Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology

Obstetrics & Gynecology

Our History

Since its inception in 1765, the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine, the nation's oldest, has provided instruction in obstetrics. At that time, obstetrics was part of the surgery and anatomy curriculum. In 1793, the University appointed William Shippen, Jr. as Professor of Anatomy and Midwifery. Thomas Chalkley James, who succeded Shippen in 1810, was the first to chair an independent Department of Obstetrics. In 1888, Howard A. Kelly and Barton Cooke Hirst shared the chair for one year. Hirst then headed the Department of Obstetrics for 38 years – after which it merged with the Department of Gynecology in 1927 – and ushered the University Hospital into the modern age of Obsetrics.

Barton Cooke Hirst founded a maternity hospital at the University of Pennsylvania approximately a century ago (1892). The inscription was instrumental in advancing obstetrical education from textbook descriptions and manikin demonstrations to hands-on experience for medical students under the supervision of University faculty. At the same time, the institution was keeping pace with the broader social and technological transformations taking place in the history of childbirth. These transformations included shifts from midwifery to clinical obstetrics, and from home birth to hospital birth, complete with instrumental methods of delivery, management of pain, and care of infant and mother.

In the first year after the University Hospital opened a 5-bed maternity wing, 30 babies were delivered; now, an average of 3,400 babies are born annually at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). Roughly 40% of these births are high risk pregnancies, for which HUP has become a leading center in the region. The Division of Reproductive Biology, the research arm of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, not only has pioneered work in fertility, but also has trained many of the world's foremost scientists in the field.

The last century of obstetrics has been one of miraculous achievement. It has also been one of deep controversy as technology and social mores have clashed on issues ranging from the birth experience to genetic engineering. Moreover, it is a century that has resulted in as many challenges in the field of women's health care as solutions.