10 Notable Jefferson Alumni of the Past

Jacob Mendes Da Costa Portrait

Jacob Mendes Da Costa

JMC Class of 1852

Jacob Mendes Da Costa’s research, writings, and teaching were influential in the development of internal medicine as a specialty. However, his greatest contribution to American medicine lay in his clinical instruction at various Philadelphia institutions. Born 7 February 1833 on the Island of St. Thomas in the West Indies, Jacob Mendes Da Costa received his early education in Dresden, Germany, before coming to Jefferson Medical College. A graduate of the class of 1852, Da Costa received postgraduate education in Europe - mainly Paris but also Vienna.

J.M. Da Costa's Valedictory Address
J.M. Da Costa's Valedictory Address delivered on the occasion of his retirement, 1891. (Jacob M. Da Costa Collection, MS 16)

Upon his return from Europe, Da Costa began his practice in Philadelphia and his private teaching at the Moyamensing Dispensary (1853-1861). During the Civil War, Da Costa served as assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army and at Turner’s Lane Hospital, Philadelphia. Here, he undertook research on "irritable heart" (neurocirculatory asthenia) in soldiers, research that was of landmark importance in clinical medicine. After the Civil War, Da Costa continued his teaching at the Pennsylvania Hospital (1865-1900). He began at Jefferson Medical College as a lecturer on clinical medicine (1866-1872), then professor of theory and practice of medicine (1872-1891), and finally professor emeritus (1891-1900). While Da Costa retired in 1891, he continued his medical efforts as a consultant and supporter for medical education reform and served as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania in 1899.

Admission Ticket for a J.M. Da Costa Lecture
Admission ticket for one of J.M. Da Costa’s lectures on "The Practice of Medicine," signed on the left by Da Costa as an indication of attendance. (John T. Howell Collection, MM 263)

Of Da Costa’s writings, his most well known include his "Clinical lecture on spurious or "phantom" tumors of the abdomen," Philadelphia Medical Times (1871) and his monograph Medical Diagnosis (1864).  Medical Diagnosis went through nine editions during his lifetime and served as the first complete guide of its kind.

Jacob Mendes Da Costa died in Villanova, Pennsylvania on 11 September 1900.