In July 1851, Mason County, Kentucky native Arthur Fox Wood (1829-1878) was trying to decompress after a summer of medical lectures at the University of Pennsylvania. Writing to a friend, his thoughts dwelled on topics common to all students: the relative benefits of life at home and at school, recreation, and his academic prospects.
Philadelphia hadn’t made the grade. Rather than the “City of Brotherly Love,” Wood termed it the city of “fiends and Hell-hounds.” The women were the “uglyest” on earth, and the abolitionist political atmosphere reeked of “yankee-land.” As the summer temperatures rose, however, Wood concluded that it was best to follow “all the fashionables out of the City” to enjoy the sea breezes at Cape May, New Jersey. “Let’s go down to the Cape,” he urged his friend, but promised not to pick up a glass of wine there until concluding his degree.
As for Wood’s education, the next phase of his studies involved sniffing “the sweet perfume” of sickness in the wards of the Pennsylvania State Hospital, keeping up with thirteen hours of daily reading, and passing the “dread ordeal” of examinations, held in the venerable Green Room of the medical school. “I expect to pass,” he declared, but “if I fall; down I go forever–the examinations are very strict.”
Oddly enough, given his opinion of the city’s female population, Wood married a Philadelphia girl the following year. More predictably, after graduation he left “yankee-land” to set up a medical practice in Mississippi. After serving as a surgeon in the Confederate Army, Wood returned home to Belle Forest, his family’s estate in Mason County.
Arthur Fox Wood’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library. Click here to download a finding aid and access a typescript. For other collections relating to medicine and medical education, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.