Charles Caldwell (physician)

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This article is about the American physician. For other uses, see Charles Caldwell.
A balding man with a long, white beard
Charles Caldwell, from his 1855 autobiography

Charles Caldwell (May 14, 1772 – July 9, 1853, Nashville, Tennessee) was a noted 19th-century U.S. physician who is best known for starting what would become the University of Louisville School of Medicine. Born to Irish immigrants in Caswell County, North Carolina, he earned an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1796 while studying under Benjamin Rush. After graduating, he practiced medicine in Philadelphia and was a lecturer at Penn. He also edited the "Port Folio" (one of the day's primary medical magazines) and published over 200 medical publications.

Caldwell was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1815.[1] A significant number of copies of Caldwell's 18th and 19th century publications, including copies of the Port folio, survive in the collections of the AAS.[2] Other institutions holding original copies of Caldwell's publications include the United States National Library of Medicine, and Harvard's Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

In 1819, he left Philadelphia to join the fledgling medical school at Lexington, Kentucky's Transylvania University, where he quickly turned the school into the region's strongest. In 1821, he convinced the Kentucky General Assembly to purchase $10,000 worth of science and medical books from France, many of which are still held at the university.

Despite his success, his "abrasive" and "arrogant" temperament created enemies at Transylvania. The university's medical program would fold soon afterwards. The school dismissed him in 1837, and he then traveled with several colleagues to Louisville, where they created the Louisville Medical Institute. As at Transylvania, he made the new school an instant success, with its rapid growth into one of the region's best medical schools. However, he was forced out in 1849 due to a personal rivalry with Lunsford Yandell.

Caldwell was one of the earliest supporters of polygenism in America. Caldwell attacked the position that environment was the cause of racial differences and argued instead that four races, Caucasian, Mongolian, American Indian, and African, were four different species, created separately by God.[3]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  2. ^ AAS online catalog name search for "Caldwell, Charles"
  3. ^ John P. Jackson, Nadine M. Weidman Race, Racism, and science: social impact and interaction, Rutgers University Press, 2005, p. 45