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Silas Hamilton Douglas
University of Michigan Medical School Website

Dr. Douglas moved to Michigan from his home state of New York in 1838 and began to study medicine in the office of Regent Zina Pitcher. He also worked as a physician under another Regent, the renowned Native American scholar Henry R. Schoolcraft. In 1842 he finished his medical studies at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. He moved to Ann Arbor in 1843 to practice medicine, and his enthusiasm about the field fueled contributions to the creation of a medical department at Michigan.

In 1847, Douglas signed, along with Abram Sager, the “memorial” written to the Regents requesting a Medical Department. He, Sager and Pitcher represented the first generation of scientists at the University of Michigan. Douglas came to the University of Michigan in 1844 to be an assistant in chemistry without salary. Eventually uncomfortable with this arrangement, he explained to his mentor Pitcher in 1846 that he was dissatisfied spending so much time teaching chemistry without compensation or a regular appointment. To ensure that Douglas would stay, Pitcher saw to it that he became professor of chemistry, mineralogy and geology in the Department of Literature, Science & Arts. Also in 1846, Douglas became superintendent of university buildings and grounds, overseeing the construction of several prominent buildings on campus.

In 1848, Douglas was appointed to teach pharmacy and toxicology as one of the first two faculty members in the new Medical Department. Though his official title was professor of materia medica, he kept a small lab in the medical building and gave chemical demonstrations before class. This was not uncommon, as many professors at this time did not necessarily teach in their named disciplines. They often taught extra fields, and were very knowledgeable about the natural sciences and basic chemistry. Douglas persuaded the Regents to allocate money for a chemical laboratory, which was built in 1855-1856. Because Douglas founded the laboratory it was considered part of the Medical Department. The building’s construction was a triumph, since it was the first university building in the country built solely for chemistry.

Douglas’ service at the University ended in 1877, under unfortunate circumstances. A discrepancy in the accounts of the chemical laboratory was discovered in 1875, and assistant professor Preston Rose was accused of taking more money from students than he gave to Silas Douglas, his supervisor. Rose shifted the blame onto Douglas, and the affair became public and highly controversial. The scandal was taken before the Regents, and eventually both Rose and Douglas were dismissed. Although the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in Douglas’ favor when he contested the Regents’ verdict, he was not reappointed at the University.

Dr. Douglas died in 1890.