He received his medical education in the New York college of physicians and surgeons, and in 1806-'7 was assistant surgeon in the United States navy. He then became surgeon in the United States army under General Jackson, and served throughout the southern campaigns. Afterward he resided in Cahawba, Alabama, until he removed to Mobile in 1841. His death was caused by blood-poisoning, contracted while performing an operation. His publications are "Physical Observations and Medical Tracts and Researches on the Topography and Diseases of Louisiana " (New York, 1817); "Medical Facts and Inquiries Respecting the Causes, Nature, Prevention and Cure of Fever" (Cahawba, 1821); and the "Bilious Remitent Fever of Alabama" (1825). He also contributed largely to the " American Journal of Medical Science." His son, James Fountain, physician, born in Cahawba, Alabama, 15 November, 1829, was educated in the common schools of Mobile and at the medical department of the University of Louisiana, where he was graduated in 1848. He was assistant-surgeon in the United States navy in 1850-'7, and afterward practiced his profession in Mobile. He was elected professor of anatomy in the Alabama medical college in 1859, served as surgeon in the Confederate army throughout the civil war, and after 1875 had been professor of surgery in Alabama medical college. He has been successful as a surgeon, having performed many important operations, and has contributed to current medical literature.

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So far, I have not located any biographical information about William H. Anderson or Francis A. Ross. If you have any information, please email me at gordon@ebcal.com



On January 30, 1860, the Alabama Legislature passed Act No. 255 which officially chartered the Medical College of Alabama and appropriated $50,000.00 for purchase of grounds, the erection of buildings, and for necessary contingent expenses. Administration for the school was vested with a board of trustees. The Medical College of Alabama was built that year just a short distance from the "City Hospital of Mobile", which was located on St. Anthony Street. The opening of the medical college marked the beginning of the two institutions working simultaneously to provide Mobilians with the finest medical care available.

The first class graduated in 1860 after a one-year term. Samuel Watson Acton was the first of fourteen graduates. That same year the North and South were on the verge of war.

 In 1861, the unrest between the states exploded into War and every man, youth, physician, and nurse found it necessary to answer the call of arms. Thus, jeopardizing the medical progress of the two institutions. For this reason the mayor, aldermen, and college faculty saw the necessity of securing for the hospital the services of the Sisters of Charity; women known for their heroic labors during the great yellow fever epidemic of 1853 and their experience in managing Providence Infirmary, just across the street. Classes at the Medical College were suspended.

As every man, youth, physician, and nurse continued to fight for "the cause" on the battlefield, the Sisters of Charity were involved in their own war, fighting battles of their own; the battle against time, the battle against limited personnel, and the battle against scarce resources. Their weapons were that of perseverance, ingenuity, generosity, and self-sacrifice. Their bloodshed was seen in their perspiration and tears. Their victory was life and their defeat was death. By May 12, 1865, Mobile was occupied by Northern troops and the horrors of war had begun to diminish.

However, it would be another four years, 1868, before classes at the Medical College resumed.

In 1879, the City of Mobile became bankrupt and was forced under court action to give up its charter. Trustees were appointed by chancery court and a temporary municipal government called the "Port of Mobile" was installed. It was by this action that, in 1880, the hospital was renamed the "Port Hospital" and the Medical College of Alabama took over administration.

The City was rechartered in 1887, and the following year the hospital once again took its original name. In the spring of 1895, after fifteen years of being operated under the supervision of the Medical College, the Sisters were once again asked to take charge of City Hospital.

At the turn of the century, Mobile's mayor, John Curtis Bush, announced the school had become a four year Medical College.

On March 4, 1907 the Alabama legislature vested the title to the Medical College of Alabama's Mobile property with The Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama. The Legislation also appropriated $45,000.00 to the school for repairs, renovations, improvements, and purchases Additionally, $5,000.00 was allocated annually for facilities maintenance.

On March 6, 1907, the medical college dissolved its own board of trustees, and The Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama gained sole control over the Mobile program. Subsequently, the Medical College of Alabama was transferred from Mobile to Tuscaloosa in 1920. 

The Jones Bill, Alabama Act 89, passed June 2, 1943, and authorized an expansion of the two-year Medical College of Alabama to a four-year program and appropriated over $1.3 million for buildings, equipment, and maintenance. The following year, the Governor's (Chauncey Sparks) Building Commission adopted a resolution on February 16, 1944,  locating the new four-year medical school in Birmingham.

On December 20, 1944, the University of Alabama entered into a 99-year contract with Jefferson County for the use of the Jefferson and Hillman Hospitals in Birmingham. It also conveyed to the university the land on which the hospitals were located.
Two weeks later, January 1, 1945, Jefferson and Hillman Hospitals were merged to form Jefferson-Hillman Hospital.
Classes for freshmen and sophomore medical students began that same year on October 8, at the new, four-year Medical College of Alabama with the freshman class size limited to 52 students. Tuition was $400 per scholastic year!

On June 3, 1949, thirty students, including seven females, received their medical degrees, as the first class to complete all four years of study in Birmingham.


Footnote: 

"Dr. Nott more than any of the other incorporators is typically credited as being the main founder and force behind the establishment of the Mobile school". Tim L. Pennycuff, University Archivist and Assistant Professor, UAB

Sources:

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)  "UAB Archives"

The University of South Alabama Medical Center  "USA-MC"

City of Mobile, Public Records

The Harbinger Mobile, Alabama 

The Civil War in South Carolina © - 1998 Eastern Digital Resources

Chapter Three of "The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue" by Lawrence R. Tenzer, 2000

Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 & edited Stanley L. Klos, 1999

Photograph from Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920, a Library of Congress American Memory collection