As the first Penn graduate elected as the President of the United States sets up shop in the Oval Office, the brief career at the University of the only other Penn-affiliated President, William Henry Harrison, resurfaces.
One of the only written statements available that provides evidence of his attendance at Penn, found at the University of Pennsylvania Archives and Records Center, contains an 1839 letter from Harrison to James Brooks, his biographer.
“I commenced the study of Medicine in Richmond in the year 1790,” Harrison wrote. “In the month of April 1791 I was sent to Philadelphia further to prosecute my studies & was placed under the direction of my fathers intimate friend Robt. Morris the financier of the revolution. My father died whilst I was on the passage to Philadelphia & in the following summer not liking the Medical profession … [Governor Lee] recommended me to go into the Army.”
Another document found in the archives, which appears to be an excerpt from an article on Harrison’s father, reads that “[f]or a short time only, William Henry attended classes in Anatomical Hall, a square brick building in Fifth Street.”
This document provides more context for Harrison’s swift exit from medical school, explaining that after his brother informed him that his father had granted Harrison land and not money in his will, Harrison searched for a way to earn a living.
Furthermore, a document in the archives labeled as a memo for the School of Arts and Sciences claims that Harrison studied under chemistry professor Benjamin Rush and anatomy and surgery professor William Shippen during his single semester at Penn.
Mark Lloyd, director of the University Archives, explained the dearth of detail on Harrison’s experience.
Students would enroll directly with their professors, Lloyd said. Professors considered student enrollment private information and therefore did not share it with the University until the student was qualified to graduate.
Although Harrison only spent one semester at Penn, a 1979 letter to the editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian found in the Archives clarifies that he “is considered a non-graduate alumnus of the Medical Class of 1793.”