Victorian Gothic

John L. LeConte’s invite to the opening of the new Academy of the Fine Arts building has an illustration very similar to the Frederick Gutekunst photo currently on the PAFA website; the foreground figures (presumably included for scale) are different and the perspective is slightly off. I wonder if the Gutekunst photo was the basis of the illustration, or if that was simply deemed the most pleasing angle from which to view the building.

He was identified as “John L. LeConte M.D.” (in contrast to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, which sent tickets to “Dr. and Mrs.”) I don’t know if he was practicing at this point, but medicine wasn’t a driving force in his professional life; in the 1870s he seems to’ve divided his time between omnidisciplinary publication and lobbying for a federal appointment. Was “M.D.” simply the most convenient title to apply? Was there an intention to harken back to his military service in the Civil War? Was “M.D.” already a marker for social rank in the U.S., and how much of that was a reaction against British conventions?

And yes, I have been thinking lately about contemporary conventions of addressing M.D.s as “Doctor” and J.D.s appending “Esquire” when other practicing professionals, to say nothing of Ph.Ds, are in a more uncertain position. I don’t think it’s sour grapes, just bemusement at how fashions change and a frustration with cultural priorities and the popular regard—or lack thereof—for education and learning for its own sake. Even the APS is dedicated to “promoting useful knowledge.” What about useless knowledge? That’s pretty cool, too.

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