University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

Robley Dunglison Moves to the University of Maryland, Baltimore & Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia

Unlike fellow Englishmen Thomas H. Key and George LongRobley Dunglison seemed to enjoy his stay in Virginia. He and his wife had some difficulty adapting to the Virginia climate, but they found their new environment agreeable enough to add four children to their family while living at the University. Harriette Elizabeth was born in October 1825. In October of 1828, the Dunglisons lost their first son at eleven months to bronchitis. In December of the following year, John Robley was born, followed by William Leadam in July of 1832.

Portrait of Dunglison, 1865

Robley Dunglison, ca. 1865

Dunglison’s tenure at the University of Virginia came to an end in 1833 when he accepted a position as Chair of Materia Medica at the University of Maryland. James Madison, the Rector of the University after Thomas Jefferson’s death, accepted his resignation with the assurance that “the door would be kept open for his return” should he be disappointed with the new position in Baltimore.

Three years later, and after two earlier offers in 1829 and 1831, Dunglison accepted an proposal, dated June 24, 1836, from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia to be Chair of the Institutes of Medicine and Medical Jurisprudence. When he arrived there was considerable dissension among his fellow teachers, but he earned the name of “The Great Peacemaker” and was instrumental in creating a cooperative faculty” (Aptowicz, 77).  He became dean in 1854. He spent the rest of his career at Jefferson Medical College until he retired in 1868 (Bruce, 172).

After leaving Charlottesville for Baltimore, the Dunglisons added to their family Richard James (November 1834), then, in Philadelphia, Thomas Randolph (March 1837) and Emma Mary (January 1840). Their eldest daughter, Harriette, died at age sixteen in Philadelphia of endopericarditis. In 1853, Dunglison’s wife of 29 years, Harriette, died in Philadelphia at age 51. He died in 1869 in the same city, aged 71 and is buried in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Samuel D. Gross, an associate and friend at Jefferson Medical College, remembered Dunglison in his autobiography:

Of all the colleagues — nearly forty in number — with whom I have been associated, Robley Dunglison was by far the most learned. His range of knowledge was almost encyclopedic …  Dunglison seemed to possess the happy faculty of discerning the needs of the profession; hence the unwonted success of his books. …

Dunglison never wrote an unkind paragraph against any human being in or out of the profession. He shrank from acrimonious disputation, and he did all he could to discountenance and repress it. He was eminently a man of peace; a gentleman in all relations of life, with a heart full of the warmest sympathy for all living creatures. …

Dunglison died on April 1st, 1869, after six months of the most cruel suffering. During nearly all of this time he was confined to his bed, propped up by pillows, with his feet resting upon the floor. He could not lie down even for an hour. He had long been the victim of heart disease, and no one could witness his distress without the deepest sympathy. Yet no murmur escaped his lips. At times, indeed, he was cheerful, although he knew that he was a doomed man. …

As a lecturer, ready, fluent, entertaining, and instructive, Dunglison had few equals. … As a husband, father, brother, neighbor, friend, there never was a kinder or better man. In all the relations of life he was a model. As a profound medical scholar, ages will probably elapse before the profession will have another Dunglison. (Gross, 329-34)