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No further back than 1834, Professor William P. Dewees assumed the first chair of obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania.

What is the meaning of 'assume' here? What does 'to assume the first chair' mean?

My assumption is that he took a leading role in the field at that university. Is it accurate?

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We can assume a position, role, or rank.

The "chair" is a rank of seniority, the titular head.

When the chair is first established, the first person to occupy it is "the first chair".

I'm no expert on the history of medicine, but the separation of areas of study into academic departments was an evolutionary process. Obstetrics was originally not its own department.

P.S. chair is a shortened, gender-neutral replacement for chairman.

  • Thank you for the answer. The history of obstetrics is quite interesting: "the delivery of children was then considered beneath the dignity of the medical profession" :) – Andrew Tobilko Sep 5 '18 at 21:40
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From thefreedictionary.com:

One meaning of Assume is: To take on a role, appearance, form

And first chair in university is taking lead in a sience field.

So "assumed the first chair of obstetrics" can mean: "Has taken the lead on obstetrics field"

Also here is a history on a Academic chair origin

  • Thank you for the answer, I am curious why you didn't use the article before ' obstetrics field'... – Andrew Tobilko Sep 5 '18 at 21:34

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