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What's in a (school's) name?

There's something to be said for referring to Dartmouth Medical School simply by its initials: DMS is short and easy to remember. But that simplicity masks a history of long and confusing names for the institution. An 1824 announcement in the Boston Telegraph used "N. Hampshire Medical Institution," "The Medical College," and "The Medical Institution of the State of New Hampshire," all in the same item.

An 1899 graduation program bears one of DMS's tamer past names.
Photo: Jon Gilbert Fox

That last name probably wins the prize for length, though "Medical Institution at Dartmouth University" gives it a run for the money. But despite their wordiness, these names may have raised more questions than they answered. "The Medical College" as often as not referred to the building rather than the institution. Names with "university" in them were anathema in a day when many loyalists did not want Dartmouth College confused with anything of the sort. And any name with "New Hampshire" in it made DMS sound like a state school. But the indiscriminate way different names got used (sometimes in the same breath) makes it clear that no one in the 19th century was much worried about what the place was called.

Other names used back then include "Dartmouth Medical Institution" and "New Hampshire Medical Institution." Pithy and actually pretty accurate for the first century of DMS's existence was the name perhaps used most frequently: "Medical Department." But somehow that didn't have the right gravitas as the School came of age.

When Professor of Surgery Phineas Sanborn Conner said in the late 1800s that the official name had "always" been "Medical Department of Dartmouth College," he was mistaken. During that very period, Dean William Thayer Smith had "Dartmouth Medical School" (at last!) emblazoned on his stationery.

Perhaps the most grandiloquent but least-used name seems to have fallen into the dustbin of history: "Dartmouth Medical Theatre." Now there's a stage to play on! C.E.P.

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