Through the generosity of Jerry L. Higgins, the Henry R. Winkler Center received an interesting artifact depicting Cincinnati’s rich history of institutions of medical education. This framed diploma from the Botanico-Medical College of Ohio was awarded to Jerry L. Higgins’ ancestor, Dr. Henry Randolph Higgins, and serves as the only artifact in the Winkler collection from the institution.
The Botanico-Medical College was initially founded in February 1836 by Alva Curtis, a private tutor and follower of Thomsonianism. The college was initially based in Columbus, Ohio, where Curtis had recently moved to assume editorship of the Thomsonian Recorder. The first class consisted of fifteen students, although the college would not receive an official charter from the Ohio State Legislature until 1839. Two years later, the newly chartered Literary and Botanico-Medical Institute of Ohio with its College of Physicians and Surgeons Division moved to the Cincinnati area. Despite the lengthy title, it was still commonly referred to as the Botanico-Medical College of Ohio, as evidenced by the ad pictured below from the Cincinnati Business Directory of 1844; this picture also serves as a link to the electronic copy of the entire resource.
After another name change in 1850, this time to the Physio-Medical College, the institution operated for almost 30 more years before closing officially in 1880. According to Frederick C. Waite’s 1946 article “American Sectarian Medical Colleges Before the Civil War” featured in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine(available in our Winkler Center Serials collection), the Botanico-Medical College set many precedents in the field of medical education: “This was the first chartered Thomsonian medical college and the first chartered institution in which the word ‘botanic’ appeared in the official name…When the name Physio-Medical College was adopted [it served as] the first use of the phrase ‘physio-medical’ in the name of any medical college.” Another first recorded by Charles Cist in his book Sketches and Statistics of Cincinnati in 1859 was that the Botanico-Medical College was “the oldest of institutions that teaches the system of reformatory medicine.” Cist also describes the current state of the medical college in 1859:
“It possesses a library, geological cabinets, a valuable Herbarium, and the anatomical, chemical, and scientific facilities peculiar to medical colleges…Its sessions are at present held in the building of the Cincinnati College, but its directors are making arrangements to raise an edifice exclusively for the purposes of the institution…This college is very popular among medical reformers through the whole United States.”
Thanks to a biography provided on Dr. Higgins by Jerry L. Higgins and family, his story is now preserved in our files with the diploma. Henry R. Higgins was born on December 18, 1822 in Rockingham County, Virginia, near Harrisonburg. He spent his formative years in the Shenandoah Valley. Higgins graduated from the Botanico-Medical College on May 24, 1843, the first class to be based solely in Cincinnati. Shortly after graduation, Dr. Higgins returned to Harrisonburg to establish his medical practice. He went on to marry Ann Virginia Samuels the following February, and later received his Masonic Masters degree just six months later; Higgins would become the Master of Rockingham Union Lodge No. 27. Although Dr. Higgins and his wife moved numerous times in the ensuing 40 years, they eventually settled in Goldsboro, North Carolina in 1887, where Higgins continued to practice medicine until his death on August 12, 1891.
The diploma received by Dr. Higgins from the Botanico-Medical College reads:
“To the Friends and Patrons of Science, of the Arts and of Medical Reform, The Botanico-Medical College of Ohio send Greetings.
Dr. H. R. Higgins having furnished to me satisfactory evidence that by a through education in the Institution according to the [provisions] of the law he has acquired a competent knowledge of Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Theory & Practice of Medicine, Materia Medica & Pharmacy, Surgery & Obstetrics, to render him a safe and successful Practitioner of Medicine and Surgery; I hereby confer on him in virtue of the power vested in this College by the Legislature of the State of Ohio, the honorable Degree of Doctor in Medicine, and declare him entitled to all the rights, privileges and immunities attached to said Degree, when granted by any other Medical College in this State, wherever these presents may be borne.
In Testimony whereof, I, the President of said College, have hereunto affixed my name and the Seal of the Institution, at Cincinnati, Ohio, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and forty three May 24th,
W.N. Hill M.D. Secretary A. Curtis M.D. President”
To view this diploma or our extensive primary source collections on medical colleges based in Cincinnati, including the Medical College of Ohio, Miami Medical College, and Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery among others, please call 558-5120 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment.