Wilmer Worthington was the son of Amos and Jane Taylor Worthington, born at West Goshen, Chester County on January 22, 1804. He attended local schools and finished his early education at West Chester Academy. A medical student under the tutelage of William Darlington, Wilmer graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1825, locating briefly in Byberry Township, later moving his practice to West Chester. He married Elizabeth Hemphill in 1826. Senator Worthington began an illustrious medical career in 1832, volunteering his services to the overwhelmed staffs of various Philadelphia hospitals, burdened by an outbreak of “Asiatic Cholera.” Observing Dr. Worthington’s rising prominence in the medical field, Governor Porter awarded the future senator an 1839, three-year appointment at the Lazeretto.
Worthington co-founded and served as president of the Chester County Medical Society, representing Pennsylvania as a delegate to the American Medical Association’s 1847 organizational convention at Baltimore. He presided over the Pennsylvania Chapter of the AMA in 1850, and from 1863 through 1866, became co-editor of the Medical Reporter, an early journal published by the Chester County Medical Society. The senator served as president of the Pennsylvania State Medical Society and vice president of the Alumni Association of the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania. His business interests included directorships at the Bank of Chester County, the West Chester and Philadelphia Railroad Company, and the Oaklands Cemetery. A Presbyterian, he served as an elder and synod commissioner to the Presbyterian General Assembly.
Elected by a Whig and Bank Democrat coalition, Dr. Worthington’s political career began in 1833 when Chester County sent the physician to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He stood as a key figure in the passage of the state school law of 1834 – Worthington serving the lower house on a joint committee assisting Senator Samuel Breck in the act’s framing. In addition, Dr Worthington contributed to the Legislature’s first state geological survey during the same session. Originally a Democrat, the Honorable Dr. Worthington joined the Republican Party during its formation in 1856. After retiring full-time to the medical profession, he returned to Harrisburg for two terms in the state Senate, 1863 and 1866, elected Speaker in 1868. He chaired the Education and Library Committees each year of his term and served as member of the Finance and Judiciary Committees. Senator Worthington’s notable contributions included the enactment of Morrow Lowrie’s “Soldier’s Orphans Schools” bill and legislation creating the Board of Public Charities. A major national issue debated in the Worthington Senate concerned ratification of the Fifteenth (suffrage) Amendment, a measure that the Senator led to (18-15) passage, March 11, 1869.
After two terms in the state’s upper house, President Grant rewarded Senator Worthington with an appointment as Appraiser of the Port of Philadelphia, a position which he resigned to accept the assignment as General Agent and Secretary of the Board of Public Charities. Regarding the latter, the senator directed his vast interests in medicine and education toward prison reform, in one year traveling over eleven thousand miles, visiting the state’s penal institutions, “insane asylums, houses of refuge, eleemosynary institutions (philanthropic charities), and local charities.” Producing volumes of reports advocating reform, Worthington ascended as the state’s foremost proponent for the improvement of humane conditions throughout penal and mental health systems. Declining health forced his retirement to Chester County where he passed away on September 11, 1873.