Physician, essayist. Dickson was born in Charleston on September 20, 1798, the son of the Scots-Irish immigrants Samuel Dickson and Mary Neilson. He began his higher education at the College of Charleston, entered Yale in 1811, and received the A.B. degree in 1814. He returned to Charleston and studied medicine with Dr. Philip G. Prioleau and entered practice during a yellow fever epidemic in 1817. He received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1819 and again returned to Charleston. Yellow fever struck Charleston again in 1819, and Dickson began a steady rise to prominence in the medical community after competently directing the Marine Hospital and a temporary medical facility in Hampstead during the epidemic.
Dickson’s stature rests in two quite different intellectual arenas, medicine and literature. He advocated improvements in medical education that were well in advance of his time. Early in his career, he was an influential figure in the chartering of the Medical College of South Carolina (1823). He was elected professor of medicine in the new school and gave the inaugural address for the first entering class in 1824. He retained this position through the reorganization of the original faculty into the Medical College of the State of South Carolina in 1833. He joined the faculty of the New York University Medical College in 1847 but remained for only three years.
Dickson’s reputation increased to the point that he was pursued by several medical schools. In 1857 he accepted an appointment to the faculty of the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, where he remained for the rest of his life. Dickson was a frequent contributor to medical journals and wrote several well-received books on medicine, including A Manual of Pathology and Medicine and Essays on Pathology and Therapeutics.
Dickson was a talented speaker and essayist on nonmedical subjects. His literary interests led him to associate with many of the prominent literary figures of the day, including William Gilmore Simms. Illustrative of these interests were An Oration Delivered at New Haven before the Phi Beta Kappa Society (1842) and a nostalgic poem, I Sigh for the Land of Cyprus and Pine (1845). He was an honorary member of nine literary or philosophical societies, as well as ten state medical societies. He received the LL.D. degree from New York University in 1853.
Dickson married three times: first in November 1821 to Elizabeth B. Robertson, who died in 1832; in 1834 to his sister-in-law, Irene Robertson, who died in 1842; and to Marie Seabrook Dupre in 1845. Two married daughters, Elizabeth and Sarah, were living in Charleston in 1858. Dickson died in Philadelphia on March 31, 1872. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in West Philadelphia.
Radbill, Samuel X. “Samuel Henry Dickson: Pioneer Southern Medical Educator.” In Annals of Medical History. Vol. 4. New York: Paul Hober, 1942. Waring, Joseph I. A History of Medicine in South Carolina. Vol. 2, 1825–1900. Columbia: South Carolina Medical Association, 1967.