A small donation we received this summer documents what may be the earliest known ophthalmological instruction in New York, and perhaps the nation. The gift was of seven admission tickets for classes at the College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) belonging to Joseph C. Thompson of Monmouth County, New Jersey. Thompson attended P&S during the 1826/27-1827/28 academic years, though he never received a degree from the school.
As at most ante-bellum US medical schools, P&S students took courses in any order they cared to, and in any topic. Thompson’s admission tickets were “proof of purchase” showing that he’d paid the professor whose class he was attending. Not particularly rare on the market, admission tickets remain generally affordable medical collectibles. Archives & Special Collections, as with most medical history collections, has a good number of them, but our holdings for the 1820s were thin so we were happy to receive these.
To our surprise, most of them were for professors and courses we hadn’t seen before. Two in particular caught our attention: one for admission to “lectures of the diseases of the eye” taught by Edward Delafield and another admitting Thompson as a “pupil” at the New York Eye Infirmary. Delafield, an 1816 P&S graduate, along with his medical school classmate, John Kearny Rodgers, had founded the New York Eye Infirmary in 1820, making it not only the oldest eye hospital in the US but the oldest specialty hospital of any kind in this country. It still exists as the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai Medical Center.