top of page

Western Pennsylvania Medical College

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania



Barbara I. Paull’s A Century of Medical Excellence: the History of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is a book-length history of the school, including its beginning as a proprietary college.  The 1908 Owl, the last Western University yearbook while the medical school was an autonomous part, is available on Ancestry.  The Pittsburgh Press covered some school events.


Western Pennsylvania Medical College was formed by a group of physicians from West Penn Hospital.  It opened in September of 1886 for 57 students.  The Press lists 10 departments: General Medicine; General Surgery; Diseases of Women and Midwifery; Diseases of the Heart and Lungs; Diseases of the Skin, Diseases of 

West Penn as_edited.jpg

the Eyes, Nose, Throat and Ears; Diseases of the Bladder and Kidneys and Venereal Disease; Diseases and Injuries of the Joints and Deformities; Diseases of Children; Disorders of the Mind and Diseases of the Brain and Nervous System.

Paull describes the entrance requirements as “considerably more lax than today.”  For admission students needed only a diploma from a high school, normal school or a college.  There was no examination.  The original two-year program was expanded to three years in 1890 and to four years in 1896.  Enrollment reached 150 by 1890.  The 1901 catalog claims “about 350” for the previous year.  While the school rejected female applicants in 1888, the Owl shows that ten coeds were among the 359 students in 1908.


The Owl shows chapters of five medical fraternities operating at Western University, providing social and professional outlets for students. 


In 1892 the medical school became the Medical Department of Western University, while retaining its identity as a “self-governing and self-sustaining” entity.  In following years, the medical school’s indebtedness increased while facilities and academic standards deteriorated.  Finally In 1908, the university (now named the University of Pittsburgh) bought the medical college outright. The Flexner report a year later noted the improved conditions at the medical school.

Nu Sigma Nu Fraternity_edited.jpg

Nu Sigma Nu fraternity in 1908.  Image from the Owl yearbook, courtesy of

Emma Kaufmann_edited.jpg

Bricks and Mortar

Organizers purchased land at the intersection of Brereton Avenue and Thirtieth Streets, “immediately adjoining” the West Penn Hospital.  There they built a Five-story, red brick structure in “simple Victorian style.  The building featured “spacious windows,” allowing an abundance of “natural light and excellent ventilation.’  One feature of the building was a two-story amphitheater with opera chairs.  There was also a second lecture room allowing students “a change of place every two hours.”  There was a well-lighted and ventilated dissection room, several laboratories and a museum. There was an underground passage to the West Penn Hospital for clinical study.


The college later acquired the Reineman Maternity Hospital and the Emma Kaufmann Clinic, which contained another amphitheater and a dispensary, adding to clinical opportunities.


      Team name:  Newspapers refer to the team as “Meds.”


Pittsburgh area newspapers show no sports activity prior to 1891, when the Press notes that the Meds would play their first football game of the season.  College Football Data Warehouse shows three football games that season—all against colleges and all defeats: 54-0 to Pittsburgh, 58-0 to Geneva and 50-0 to Washington & Jefferson.  The Press notes that the Meds were the “heaviest team” but “lacked the skill and training.”  Newspapers show two other games scheduled that season with Holy Ghost College (now Duquesne) and the East End Gym independent team.


In 1939 the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph reported that an independent team from Butler, PA had played the Meds twice in 1891.  Football was so new to fans that police had to be called to prevent them from joining the players for a close-up view.  The Meds won 6-4.  When Butler visited W.P.M.C. later in the season, they were invited to watch a surgery being performed before defeating the Meds 10-8.


After the merger with Western University, the Press reported that players from the Medical School would “furnish weight enough” to make the university competitive with other teams in the area. The Owl shows several medical students on university teams.

Google image of the old Emma Kaufmann Clinic in 2021. In 2010 the Red Theater opened in the building.

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

bottom of page