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About Daniel Drake

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October 20, 1785 – November 5, 1852

Daniel Drake, MD, the founder in 1819 of what is now the University of Cincinnati and its College of Medicine, was one of the leading figures in 19th century American medicine. He served as founding president of the Medical College of Ohio and was on faculty at various times from 1819 to 1852 while alternating faculty appointments at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and the Louisville Medical Institute. He was a physician, scientist, author, educator and civic champion for Cincinnati.

Born in New Jersey, Dr. Drake emigrated with his family in 1788 to Mays Lick, Kentucky. At age 15 he was apprenticed to Cincinnati physician William Goforth and on August 1, 1805 became the first person west of the Alleghenies to receive a medical diploma. He attended the University of Pennsylvania in 1805-1806 taking courses under Benjamin Rush. After first starting his medical practice in Mays Lick, he moved to Cincinnati as a full partner with Dr. Goforth in 1807. He returned to the University of Pennsylvania in 1815 to complete his medical degree and to prepare for an academic career.

Standing 6 feet tall with curly auburn hair and blue eyes, Dr. Drake quickly gained national fame as a gifted speaker and prolific writer. He lectured students and the public on wide-ranging medical and scientific topics, published hundreds of essays, articles and books, and for 20 years was the editor of the Western Medical and Physical Journal. He argued for raising the standards of medical education through broader preliminary training, teaching at the bedside of patients and hospital training. His book “Practical Essays on Medical Education and the Medical Profession in the United States” (1832) was called “the most important contribution ever made to the subject in this country.”

A pioneer of medical topography and self-trained as a keen observer, Dr. Drake’s research was extensive and meticulous. He traveled throughout the western and southern reaches of the young United States to study local natural and medical history and explore its impact on health. The result was his magnum opus “Principal Diseases of the Interior Valley of North America” (1850).

Dr. Drake was Cincinnati’s best-known citizen and an indefatigable promoter of the city and the country’s western region. Sir William Osler said of Dr. Drake: “In many ways Daniel Drake is the most unique figure in the history of American Medicine. He literally made Cincinnati, having ‘boomed’ it in the early days in his celebrated, “Picture of Cincinnati” 1815. He founded nearly everything that is old and good in that city.”

Dr. Drake indeed was a man of many achievements. During his career, he co-founded the Cincinnati Lancaster Seminary (1814); provided the first clinical description of milk sickness, the reputed cause of death of President Lincoln’s mother; founded the Cincinnati Public Library (1814); was a major force in creating the Western Museum (1818) and employing John James Audubon; offered the first American description of Forest Conservation Practices (1819); founded the Commercial Hospital and Lunatic Asylum at Cincinnati (1821), the first U.S. hospital established for teaching purposes and staffed by medical school professors; opened the Eye Infirmary (1827) and assisted in creating the School for the Blind (1833); and created the Medical Department of Cincinnati College (1835).

Through these numerous medical and civic contributions Dr. Drake impacted the Cincinnati region for his and subsequent generations.

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