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During the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, medical students in Pest played a key role already at the beginning, but the university was involved in later events as well in several different aspects. In the next few parts of our series leading up to the 250th anniversary of the university’s founding, we will take a brief look at the effect that great historical events had on the university.

The medical students in Pest (at the time, this was a separate city, as the unification of Budapest only came in 1873) played a key role already on the morning of the revolution, on March 15, 1848, although this was mostly due to circumstance: the university building closest to the Pilvax café, the cradle of the revolution, was the house of the Medical Faculty located in Hatvani utca. As a result, this was the first stop for the “young revolutionaries of March,” to find supporters among the always easily fired-up university students to join their initially small group. The effort was a resounding success, and thus the revolution began. Taking the example from the “12 points” (demands) of the revolutionaries, pharmacy students also put together their own list later in May, in which they demanded a change in the organization of studies (seeking to make it stricter) as well as various developments.

Within the famous April Laws, Article XIX dealt specifically with universities in Hungary and brought fundamental changes. The university was placed directly under the oversight of the education minister, József Eötvös, and declared freedom of education and academic freedom, as well as establishing the autonomy of the university. Based on this law, the university soon formulated its own statutes, consisting of 292 paragraphs. The most important of these relating to the medical faculty was Paragraph 47, which eliminated the influence of the so-called “external medical faculty” on the university. This external medical faculty referred to the body of physicians practicing in the city, which for decades exerted great influence on matters relating to the medical faculty of the university; for example, the deans were often selected from within this body, and not the academic staff. The body did not accept these changes willingly, and János Balassa, the new director of the faculty named by Eötvös, had a lot of trouble dealing with them, even though he would have had more important matters to concentrate on. In September, the attack by Croatian ban Count Jelacic on Hungary led to a state of war in the country, which also affected the university in Pest. There is evidence of this in our Central Archives, in the form of a correspondence between Ignác Stáhly, the head of the military health department of the Ministry of Defense and a professor at the university, and János Balassa, the director of the faculty. Here are some excerpts from Stáhly’s letters:

Dear Ministerial Advisor and Director,
Based on the current and predictable circumstances, we are in immediate need of additional premises for our wounded soldiers where they can receive the best possible care. (…) I ask Mr. Ministerial Advisor and Director with the utmost respect and immediacy to secure the approval for the use of the Hungarian University Hospitals for the above purpose, should the need arise.

Thus the faculty’s premises, including the clinic rooms, were converted into a military hospital and army doctor, nurse and veterinary courses were started, the latter of which was very important for the warfare of the time. In reality, the 1848–49 academic year was never opened, partly due to the reasons above and partly because most students did not show up, signing up instead to join the military or the national guard. This was the case with Frigyes Korányi, a professor of internal medicine at the university, who served during the war as a medical doctor in the national guard of his home region of Szabolcs County. Vilmos Zlamál, a Moravian professor of veterinary medicine, organized a national guard battalion from his students, for which he almost paid with his life during the post-war period of reprisals, and it was only with great difficulty that he was later allowed to teach again by the Defense Ministry.

The main task of the recruited students and teachers was treating the wounded. The most-discussed injury of the war, the life-threatening head wound of general Artúr Görgei, was treated on the battlefield of Ács by Károly Orzovenszky, who received his medical doctor diploma from the university in 1840, and his doctor of surgery diploma four years later. Due to the continuous strain and the battlefield conditions, Görgei’s wound had to be operated on again, which was performed in Vác by Lajos Markusovszky, an assistant lecturer. From then on, Markusovszky stayed with the general, following him even to his later exile to Klagenfurt. Markusovszky’s classmate Sándor Lumniczer, who later became a professor of surgery, also served alongside Görgei as a surgeon-major. The general was so devoted to him that when he was named minister, he took Lumniczer with him to the ministry as his confidante. But the biggest challenge faced by field doctors was probably the cholera outbreak of the summer of 1849. This was actually the main reason that the Russian tsar’s army left the country at panic speed right after the Hungarian surrender at Világos.

Also worth mentioning is Károly Than (Carl von Than), who joined the army at 14 as a rifleman and later served in the artillery under General Bem. This was most probably where he realized the significance of chemistry, which later became his field of study. As a professor at our university he taught chemistry, as well as a patriotism, to generations of medical and pharmacy students in Pest. His older brother Mór Than served alongside Görgei as a “military painter.” To this day, his paintings serve as some of the most authentic visual sources from the time of the revolution.

Dr. László Molnár
Semmelweis University Central Archives
Translation: Tamás Deme
Photo (featured image): The Pilvax café in the days of the revolution – Digital Archive of Pictures, National Széchenyi Library
Archive photos: Central Archives