Volume VIII · Spring 1953 · Number 3
The Edward G. Miner Library
--JOHN A. BENJAMIN and JOHN R. RUSSELL
On December 19, 1952, the eighty-ninth birthday of Edward G. Miner, the Library of the School of Medicine and Dentistry was named The Edward G. Miner Library. A group of officers of the University visited Mr. Miner at his home on that day and presented him with a replica of the plaque that will be placed in the Library. The use of Mr. Miner's name for the Medical Library is most fitting. For more than 40 years he has been a member of the University's Board of Trustees, and during this long service to the University the Library has been one of his chief interests. He has served as Chairman of the University Library Committee since 1931, greatly aiding in the formulation of library policies, and paying special attention to acquisitions of scholarly books. Many important collections and rare books have come to the University because of Mr. Miner's active promotion of this important part of the Library's work. His own book-collecting activities have enhanced this interest and have resulted in notable collections of books which he has presented to the University Library.
The Library which will henceforth bear Mr. Miner's name had its beginning in 1922, when the School of Medicine and Dentistry was being organized by Dean Whipple. That summer Mr. James F. Ballard of the Boston Medical Library became purchasing agent and adviser for the Medical Library. He prepared a list of sets that would be needed and began purchasing at once. For the first few months the books were stored in boxes in Sibley Hall and Carnegie Hall. In February, 1923, seventy cases of books were moved to the second floor of the animal house on Elmwood Avenue, the books were arranged on shelves, and library service began. By 1925, when permanent quarters in the School of Medicine and Dentistry were ready, about nineteen thousand volumes had been acquired for the use of the first class of students. In the three decades of the Library's existence the collection has steadily grown until it now numbers 58,484 volumes. The regular purchases of journals and texts have been augmented by gifts that have been especially useful in providing material on the history of medicine. Mr. Miner's donations to the library have been chiefly in this field.
The Library's outstanding collection of books dealing with yellow fever and allied subjects is the result of the real interest and time-consuming efforts of Mr. Miner. The nucleus for this collection of over six hundred items was started by Mr. Miner in 1927 when he gave to the library forty-one volumes on yellow fever. Mr. Miner's interest in yellow fever dates back to a trip to South America in 1918. Perhaps the best manner in which to express his interest in this subject is to print the following words from an unpublished paper written by Mr. Miner himself, "One could only faintly realize how dreadful has been the devastation in life and property from this disease, but the tales of survivors and the evidences of former precautions which still remain, left an indelible impression upon my memory."
It was quite clear from the foregoing statement that this disease was of economic, clinical, and historical importance. For example, in 1793 in Philadelphia, the temporary capital of our nation, yellow fever produced one of the most appalling disasters that had ever overtaken an American city and its people. And for a century afterward, yellow fever remained a threat to the people of many cities and villages. Today, yellow fever is largely gone except in South America, West, Central and East Africa, but it still remains a disease worthy of the attention of men in many fields of medicine. The importance of this disease can be appreciated when we remember that Dr. Max Theiler of the staff of the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1951 in recognition of the development of an effective yellow fever vaccine. For many years Dr. Theiler worked on this project after isolating the virus in Africa in 1928. It is worthy of emphasis that the only other well-known and effective viral vaccine is for smallpox.
In view of these foregoing events and the importance of yellow fever in the vast field of medicine, Mr. Miner has steadily added to the yellow fever collection. The items are rare and useful, odd and original editions, but all go to make for a most outstanding collection, one of the best in America. Descriptions of a few of the most interesting books in the collection will give a better idea of its scope.
Benjamin Rush's An Account of the Bilious Remitting Yellow Fever As It Appeared in the City of Philadelphia in the Year 1793 (Philadelphia, 1794) is of interest both because it describes one of the worst epidemics in the United States, and because its author, an outstanding physician of his time and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, has a special relationship to the University of Rochester. He helped a young Welsh preacher named Morgan John Rhees to found a colony in the Alleghenies, and that preacher named one of his sons Benjamin Rush Rhees in his honor. The name was given to other descendants, including President Rhees of the University, who early dropped Benjamin from the name which now is permanently inscribed above the door of the main library of the University, memorializing both the Rhees who led the University in its period of greatest growth, and the Rush who aided his great-grandfather.
Another famous Philadelphian is represented in the collection by a book on yellow fever. Mathew Carey, one of the most important and influential early American publishers, issued several editions of a book entitled A Short Account of the Malignant Fever, Lately Prevalent in Philadelphia (Philadelphia, January 16, 1794). This fourth edition of the book includes the prefaces to the three editions which had appeared in November, 1793. In the preface to the second edition Mathew Carey wrote, "I have heard more than one person object to the account of the shocking circumstances that occurred in Philadelphia, as pourtraying the manners of the people in an unfavourable light. If that be the case, the fault is not mine. I am conscious I have not exaggerated the matter. But I do not conceive it can have that effect; for it would be as unjust and injudicious to draw the character of Philadelphia from a period of horror and affright, when all the 'mild charities of social life' were suppressed by regard for self, as to stamp eternal infamy on a nation, for the atrocities perpetrated in times of civil broils, when all the 'angry passions' are roused into dreadful and ferocious activity."
The appalling effect of the epidemic is made evident in the text and substantiated statistically by the "List of all the Burials in the several grave yards of the city and liberties of Philadelphia, as taken from the Books kept by Clergymen, Sextons, &c., from August ist to November 9th, 1793." This list records 4041 burials in this period of a little over three months. There is also a "List of the names of persons who died in Philadephia or in different parts of the union, after their departure from this city, from August 1st to the middle of December , 1793." The list begins with "Abigail, a negress," continues with the alphabetical record, including such entries as this: "William Collins, his wife, his two daughters, his second wife, his son James, his wife & his child, all of one family," and ends with "Philip Zwoller."
Mathew Carey explains in the preface to this fourth edition of the book the manner in which this list was compiled, "In the number of victims to the late calamity there were many strangers, -- among whom were probably some, by whose death, estates have fallen to heirs at a distance. It being, therefore, of great importance to extend and improve the list of the dead, and to remedy the extreme inaccuracy of the sextons' returns, I employed suitable persons to go thro' the city and liberties, and make inquiry at every house, without exception, for the names an occupations of the dead. The disobliging tempers of some, and the fears of others, that an improper use would be made of the information they could have give, have, in various instances, defeated my purpose."
Mathew Carey's name appears twice in the list of "committees for relieving the sick and distresed," showing that he was a member of the Committee of Distribution and the Committee on Publication of Letters. Another name in this list is of special interest to us. John Letchworth served with Mathew Carey on the Committee of Distribution and also was on the Orphan Committee. John Letchworth was the first Letchworth to come to America, arriving in 1766 and settling in Philadephia. his great-grandson, William Pryor Letchworth, developed the well-known Glen Iris estate on the Genesee River which is now Letchworth Park.
New York City had its devastating epidemics of yellow fever, too. The epidemic of 1795 is described in a book by Valentine Seaman, "one of the physicians of the Health Committee of New-York in 1795," entititledAn Account of the Epidemic Yellow Fever, as it Appeared in the City of New-York in the Year 1795. (New York, 1796) Dr. Seaman dedicated his book to Bejamin Rush with the following words: "Thy general liberality of sentiment, together with the unparalleled manner in which thou durst, in the nobel cause of humanity, to introduce innovations in the treatment of the Epidemic Fever of Philadelphia in 1793, amidst the persecutingshafts of thy opponents, point thee ou as a most proper patron for the free thoughts advanced in the following pages. Besides this, I should consider myself greatly deficient, was I to neglect this opportunity of acknowledging the high sense of gratitude I entertain for the benefit received, not only from thy valuable public instructions, but also from thy ever useful private conversations."
One of the most interesting features of this book is the description on page 3: "Musquetoes were never before known, by the oldest inhabitants, to have been so numerous as at this season, especially in the south-eastern part of the city; they were particularly troublesome to foreigners, many of whom, had those parts of their bodies that were exposed to them, covered with blisters from their venomous operations." This was more than a hundred years before the relationship between mosquitoes and yellow fever was known.
Another interesting book in this group is A Collection of Papers on the Subject of Bilious Fevers, Prevalent in the United States for a Few Years Past (New York, 1796), which was compiled by Noah Webster, the famous lexicographer. While the volume consists chiefly of articles by others, Webster added comments of his own, such as the following; "Though not a Physician, I have been accustomed to Philosophical inquiries, and feel a deep interest in the prosperity of my country and the happiness of my fellow-citizens. I am persuaded that the Americans may be convinced by facts, that even in our climate, Epidemic and Pestilential Maladies may be generated by local causes. If they can be convinced of this, that sources of disease and death may be found among themselves created by their own negligence, it is a great point gained; for until they learn this, they will never attend to the means of preserving life and health. They will still wallow in filth, croud their cities with low dirty houses and narrow streets; neglect the use of bathing and washing; and live like savages, devouring in hot seasons, undue quantities of animal food at their tables, and reeling home after midnight debauches."
A later New York epidemic is described in a book by Peter Townsend, An Account of the Yellow Fever As It Prevailed in the City of New-York in the Summer and Autumn of 1822. (New York, 1823.) It is of special interest because the copy in this collection is an autographed presentation copy given by the author's son to Daniel Fawcett Tiemann, mayor of New York at the time he received it, and later a State Senator.
These are just a few examples of the many interesting and valuable books in the Yellow Fever Collection that have been presented by Mr. Miner. His gifts to this Library have not been limited to this subject; if we could list them all here the record would be impressive in showing not only the breadth of Mr. Miner's interests but also the large amount of material which has become a permanent part of the Library's scholarly collections because of his generosity. It is indeed an honor and a privilege to be able to give his name to such an important part of our library system, henceforth to be known as The Edward G. Miner Library of the School of Medicine and Dentistry.