William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams
Photo credit: University Archives

The famous modern poet William Carlos Williams once wrote in a letter to his brother, “We must ... do things that will last forever.”

No small feat, but in his lifetime, Williams managed to do just that. A 1906 School of Medicine graduate, (and an honorary degree recipient in 1952), Williams is also one of the country’s most well-known and influential modern writers, with more than 40 volumes of poetry, short stories, novels and plays to his name.

While at Penn, Williams kept some notable company, including the poets Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle (known as H.D.) and the painter Charles Demuth.

A native of Rutherford, New Jersey, Williams came to Penn’s Med School directly from Horace Mann High School, a common practice in those days. A 1973 Pennsylvania Gazette story stated that Williams was homesick and timid during his first few days at Penn, but that soon changed. In his time here, Williams was a member of Mask and Wig, with speaking parts in at least two productions, a varsity fencer and art editor of his medical school yearbook, which also listed Williams as one of the “most versatile” students of 1906.

He excelled in his lessons, too, scoring high marks (90 or above) in general chemistry, medical chemistry, physiology, physical diagnosis, obstetrics, ophthalmology, operative surgery and hygiene.

After graduation, Williams went first to the University of Leipzig for a post-grad in pediatrics, and then back to his New Jersey hometown, where he continued practicing his two passions—poetry and medicine—until his death in 1963.

For more information on historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives web site at www.archives.upenn.edu.

Originally published on October 1, 2009