From the Archives: Professor Gunn’s Clinic, 1887

Moses Gunn, MD, chair of surgery, Rush Medical College, 1867-1887, conducts a teaching clinic.

By Nathalie Wheaton

This image of a teaching clinic is one of several in Rush Medical College’s 1895 yearbook, The Pulse. Here Gunn poses with his assistants in 1887, months before his death. His son Malcolm Gunn, Rush Medical College class of 1890, stands next to the nurse, Miss Headline. Famed physician James B. Herrick is taking notes, second from right.

Joseph Lister’s antiseptic surgical methods and Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch’s germ theory of disease were popularized in the 1870s and were still relatively new phenomena at the time of this photograph.

Accompanying this photograph in the yearbook is a brief remembrance by Herrick, describing Gunn’s clinics. “I knew Dr. Gunn’s clinic when it was in the transition period from the septic to the aseptic condition,” Herrick’s recollection begins. He goes on to quote Professor Gunn: “I don’t know much about the truth or falsity of the statements concerning bacteria … but I do know that if I wash my hands and wash my patient and my instruments, and use carbolic acid and iodoform, I can accomplish results that I never dreamed of fifteen years ago.”

Herrick also remembers Gunn’s personality and wit. “Said he to one of his assistants, ‘Don’t ever hand me as dull a knife again; I could ride from here to Boston and back again on that knife without a saddle.’ The assistant never gave him a dull knife again.”

The Pulse yearbook was reinstated in 1991. Until then, there were only two Rush Medical College yearbooks produced, 1894 and 1895. They are full of wonderful drawings, photographs, essays, poems and jokes. These two editions will be digitized this year and made available online. Keep your eyes peeled for announcements.

Speaking of digitized documents, if you’re interested in the life and times of Moses Gunn, please read “Memorial Sketches of Doctor Moses Gunn,” which was compiled by his wife, Jane Augusta Terry Gunn and published in 1889.

More information

Nathalie Wheaton, MSLS, is assistant archivist for the Rush University Medical Center Archives. Do you have a question about Rush’s history?  Contact the Rush Archives at 312-942-7214 or or visit us at

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