James Woodhouse was born in Philadelphia on November 17, 1770, the son of Anne Martin and William Woodhouse, a bookseller and stationer. He trained at the School of Medicine (M.D. in 1792) along with his classmates Adam Seybert (M.D. 1793), John Redman Coxe (M.D. 1794), and Robert Hare. All vied in later years for the chemical chair at the School, and all became mineral collectors to one degree or another. Woodhouse won the first appointment in 1794.
In 1792, Woodhouse founded the Chemical Society of Philadelphia, an organization of which he was senior president until his death. The society numbered 70 members over the years, including one corresponding member in England, Elizabeth Fulhane. The Society had its own laboratory and published pamphlets on the analysis of minerals, ores and soils.
Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864), one of his students, wrote that, "Our professor had not the gift of a lucid mind, nor of high reasoning powers, nor a fluent diction; still, we could understand him, and I soon began to interpret phenomena for myself and to anticipate the explanations." Nevertheless, Woodhouse's own efforts at mineral analysis were often flawed.
Woodhouse founded the Chemical Society of Philadelphia in 1792, with the purpose of providing mineral specimen analyses to the public free of charge. The Society met weekly in Woodhouse's laboratory, and received specimens from many areas of the country.
In 1797, Woodhouse published The Young Chemist's Pocket Companion, a book of chemical experiments that was ahead of its time, considering that directed laboratory instruction was virtually nonexistent until well into the 19th century. He also edited American editions of James Parkinson's Chemical Pocket-Book (1802), Samuel Parkes's Chymical Catechism (1807), and Chaptal de Chanteloup's Elements of Chemistry (1807).
On June 4, 1809, Woodhouse died suddenly of a stroke at the age of 39. His mineral collection, including specimens acquired during a trip to London in 1802, were given to the American Philosophical Society. Coxe was given Woodhouse's chair at the School of Medicine, much to the disappointment of Hare and Seybert.
WILSON, W.E. (1994) The history of mineral collecting 1530-1799. Mineralogical Record, 25 (6), 241 pp.
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