The University of London was the first English university to open its doors to all, regardless of race, creed or political belief. It was founded on radical principles, inspired by  the ideas of Jeremy Bentham (shown here),  which perhaps appealed to the independent-minded John Snow.  He already had a medical practice and thus did not need further education for employment in his profession.  Yet Snow continued his education at the University of London and received both his Bachelor of Medicine degree (MB) and Doctorate of Medicine (MD). 

The University was located on upper Gower Street,to the north of the Soho region where John Snow worked and lived. The medical school was on the east side of Gower Street while the University Hospital was on the west side of the street. 


Restrictive Universities and Medical Licensure

In England during the mid-1800s, only a few institutions were empowered to grant licenses of practice medicine.  A person could either go to the universities of Oxford (1856 map: lower left) or Cambridge (1856 map: upper left), or apprentice with an established person who was licensed as a medical practitioner.  Both Oxford and Cambridge were restricted to members of the Church of England and were far too expensive for the laboring class. Perhaps as a result of these two restrictions, Snow decided to follow the second route, and gain his medical approval through licensing.  Years later, however, he sat for the examinations at the newly created University of London to obtain his formal medical degrees.  

The Radical University

1825 (Snow was aged 12 and still in York [center left]). Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), the Scottish poet, wrote an open letter in the Times of London to Henry Brougham, a member of Parliament, calling for the establishment of a university in London. Brougham (shown here) became the driving force behind a campaign which was actively supported by those excluded from university education - non-conformists, Catholics and Jews. 

1826 (Snow was aged 13 and still in York).  University of London was formally founded on the 11th of February. A fundamental principle was that not only would students of all beliefs be allowed entry, but that no religious subjects would be taught. The established interests of Oxbridge and the Church prevented the University of London from receiving a royal charter, so it was set up as a joint stock company. The new University was vilified by the Church of England as The Godless Institution of Gower Street, and by the Tory (the party of political conservatives) press as The Cockney College, because of its aim to extend access to university education from the very rich to the growing new middle class.

1828 (Snow was aged 15 and in his apprenticeship in Newcastle- upon-Tyne [center right]).  The first academic sessions of the University started in October, including the study of law.  Chairs were established in several subjects which had not previously been taught in English universities, for instance modern foreign languages and English language and literature.

1834 (Snow was aged 21 and in his apprenticeship in Pateley Bridge [center right]).The North London Hospital was opened opposite the University.

Degrees in Medicine

1836 (Snow was aged 23 and attending the nearby Hunterian School of Medicine).  The University was renamed University College and received its Royal Charter on 28th November. On the same day, a new University of London was established with the power to award degrees in Medicine, Arts and Laws.

1837 (Snow was aged 24 and doing his ward rounds at Westminster Hospital). The North London Hospital became University College Hospital.

1843. Jn Snowoh at age 30 was examined and received his Bachelor of Medicine (MB) degree from the University of London on the 23rd of  November, 1843. He was enrolled in the second division. 

1844. John Snow received his Doctorate of Medicine (MD) degree from the University of London on the 20th of  December, 1844 and came out following his examination in the first division (the highest group). He was 31 years old. 

During his time at the University of London, John Snow became increasingly interested in anesthetics and decided to specialize in that subject.  In the next few years, He conducted numerous experiments using  ether, both on animals and himself. An improved ether inhaler was one of his inventions.  Air and ether were mixed as vapor at one side of the apparatus and drawn over and round the spiral chamber, to be  inhaled by the patient through a mouth-tube fitted with cedarwood ball valves. 

His work attracted the attention of Robert Liston (1754-1847), then at University College Hospital and the foremost surgeon in the city.  Liston (shown here) was impressed with the difference between the result of anesthesia as administered by Snow, and that of less cautious anesthesiologists. In the years following graduation from the University of London, the elder Liston become a patron of young John Snow, and soon Snow was recognized as the premier anesthetist in London.  Snow published the results of his experience with ether in 1847, including the definition of four anesthesia stages which continue to be recognized in modern times. 

University College London (The original University of London) is still a prominent educational institution, located on and around Gower Street, to the north of the British Museum, near Russell Square.  





Keys TE. J History of Medicine 1(4), 549-66, 1946.

Thornton LA. Anaesthesia 5(3): 129-135, 1950. 

Richardson, BW in Snow on Cholera, Hafner Pub. Co., 1965.

Merrington, WR. University College Hospital, Heinemann, 1976.

Ellis, RH. Medical History (Supp 14), 1994.

The University of London, 1999.

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