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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Medical Students With Bowie Knives

A doctor, W.W. Keen, wrote an article for the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in which he described the medical students of the 1850s and 1860s as rough and ready types--"a good deal beyond the 'Old Stone Age,' of course, but with some of its feral antagonisms still manifest."
The police and the medical students were far more intimately acquainted then than now. The professors, too, were frequently obliged to mediate between them. Rather often one of the Jefferson Faculty was hauled out of bed to haul a student in turn out of the lockup.

Their belligerency may be judged by a story told me by Dr. Weir Mitchell. It must have occurred shortly before 1860. A young man desired to enroll with him as an "office student." In questioning him as to his educational qualifications, Mitchell fortunately asked if he had any "accomplishments," whereupon he put his hand to the back of his neck, drew forth a bowie knife, and, without a word, implanted it deftly in the frame of Mitchell's window between two panes of glass. It is needless to add that he was referred to a more martial preceptor.
While I'm not sure I believe that tale--who can throw a knife that well?--it is true that there were many instances of medical students and doctors fighting with bowie knives, some of which I have recounted in earlier blog entries. To add another, here is an article from the New York Daily Times about two Southern medical students studying in New York City who had a fatal affray in 1853:
Tuesday afternoon an affray occurred at the Medical College, situated in Fourteenth street, near Third-avenue, between two medical students from the State of Virginia, by the names of DAVID E. BASS and WILLIAM IRVIN. The parties became more and more enraged at each other, and the result of the dispute was, that IRVIN drew from his breast pocket a large bowie knife, with which he stabbed his antagonist (BASS) three different times in his cheek and abdomen, the blade of the weapon penetrated to such a depth, that the wound will probably result in the young Southerner’s death. The wounded man was immediately conveyed to his boarding-house, in Tenth-street, near the Second-avenue, by his friends who procured medical aid, and he lacerated wounds were carefully dressed. Capt. HARTT and officers ELDER and ROBINS, of the Seventeenth Ward Police, made every effort to arrest the violent assailant, but were unsuccessful, and it is supposed he has fled the City. The origin of this serious difficulty is not yet known.

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