What we now know as the University of Maryland at Baltimore, a hub of graduate and professional studies, was already in operation during the Battle of Baltimore. The campus on the city’s West Side has been the locus of medical training in Baltimore since the turn of the 19th century. The General Assembly established the College of Medicine of Maryland, the fifth medical school in the nation, in 1807. In 1812, the school expanded its curriculum and changed its name to the University of Maryland. The campus became part of the University System of Maryland in 1920, when it became affiliated with the agricultural college that had operated in Prince George’s County since 1856.
The medical college owed much to the vision of Dr. John Beale Davidge. A native of Annapolis who received medical training in Edinburgh before arriving in Baltimore in 1796, Davidge advocated for the creation of a medical school in Baltimore starting around 1801. According to 19th century historian John Thomas Scharf, Davidge began giving lectures to a dozen or so prospective doctors in his own Fayette Street home. Other doctors, such as his colleague Dr. John Shaw, followed suit. Davidge then built an “anatomical hall” at Liberty and Saratoga Streets—on his own property, with his own funding. Davidge, Shaw, and a financial backer from Virginia, Dr. James Cocke, petitioned the General Assembly to formally establish a medical college in 1807. Unsurprisingly, the college selected Davidge as dean. Operations began under a board of commissioners made up of some of the city’s most well-known citizens, including John Eager Howard and James McHenry (namesake of the fort which would become famous in 1814). A small cohort of medical students met in a ballroom on Commerce Street for the first several years. The college held commencement exercises for the first graduating class, just five men, in April 1810.
On May 7, 1812—less than a month before President James Madison declared war on Great Britain—the college’s commissioners laid the cornerstone for a permanent campus building. Standing on land previously owned by Howard, at the corner of Lombard and Greene Streets, the city’s harbor could be seen from this site. The design of the classical revival structure has been attributed to several local architects, perhaps working together: Robert Cary Long, Sr., Benjamin Henry Latrobe, and Maximilian Godefroy. It was completed in 1813. Local legend recalls that Baltimoreans could witness the bombardment of Fort McHenry in September 1814 from the elegant brick hall’s front porch. Davidge Hall still stands, earning the distinction of the nation’s oldest medical school building in continuous use.